Northampton Saints may have been in stellar form of late but director of rugby Jim Mallinder admits even he did not see his side’s 11-try victory over Benetton Treviso coming.
Ken Pisi and Samu Manoa both scored hat-tricks to help the Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders secure a club European record 67-0 triumph to stay on course to reach the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-finals.
The hosts exerted their dominance early on at Franklin’s Gardens as their scrum forced a penalty try before George North, Kahn Fotuali’i and Ken Pisi all crossed over to give Saints a 24-0 half-time lead.
George Pisi touched down shortly after the break before younger brother Ken added two more, substitute Manoa grabbed three tries in ten minutes and Ben Foden rounded off the rout on 79 minutes.
The result saw Saints extend their winning run to eight games in all competitions and Mallinder was particularly pleased by the clinical nature of their performance.
“We hoped for but didn't expect that win. We had to work hard for our bonus point last week, but it always helps coming back home,” he said.
“It was important that we made a good start and kept it clinical and professional. Once we got ahead, their heads certainly dropped.
“We saw some brilliant handling today and outstanding tries. I think (attack coach) Alex King will be very happy.
“We didn't get too carried away, we didn't play sevens rugby, we kept our shape and discipline. It was a good professional performance.”
There were contrasting fortunes for Harlequins, who failed by the narrowest of margins to mount a comeback in a hard-fought 14-13 loss to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.
Quins had won the first of the double header at the Stoop last week but leading by 11-0 at half time, Leinster seemed on course for victory.
Man-of-the-match Ian Madigan had kicked two penalties while scrum-half Isaac Boss had surged over in the corner – but Conor O’Shea’s men made their scrum count in the second half.
That push saw England full-back Mike Brown plunder a converted try while Tim Swiel, at fly-half in place of the injured Nick Evans, nailed two penalties. However, a 71st minute penalty from Madigan proved the decisive factor.
Leicester Tigers also endured a tough day at the office as they fell to a 23-8 defeat to two-time defending European champions Toulon, leaving director of rugby Richard Cockerill to rue his side’s lack of precision.
Former All Black lock Ali Williams crashed over on 11 minutes, with Wales star Leigh Halfpenny landing three penalties before the visitors responded through Blaine Scully’s try to trail 16-5 at the interval.
Mathieu Bastareaud’s converted try then secured the French side revenge for last weekend’s defeat as Owen Williams toiled for the Tigers to put their European hopes in doubt.
“It was as simple as the fact that we were inaccurate, and you have to be accurate on the big stage,” said Cockerill.
“Owen Williams had a tough day at the office but he is a young guy learning his trade. He will be better for it. Physically we were beaten today by a big strong team.
“Second place is still a realistic position for us. Whether we can get enough points out of our two games though, we will have to see.”
Saracens secured back-to-back European triumphs over Aviva Premiership Rugby rivals Sale Sharks to move top of their pool with a 28-15 victory at Allianz Park.
The hosts took a 6-0 lead through two Owen Farrell penalties before Sale hit back as Nathan Hines touched down only for Alex Goode to cross over on 36 minutes.
Nick MacLeod’s penalty on the stroke of half time made it 11-8 but Mark McCall’s side took control through tries from substitute Ben Ransom and Billy Vunipola before Eifion Lewis Roberts’s late consolation score.
Gloucester Rugby made it four wins from four in European competition this season with a 32-16 bonus-point victory over Zebre, with director of rugby David Humphreys admitting it was a case of job done.
The Cherry & Whites led 10-6 through Steve McColl’s early try and the boot of James Hook before the game turned when Zebre winger David Odiete was sent off for taking out McColl in the air.
The visitors made the most of the man advantage after the interval as Henry Purdy, Charlie Sharples and Ben Morgan all crossed over to secure the bonus point.
And although the Italians grabbed two tries late on through Giovanbattista Venditt and Dries van Schalkwyk, Humphreys insists his side have exceeded their European targets so far.
“We play a contact sport, sometimes players make little misjudgments, and I think Odiete probably made a misjudgement,” he said.
“We played so well for 60 minutes, we knew we had the bonus point, we felt we had the game won and then maybe subconsciously we relaxed and allowed Zebre to come back into it.
“One of the targets we'd set ourselves was, by this stage, to be top of the pool. We are, having got three bonus point wins. We're very much in control of getting a home quarter final.”
Exeter Chiefs won their eighth straight game in all competitions as they ran in six tries to secure a 41-17 victory over La Rochelle in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
Kai Horstmann, Greg Bateman and Fetu’u Vainikolo all touched down, with the hosts also awarded a penalty try to secure the bonus point before half-time at Sandy Park.
After the interval, Tom James and Andrew Hughes extended Exeter’s advantage and sure the Chiefs remain top of their group, despite the French side scoring tries through Julien Berger and Arthur Cestaro.
London Irish moved to the top of their pool as they ended Cardiff Blues’ unbeaten European record this season with a 34-23 victory at the Madejski Stadium.
Andrew Fenby scored a double and Shane Geraghty charged down Gareth Anscombe’s clearance to dot down under the posts as Tom Homer booted 19 points to hold off the visitors.
Northampton Saints 67 Benetton Treviso 0
Tries: Penatly, North, Fotuali’i, K Pisi 3, G Pisi, Manoa 3, Foden
Conversions: Myler 4 Wilson 2
Leinster 14 Harlequins 13
Penalties: Madigan 3
Penalties: Swiel 2
Toulon 23 Leicester Tigers 8
Tries: Williams, Bastareaud
Penalties: Halfpenny 3
Saracens 28 Sale Sharks 15
Tries: Goode, Ransom, Vunipola
Conversions: Farrell 2
Penalties: Farrell 3
Tries: Hines, Lewis-Roberts
Zebre 16 Gloucester Rugby 32
Tries: Venditti, van Schalkwyk
Penalties: Orquera 2
Tries: McColl, Purdy, Sharples, Morgan
Conversions: Hook 3
Penalties: Hook, Burns
Exeter Chiefs 41 La Rochelle 17
Tries: Horstmann, Bateman, Vainikolo, Penalty, James, Hughes
Conversions: Sweeney 4
Tries: Berger, Cestaro
Conversions: Fortassin, Barraque
London Irish 34 Cardiff Blues 23
Tries: Fenby 2, Geraghty
Conversions: Homer 2
Penalties: Homer 5
Tries: Allen, Anscombe
Penalties: Anscombe 3
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