Round two of the 2018/19 Heineken Champions Cup was another huge weekend of rugby.
Here at Last Word on Rugby, our group of writers will cover the results and the outcomes. Rhiannon Garth Jones looks at Pool Four, where Racing 92 put down a marker and Leicester Tigers started to roar.
Current Pool Four standings:
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) October 21, 2018
Racing 92 put down a marker in the Champions Cup
While it’s true that Racing have increased their reliance on a core contingent of French players lately, this was a victory that showed off their international stars. After grinding out a crucial away victory over Scarlets last week, they underlined their title credentials this week with a convincing home win that showed off Antonie Claasen, Finn Russell, Juan Imhoff and Simon Zebo.
Racing 92 44 Ulster 12
Ulster took the lead with some lovely attacking work and continued showing promise as they fell further and further behind but, ultimately, they couldn’t live with the strength of Racing’s pack or the flair of their backs. After last week’s impressive opening start to their title defence from Leinster, Racing 92 put down a marker here.
Ulster fans have a double-header with Scarlets to look forward to next and, knowing their Pro14 rivals tend to improve as the season goes on, they have cause to be nervous.
Head coach Dan McFarland took some positives after the game, saying;
“We got a glimmer of what we’re capable of”.
Youngster Michael Lowry had another good game and Jacob Stockdale looks to be back from injury. McFarland is right that there are positives to take. However, he also noted, “We’re a work in progress”.
What a score for Ulster! ?
Try machine Jacob Stockdale touches down after not one, but two perfectly placed crossfield kicks!
Billy Burns out there pinging them like it’s nothing! ? pic.twitter.com/EEEc10AhIh
— Watch the Heineken Champions Cup on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) October 20, 2018
Tigers start to roar, in Round Two clash of Pool Four
The old Leicester Tigers might be back. And (you’ve probably seen reports of this already) so might Manu Tuilagi. It’s hard to say which of those that England coach Eddie Jones will be happier about. Having said repeatedly that he wants the national team to be based on its traditional strengths of power in the pack and set-piece – strengths which have always been part of the great Leicester teams too.
Leicester Tigers 45 Scarlets 27
Scarlets are in the midst of a pretty severe injury crisis, missing twelve front-line players, but such is the modern game. Moreover, they still had eight international players in the starting line-up and three more on the bench. Yet they couldn’t live with Leicester’s forwards, three of whom crossed for tries before it turned into the Manu Show.
?♂️ 89 metres made
?️♂️ 13 carries
? And this powerful try ?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) October 20, 2018
Scarlets did show how dangerous their attack can be, scoring three opportunistic tries. But fans find themselves in the same position as last year: needing to win all four remaining games to give themselves a shot of qualifying.
Last year, their Christmas double-header was with Benetton. They were much improved last season – as the Italian side are still – but this season, Ulster should be more difficult to overcome.
Heineken Champions Cup Pool Four – Key takeaways
Racing 92 put down a marker to show Saracens aren’t Leinster’s only rivals. They’ve already proved they can win away from home and will approach their double-header against Leicester without fear, despite the recent renaissance of the English club.
Leicester, Scarlets, and Ulster are probably all in the fight for a best runner-up spot. While it always seemed likely that Racing would win the pool, Scarlets’ difficulties and the improvement shown by both Leicester and Ulster mean the group is more competitive than it originally seemed.
It may well be that all three teams take points from the others, meaning none escape. Fans and neutrals, however, could well enjoy the ride.
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