The state of play as European Champions Cup returns

Max Chesterton
04 December 2018

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The Guinness PRO14 takes a temporary break from action this week as the sides take on the best of Europe over the course of a thrilling two weeks of intercontinental showdowns.

Leinster Rugby reigned supreme in Europe last year by downing Racing 92 in Bilbao and Leo Cullen’s men will go in search of a second victory in this year’s competition when they travel to Bath.

With the fate of a host of Europe’s sides hanging in the balance, this weekend could prove pivotal for deciding who will progress through to the knockout stages.

This is the state of play after the first two rounds of thrilling rugby action.

Champions in good stead

Two-time defending Champions Cup winners Leinster are in good stead of progressing out of the pool stages after clinching six points from their opening two fixtures.

The Leinstermen saw off Wasps in style on the curtain raiser – downing the Premiership side 52-3 as Luke McGrath and James Lowe both scored two tries in the bonus point victory.

Leinster racked up eight tries on the day as world player of the year Johnny Sexton notched six conversions to take the sting out of Wasps.

Not everything went to plan in their second tie though, as Cullen’s men were narrowly beaten by Toulouse as Maxime Médard scored two tries for the Frenchmen.

The result ensured Leinster sit second in the group with the province facing up against Bath this weekend.

Munster flying high

Munster are the only Guinness PRO14 side topping their group after the first two rounds of fixtures after claiming a win and a draw so far in the competition.

Johann van Graan’s men came through the tricky test against Exeter Chiefs with a sterling 10-10 draw, before adding to the leaderboard with a victory against Gloucester in Pool 2.

The Thomond Park side ran in five tries against the Cherry and Whites as Joey Carbery notched up 16 points in the game.

The Munstermen are favourites to progress, but they must come through a tough test against Top 14 champions Castres Olympique on Sunday to continue their unbeaten run in the competition.

Warriors and Blues will meet again

Last time out in Pool 3, Guinness PRO14 high-flyers Cardiff Blues and Glasgow Warriors squared off for European bragging rights and it was the latter that came out on top.

Cardiff Blues came into the tie off the back of a stunning 30-21 away victory over Lyon as Gareth Anscombe claimed 15 points on the day against the Champions Cup newcomers.

Glasgow weren’t as fortunate as they fell to Premiership champions Saracens, but they bounced back with a vengeance to claim the points at Cardiff Arms Park.

The Warriors made a blistering start to the encounter, scoring twice in the first three minutes through Adam Hastings and DTH van der Merwe and they never looked back.

Aled Summerville brought his side back into the mix after the break, but by then the damage had already been done as the Warriors ran out 29-12 winners.

Glasgow take on Lyon away from home, while Cardiff Blues face a trip across the border against Pool 3 leaders Saracens.

Ulster and Scarlets searching for a kick start

There’s plenty to play for in Pool 4 for Guinness PRO14 outfits Scarlets and Ulster Rugby.

Wayne Pivac’s side have only registered one point in the Champions Cup so far, but he can take heart from the manner of defeat in their opening narrow loss to Racing 92.

The Scarlets held their own against last season’s finalists, only to be undone by a last gasp penalty try, before succumbing to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road despite the best efforts of Leigh Halfpenny.

Whereas Ulster have one win to their name from the opening two rounds after John Cooney inspired his side to a perfect start to the competition by clinching nine points in the 24-10 win over Leicester.

They didn’t manage to get the better of group toppers Racing 92, but Dan McFarland will take plenty of confidence going into this weekend’s all Guinness PRO14 showdown.

Both teams are in need of a victory to keep their Champions Cup ambitions alive and it will be perfectly poised when the two meet on Friday in Llanelli.

Edinburgh under the lights

Edinburgh Rugby are well in the reckoning to advance through to the next round of the Champions Cup after securing a healthy six points from the opening rounds.

Richard Cockerill’s men had little trouble breezing past Toulon last time out as Jaco van der Walt stuck 15 points in the 40-14 victory at Murrayfield.

They next take on table toppers Newcastle Falcons who’ve secured back-to-back victories in the competition and they will be hopeful of getting the one up on their English rivals on Friday.

Challenge Cup back for more

The five Guinness PRO14 sides in Challenge Cup action have made blistering starts to the competition.

Dragons have taken five points from their opening rounds to leave them sitting pretty in second place in Pool 1, while Ospreys have six points to their name in Pool 2.

Connacht beat Bordeaux Begles 22-10 to clinch one win from their opening two fixtures. Likewise, Zebre beat Bristol Bears in October for their opening win in the competition.

Benetton also managed to get the better of Grenoble and lost by just a single point against Agen last time out.

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