Champions Cup Round One: Pool Four focus

LLANELLI, WALES - OCTOBER 13: Racing 92 players celebrate the penalty try during the Champions Cup match between Scarlets and Racing 92 at Parc y Scarlets on October 13, 2018 in Llanelli, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ian Cook - CameraSport via Getty Images)

The Heineken Champions Cup kicked off with a huge weekend of rugby in round one. Here at Last Word on Rugby, our group of writers will cover the results and the outcomes. Rhiannon Garth Jones places a full focus on pool four, which contains last year’s runner-up and French giants, Racing 92.

Pool four: overview

Racing 92
Famous, like so many French teams, for their razzle-dazzle star players, Racing have been quietly building their core of French players in recent years. Eight French players started round one with six more on the bench. They pushed Leinster all the way in last year’s final and their defence has been mean so far this season in the Top 14, although they have lost two games at home. They were ranked in the second pool of teams for the draw but are clear favourites in Pool 4.

They surprised many by making it to the semi-finals last year, after having a poor start to the campaign. However, Wayne Pivac has had his team peaking at the business end of the season for a few years now so if they qualify for the knock-out stages, they’ll be worth keeping an eye on. They improved their depth over the summer but they are already carrying some crucial injuries so it might be a struggle.

Leicester Tigers
The two-time European winners have been struggling of late and seem like they might have lost their way slightly. They have a backline that fans of any team in Europe would envy but can’t seem to get them firing and their defence has been porous. Worse still, Welford Road hasn’t been a fortress for some time. It would be a surprise if they qualified although the quality they have in the squad means they can’t be taken lightly.

The former winners scraped into the Champions Cup through the play-offs and have had a difficult time of late. They come into the tournament on the back of a loss to Connacht at home for the first time in 58 years. Moreover, they sit fifth in their conference in the Pro14, albeit on points difference. They will look to win their home games but both Scarlets and Racing 92 will target them.

Pool four: Champions Cup Round One

Current standings
1. Ulster – 4 points
2. Racing 92 – 4 points
3. Scarlets – 1 point
4. Leicester Tigers – 0 points

Scarlets 13-14 Racing 92
Ulster 24-10 Leicester Tigers

Scarlets 13-14 Racing 92
Last year Scarlets lost their first game in the tournament at home, unable to master the poor weather. History repeated itself here, with Leigh Halfpenny missing two decisive conversions in the wind. Racing were much the better team in the first half, with their line-speed proving too much for the home team.

Scarlets showed their attacking ability in the second half with two characteristic tries – one a snipe off the base of the scrum by Gareth Davies, the other a lovely move worked from side to side before a Jonathan Davies grubber was pounced on by Johnny McNicholl. However, Racing persevered to earn a late penalty try and take a crucial away win.

Ulster 24-10 Leicester Tigers
Three of Ulster’s summer signings proved crucial, with Billy Burns, Will Addison, and early sub Marty Moore combining to earn a crucial first win. Young fly-half Michael Lowry, playing out of position, also impressed.

The first half wasn’t one for the ages, with the weather making it difficult for both teams. In the second half, however, Leicester collapsed. It started with the lineout but, by the end, everything was malfunctioning. Ulster will be heartened by the result but Scarlets and Racing will prove much tougher competition for them.

Pool four: key takeaways

It looks like Racing will have too much for anyone to beat them to the winners of the group, although Scarlets will take heart from their recovery last year. The tie between the two of them wasn’t as thrilling to watch as fans will have hoped beforehand but they still seem the strongest teams in the pool.

Ulster will be happy with their start but both they and Leicester might soon have to shift their focus to their respective domestic campaigns. Both will be hoping, however, to prove more than a banana skin in round two.

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