Sunday saw another encouraging day of results for Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs in Europe, with Leicester Tigers stealing the show against last year’s Top 14 winners and Champions Cup runners-up Racing 92.
Classic Tigers show at Welford Road
Richard Cockerill’s side gained revenge for their semi-final exit in last year’s competition by beating the Parisian outfit 27-17, with replacement Freddie Burns coming off the bench to contribute 16 points in 20 minutes.
The Tigers were humbled last week by Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun, but were an entirely different beast at Welford Road as they kept former All Blacks superstar Dan Carter in check – despite his brilliant second-half try – and stayed ahead of their opponents from the third minute when Brendon O’Connor crossed the whitewash.
Owen Williams also added two penalties in the first half before Burns’ sizeable contribution, which included an interception and 70-metre score after reading a Racing move off the back of a scrum on the home 22.
14 – @LeicesterTigers have not lost at home to French opposition in Europe since 2005, going 14 unbeaten since then (W13 D1). Prey.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) 23 October 2016
And Cockerill could not hide his delight at Tigers having got their campaign back on track.
“It was good that they didn’t get anything out of the game and the pool is wide open. Them not getting a point is fantastic for us,” he said.
“It’s going to be really tight and there is so much rugby still to be played in this pool. Everybody got excited last week and said Leicester were done for, but now it’s all evens and there is still a long way to go.
“We have got to go to some tough places, but so have the other teams. It’s going to be a fight right to the end.
“I thought we defended well and the set piece was the difference between the two sides – our scrum and line-out defence, the brawl, was good. The attitude across the board was fantastic and I think we deserved to win.”
— JP Pietersen (@jppietersen14) 23 October 2016
Wasps leave it late
Elsewhere on Sunday, Wasps grabbed two points to take back to Coventry from Toulouse as Jimmy Gopperth recreated his quarter-final heroics from last season with a last-gasp conversion.
The versatile back stayed ice cool once again to seal a 20-20 draw after Nathan Hughes rumbled over with the clock ticking into the red.
Gopperth and Sebastien Bezy had been exchanging penalties until the hosts made the breakthrough when Census Johnston scored, and despite Josh Bassett cancelling out that try with one of his own, Gael Fickou restored the seven-point advantage.
Huge effort from the whole squad today. Grounded out a big 2 points. The travelling @WaspsRugby support was incredible, big thank you 👏👏🐝🐝
— Dan Robson (@d_jrobson) 23 October 2016
But Wasps would not wilt and they got their reward as Hughes slipped through Paul Perez to score, with Gopperth nailing the crucial kick from the touchline, although director of rugby Dai Young admitted he expected nothing less from the Kiwi.
“In pressure situations Jimmy has shown time and again what he can do, and I thought he had a good game at full-back,” said Young.
“He looked really energetic, gave us some good yards kicking from behind and showed what a quality player he is.
“He can do a good job in a number of positions, but the most important thing is that when we get a pressure kick my money is on Jimmy every time.
“Whenever we play we want to win, and we had opportunities to win that game, but in saying that we’d certainly have settled for the draw with three or four minutes to go.
“For us it was two points gained, whereas Toulouse will probably look at it as two points lost. We’ve made a good start in the competition, but it doesn’t put us in the quarter-finals, as there’s lots of rugby to be played.”
Tries galore for in-form Falcons
Meanwhile in the Challenge Cup, Newcastle Falcons put Grenoble to the sword to win 50-7 in an eight-try showing at Kingston Park.
Will Welch celebrated his 150th appearance for the club in style with a try after just three minutes, and from there the Falcons clicked through the gears with their forwards dominating and Will Witty, Sonatane Takulua, Mark Wilson, Ben Sowrey, Scott Lawson and Marcus Watson all getting on the scoresheet.
We’re proud of our tradition, and today presented our 50, 100, 150 & 200-game mementos to the players pic.twitter.com/Mo0YE0CQvP
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) 23 October 2016
But for Wilson it was the manner of the win rather than the margin of victory that was most pleasing with a tough test against Wasps looming next weekend.
“It was a good confidence-booster,” he said. “We got back on the horse and got the confidence back into us. It’s a big game next week.
“Apart from the one try that they scored, I think we did exactly what we talked about.
“We talked about playing at a high tempo and running them off the park, and I think we did that, especially first half.
“We said at half-time we didn’t want a repeat of what happened against Bristol when we took our foot on the gas. We talked about the next ten and kicked on and got a good win.
“It wasn’t a perfect performance, but there was a lot of good stuff to take into this week.
“I think we punch above our weight in terms of our pack but we always talk about our unity and our pack mentality and it was a great marker of what we can do. We had about three mauled tries and they were the origins of a lot of others tries as well.”
Earlier in the weekend there were superb wins for Saracens in the Champions Cup and Bath Rugby and Gloucester Rugby in the Challenge Cup, but Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins, and Worcester Warriors were all desperately unlucky to go down by just a point in a series of tight encounters.