Racing 92 lead the pack while Scarlets fall short in Champions Cup

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Racing 92's French centre Olivier Klemenczak (R) celebrates after scoring a try during the European Rugby Champions Cup union match between Racing 92 and Leicester Tigers at the Paris La Defense Arena stadium in Nanterre, near Paris on December 9, 2018. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Round three 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 the rankings mean nothing: Racing 92 lead the pack and Ulster might be surprise qualifiers.

Current Pool Four standings:

Scarlets fall short as Ulster keep their campaign alive

Last year’s semi-finalists are all but out. Scarlets kept going to the end but couldn’t repeat the heroics of their previous campaign, where they qualified after losing their first two games. While they were never likely to beat heavyweights like Leinster or Saracens to take the trophy, they certainly seemed like strong contenders for the knock-out stages. It would take a highly unlikely series of results to see them make it now.

The result leaves Pool Four wide open, however, for two possible qualifiers. Last year’s runners-up, Racing, look most likely to top the group. After them, with two home games to come, Ulster have a good chance of claiming a best runner-up spot to reach the quarter-finals.

Scarlets 24 Ulster 25

Ulster were excellent at Parc Y Scarlets, picking up a try bonus point as well as an away win. Their defence was solid, they were willing to run the ball from deep, and they were clinical with their chances. This was their first win away to Scarlets in six years and they were good value for worth it.

Scarlets, on the other hand, were poor in defence and discipline. They struggled to get over the gainline and even the return of James Davies couldn’t solve the breakdown woes they’ve experienced this season. Too often, their attack went from from one side to the other without ever looking threatening.

Last year’s beaten finalists Racing lead the pack

Racing remain unbeaten in the competition this year and look like serious contenders yet again. Their points total at the stage is joint-best (with Saracens) and their points difference is also pretty healthy.

Adding Finn Russell and Simon Zebo to the squad has improved their already exciting attack and Leone Nakarawa continues to impress. Their defence, however, did not look like the same one that denied Leinster a single try in last year’s final, which will give other teams hope.

 

Racing 92 36 Leicester Tigers 26

The game was appropriately entertaining for the concert-friendly Paris La Défense Arena, aided by the closed roof. Both teams secured try bonus points, with Racing’s coming after less than 35 minutes. In all Vakatawa, Imhoff, Zebo, Chouzenoux, and Klemenczak touched down for the French side.

Leicester fans will rue their team’s indiscipline: yellow cards for both Ellis Genge and Manu Tuilagi gave Racing an easier time of things. Tuilagi made up for his mistake, however, picking up one of his side’s four tries. There was plenty to show the kind of team the Tigers could be – especially Ford’s savvy play for the final try – but they remain frustratingly inconsistent and this tournament looks too soon for them.

Heineken Champions Cup Pool Four, Round Three – Key takeaways

The Heineken Champions Cup is no respecter of persons. When the pools were drawn, Scarlets were the highest seed of Pool Four and Ulster were the lowest, having qualified by the skin of their teeth.

There are still three rounds to play but Racing 92 lead the pack and it’s hard to look past them right now. Scarlets tend to get better as the season goes on but it seems likely that they will be battling Leicester Tigers for dignity and third place.

Ulster have two home games to come, against wounded Scarlets and title-chasing Racing. Both are tough propositions but, if they pull it off, Ulster will be looking at a quarter-final berth – something that seemed fairly unlikely when the tournament kicked off.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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