The defining moments in Europe

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 13:40
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OPINION: Ronan Calvert gives us an Irish view on the penultimate of Europe's premier club competition - the Champions Cup.

He looks at the defining moments of the past weekend and gives his best performers.

Pool One: Munster (20), Glasgow (14), Leicester (8), Racing (5) )

Results: Glasgow 12-14 Munster, Racing 34-3 Leicester
Team of the round: Munster
Player of the round: Tim Swinson (Glasgow)

Comment:

Some games have the capacity to define a season, Munster versus Glasgow was one such game. Rassie Erasmus' reds showed their heart and tactical nous in Scotstoun to secure themselves a quarterfinal spot with a game to go. Glasgow's European season meanwhile, hangs by a thread.

In the other game of the weekend, Racing and Leicester may have both been out of the running for the finals stages but it was the Parisians that showed signs of recovering their form, serving up a somewhat surprising 34-3 rout. Whether they have turned a corner in their campaign will be judged upon their trip to Thomond Park next Saturday. That will be the real test.

Pool Two:  Connacht (18), Wasps (17), Toulouse (14), Zebre (0)

Results: Connacht 66-21 Zebre, Wasps 17-14 Toulouse
Team of the round: Connacht
Player of the round: Tiernan O'Halloran (Connacht)

Comment:

Connacht sit at the summit of the pool for now following their 66-21 destruction of a porous Zebre side, but this is a pool that will come right down to the wire.

Wasps have to be odds-on to back up their last-gasp win over four-times European Cup champions Toulouse on Saturday afternoon with a bonus point thrashing of Zebre in the sixth round, but Connacht may just have other ideas in the south of France. For the purpose of the competition, it would be best if both teams qualified for the cup's latter stages with their respective flair promising exhilarating rugby nine times out of ten.

Pool Three: Saracens (20), Toulon (15), Scarlets (10), Sale (0)

Results: Scarlets 22-22 Saracens, Toulon 27-12 Sale
Team of the round: Scarlets
Player of the round: Scott Williams

Comment:

Chris Ashton was the heartbreaker in Llanelli on Sunday as the English international bust through for the equalising try a minute into additional time. The score perhaps came against the run of play, much to the disappointment of the incredibly courageous and classy Scarlets, but it was to be the visitors' day as the Londoners booked their space in the quarterfinal stages. A game to remember nonetheless, for Welsh rugby fans.

In Toulon there was an unsurprising result as they ran out as 27-12 winners over Sale Sharks. As the norm with Toulon lately, the three-time champions were unconvincing performers but still have the opportunity to qualify

Pool Four: Leinster (21), Montpellier (11), Castres (9), Northampton (8)

Results: Leinster 57-3 Montpelier, Northampton 28-21 Castres
Team of the round: Leinster
Player of the round: Jack Conan (Leinster)

Comment:

Leinster underlined their title credentials with a 57-3 trouncing of Montpellier on Friday as they booked their spot in the quarterfinals in style. Leo Cullen's men are improving week on week and with young talents like Garry Ringrose and Rory O'Loughlin providing the spark, they look all the part of the great Leinster teams of old. They will certainly face tougher challenges going forward, but early signs are more than promising.

Elsewhere, Northampton and Castres played out a meaningless fixture on Saturday in which the English outfit won to a 28-21 scoreline, extending their win streak to four games on the trot. However, their most recent defeat was an embarrassing 60-13 thumping at the hands of Leinster - a stark reminder of just how far the boys in blue are ahead of this particular pool.

Pool Five: Clermont (21), Bordeaux (10), Ulster (9), Exeter (6)

Results: Bordeaux 6-9 Clermont, Exeter 31-19 Ulster
Team of the round: Exeter
Player of the round: Michele Campagnaro

Comment:

The early kick off from this pool was a forgettable one as Clermont prevailed against Bordeaux in a dour 9-6 display. Despite winning ugly though, little do the French giants care, as they have now secured a place in the quarter-finals and proved that last season's failings were nothing more than a once-off.

Any lack of tries in France was made amends for in Exeter where the Chiefs eventually ran out convincing 31-19 in an end-to-end exchange of scores. This result ended Ulster's participation in this year's competition with a bang as they once again failed to produce the goods up front. Forwards win games but it was always going to be about the backs capitalising on possession here and Exeter certainly showed that.

Exeter, excellent. But it may be time for a change in Ulster.

By Ronan Calvert of MunsterHaka.com