Domestic dramas set up European thrillers
CHAMPIONS CUP: A dramatic weekend of domestic competition has set up the European Rugby Champions Cup doubleheaders in Rounds 3 and 4 perfectly, with thrills aplenty possible from first to last.
The next programme opens with runaway Pro14 Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors entertaining second-placed TOP 14 side Montpellier on Friday and closes with Premiership front-runners Exeter Chiefs hosting PRO14 Conference B challengers Leinster Rugby on Sunday, both in Pool 3.
The Warriors still await their first point in Pool 3, but they approach their game against Montpellier in deadly domestic form, after a six-try, 40-16 victory over Cardiff Blues gave them a 10th win from 10 Pro14 games.
Reigning English champions Exeter also warmed up for their potential Pool decider against Leinster with a six-try show, stretching eight points clear at the top of the Premiership thanks to a 42-29 success against West Country rivals and Pool 5 leaders Bath Rugby at Sandy Park.
Leinster are in equally lethal form, having triumphed 36-10 at Pool 5 side Benetton Rugby, where new signing James Lowe marked his debut for the Irish province with two of their five tries as they closed to within three points of Conference B table-toppers Scarlets.
As well as Pool 3, Pool 1 boasts three in-form teams, with Harlequins and Wasps snatching nail-biting victories at the weekend, and leaders La Rochelle leapfrogging Montpellier to move to the head of the TOP 14 table after beating them 26-14.
Former England flyhalf Danny Cipriani celebrated his return from a knee injury a month early by inspiring Wasps to 32-25 victory over Pool 4 front runners Leicester Tigers with the pass that set up Kearnan Myall's last-minute try.
And it was an England international who was at the centre of Quins' last-gasp 20-19 home win over European champions Saracens, scrumhalf Danny Care displaying his kicking skills from hand as he created two tries for Charlie Walker and the 79th-minute match-winner for fellow wing Tim Visser.
Elsewhere, Pool 4 province Munster Rugby consolidated second place in PRO14 Conference A with a 36-10 home triumph against Pool 2 region Ospreys, which sets the Irish province up nicely for their doubleheader with Leicester, Johann van Graan's first European games in charge of Munster.
In the TOP 14, ASM Clermont Auvergne warmed up for their two 2017 Champions Cup final rematches against Saracens with a 35-26 home win over Agen and RC Toulon were even more convincing prior to their doubleheader against Bath, beating Lyon 39-11 at home.