This season’s European Challenge Cup started in France on Thursday, with Pau beating Gloucester 27-21. It ended in Switzerland, with Connacht thumping the touring hosts Oyonnax 43-15. From Siberia to Switzerland, Last Word on Rugby rounds up the highlights of Challenge Cup Round One, including a shock win for an Russian side.
Further Progress for Krasny Yar and Russian Rugby
The biggest upset of the weekend happened in Siberia, with Russian Rugby claiming another big scalp. Competition debutants Krasny Yar defeated the reigning champions Stade Français 34-29, following victories for Enesei-STM over the Dragons and Worcester last season. Stade can’t entirely blame the journey or conditions, as fellow Top 14 side Bordeaux-Bègles had no such problems at the same stadium.
Against fellow Russian side Enesei-STM, Bordeaux scored eight tries in a 57-17 victory in Siberia. The Dragons and Edinburgh will each travel to Russia next round; we should not be surprised if the more well practised sides don’t return home with victories.
Cardiff Blues beat French League Leaders
On Friday night there was another surprise result as Cardiff Blues secured a 29-19 bonus point win over Lyon. Two early tries from George Earle and Tomos Williams set them on their way and as with Pau, a 14-0 half-time lead was an insurmountable head start. Lyon may be at the head of the Top 14 but after the loss of key player Carl Fearns to injury for the season, they may have to focus solely on their league campaign. It might be the best strategy–although on the other hand, last year’s surprise package La Rochelle were able to compete on both fronts.
Cardiff are perhaps in the same position, with the need to improve their domestic performance after a few years of disappointing finishes.
A trip to Toulouse next week will help the Welsh side gauge whether this was a one-off the start of an improvement.
Sale Stalemate in Manchester
The Challenge Cup welcomed European royalty as Toulouse started in the second tier for the first time. The Toulousain are back near the top of the French league this season so may not prioritise this competition. However a relatively strong line-up travelled to Manchester and made a fast start with a 14-3 lead after 33 minutes. A Sale comeback left Toulouse fighting for a draw, with a late Sébastien Bézy penalty levelling the scores at 20-20.
Worcester Warriors Battle to First Victory
There was finally some good news for Worcester Warriors who recorded their first victory of the season over fellow strugglers Brive. It was a true forward effort from the Warriors, with all four tries coming from the front row.
After going behind early on, American Hooker Joe Taufete’e scored three first half tries for a 17-10 lead. New signings Ethan Waller and Jono Lance added further points in the second half, delivering some much-needed momentum and a 30-10 win.
Note: Worcester are further boosted by the arrival of Alan Solomons, on a short-term coaching deal as assistant to Gary Gold.
Elsewhere fellow Aviva Premiership strugglers London Irish suffered more misery with a 37-14 home defeat to Edinburgh. After coming close against Leicester, The Exiles’ defence let them down again; this is already the fourth time they have conceded over 35 points this season. A trip to Paris next week to face an upset Stade Français is unlikely to provide any relief.
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