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 all the results and the outcomes. Concentrating on Pool Three, Rhiannon Garth Jones previews the group and looks over last week’s matches, when Saracens started their campaign to reclaim the European title.
Pool Three: the Contenders
They struggled last year, having been hit by a number of injuries, and were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Leinster. Injuries again might play a part, so the club’s depth will be tested immediately in 2018/19.
Sarries will be looking to prove that was a one-off this season. One of the favourites for the tournament – never mind pool three – they are definitely one to watch. Their England stars need to prove themselves for club and country this season, so expect the likes of Owen Farrell, Mako and Billy Vunipola, and Maro Itoje to be even more determined than usual.
They came into the tournament flying high in the French Top 14, having just won away at Racing 92. In that game, their attack impressed as much as their powerful pack.
This is their debut season in the elite Heineken Champions Cup. Last season they also shared a pool with Cardiff Blues, albeit in the Challenge Cup, so they will be familiar with one of their opponents.
French teams often lose interest in Europe when things don’t go their way but are always tough at the start.
The coach, fans, and players will have been disappointed with Glasgow’s performances last time around but, with more experience under their belt, will be hoping to do better this season.
11 – Adam Hastings beat 11 defenders against the Dragons, no other fly half has beaten more than 8 defenders in a @PRO14Official match since Opta have recorded this data (since 2010-11). Battle. pic.twitter.com/ExJmxms1AI
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) October 2, 2018
They lost Finn Russell to Racing 92 this summer but Adam Hastings has settled in well and Dave Rennie has been developing a forward game to match their sparkling backs. They will need to show all that promise in 2018/19.
The 2017/18 Challenge Cup champions can blow hot and cold but they have back row options to burn and a lot of talent in the backs.
After a slow start to their season – when they threw away three games in a row at the death – new coach John Mulvihill has overseen a big improvement. They haven’t been at Europe’s top table for five seasons and everyone at Blues will be hungry to prove this is where they belong.
Round One results
Glasgow Warriors 3 Saracens 13
A brutal game, with both teams picking up injuries and neither showing the attacking flair of which they are capable. Saracens never really looked like they would do anything other than win but Glasgow restricted them to only one try and forced them to defend for long periods.
Adam Hastings will be disappointed with his performance: his kicking wasn’t up to scratch and he didn’t set his backs on fire. Glasgow turned down a number of kickable penalties to go for the try and could have got at least a losing BP if they’d made different decisions. However, they will take a lot of positives from the way they matched the English Champions in the collisions. Saracens will be very concerned at the injuries their English contingent picked up.
Lyon 21 Cardiff Blues 30
A huge win for the Welsh region, even taking a losing BP away from Lyon at the death, despite their fightback. They managed to contain Lyon’s ferocious pack in the scrum and were excellent at the breakdown – not surprising when you consider they had three opensides starting.
Just as impressive were the backs, with Tomos Williams and Gareth Anscombe regularly bamboozling the opposition. Anscombe scored a particularly impressive, 50-metre try to seal the win.
Gareth Anscombe is playing a blinder today for @cardiff_blues.
A fantastic try from the 🔟 🔥 pic.twitter.com/ncg94ShQFW
— Watch the Heineken Champions Cup on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) October 14, 2018
Pool Three Heineken Champions Cup: key takeaways
- Saracens – 4 points
- Cardiff Blues – 4 points
- Lyon – 0 points
- Glasgow Warriors – 0 points
Away wins are precious in the Champions Cup and Pool Three has two already. Saracens weren’t as impressive as fans know they can be but they got the job done. In Round Two, they will enjoy home advantage, yet injuries are building and fans will be concerned that there might be a repeat of last year’s misfortune. With both Vunipola brothers out for a while, their replacements must step up.
Cardiff Blues’ victory was more significant (and impressive to watch). If they can get a win over Glasgow this week, then fans might start dreaming of the quarter-finals. The players will need to keep their heads and their discipline, however, to continue the upturn in their results. Glasgow will be hurting after losing at home and they will be keen to add another away win to this fascinating group’s list of results.
Upcoming fixtures: Pool Three Heineken Champions Cup
Saracens v Lyon – Saturday October 20, Allianz Park, London
Cardiff Blues v Glasgow Warriors – Sunday Oct 21, Cardiff Arms Park
The away victories in Round One mean Glasgow and Lyon will need to pull the same trick in Round Two to escape this group. Even with injuries, Saracens will likely have too much for Lyon. They will also want to prove they can win without the Vunipolas, so expect them to come out all guns blazing.
The fixture in Cardiff on Sunday could be very interesting, especially as the teams and fans are familiar with each other from the Pro14. The backs on both sides get the most attention but Cardiff’s back-rowers will prove crucial. Additionally, both teams welcome back fan-favourites on the wing, Aled Summerhill for Cardiff and Tommy Seymour for Glasgow.
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