European Rugby at its Best
With swirling winds and some unpredicted scorelines we had a fascinating weekend of Euro rugby. It started for me on Thursday at Kingsholm as a pundit for the Gloucester game for Sky Sports. Alongside me was old team mate HRH Mike Tindall who was in fine form. It is all a bit too easy to slip back to the old changing room banter but we restrained ourselves! As for the game it was a cracking win for Glos who put in a performance we know they are capable of. It would be good to see them go all the way in the competition.
There was also an emphatic victory for Wasps over Quins which led by a storming Nathan Hughes. Good news for England that he is in some blistering form with Big Billy out for a few months. It was a real turnaround for Wasps who were on a rather unwelcome 5 match losing streak and yet again shows how teams can turn the form books on their head. There were incidents aplenty in the game with both Hughes and Marler potentially sweating out today waiting to see if the citing commission takes note.
There was a stunning game for the neutral over in North London with the low flying Ospreys arriving with a spring in their step after a highly credible game last week against French giants Clermont. Saracens, twice winners and strongly backed to win a third time started well attacking into a strong wind and when the first try went over you may well have yawned and switched over but that would have been a mistake. Ospreys laid down a serious challenge and pushed and pulled at the champions all evening. They scored some fine tries opening up a usually parsimonious defence to score 4 tries of their own. Saracens will be mightily relieved to have got through that game and will reflect on the danger of not focussing enough on the supposedly weaker side in your pool.
Northampton Saints earned some redemption in their away game to a riotously noisy Clermont stadium. The score line flattered Clermont who did not have it all their own way as Saints turned up the dial on ‘physical’ and played like men possessed. Unfortunately their finishing let them down and they failed to capitalise on the good work of the forwards. There was plenty of discussion too for the fans forums with controversy aplenty with referee decision and Head Injury Assessments. To me Parra looked as if he was knocked out and it was bewildering to say the least that he came back on. I also felt gutted for Camille Lopez the charismatic Clermont and French fly half who was suffered a horrific broken leg. Speedy recovery Camille.
One of the performances of the weekend has to be the Exeter Chiefs who as a team just keep on improving. They faced the literally giant French side of Montpellier and gained a hugely important away victory. New coach of Montpellier Vern Cotter will I am sure take note that the way to build a superstar team is to start with team not the stars.
One last mention for Leicester Tigers who put on a real show for the Welford Road fans against Castre with speedster Jonny May continuing his red hot form. This is all setting up beautifully for the next two rounds against Munster which will be mouth-watering.
Sadly for the Pro14 it was only Leinester who look comfortable in the pool tables and I have been disappointed so far not to see the Scarlets kick on. It was a tight old affair at the Rec and a fairly Welsh one at that with 5 Wales lads in the Bath team including Rhys Preistland who was the architect of the Bath win. With Glasgow failing to gather a single point they will need other teams to do them a favour and also probably win at least three of the next four games to have a slither of a chance to quality for the quarters.
Next week it is all eyes back to the Premiership after the intensity of Europe and then in November it is time to dust off the national anthems for another few weeks of international matches. One visitor for these internationals will be a slightly mentally bruised All Blacks team. They have now lost three times in one year which is a rare old stat. It was good news for world rugby and for Australian rugby which has been suffering a long slow death over in the Southern Hemisphere. It is that unpredictability of sport that keeps us coming and as much as it will hurt New Zealand they are still the world’s best which is why it feels so special to beat them.