European wrap: Imperious Leinster march on

Paul Eddison
23 November 2019

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Leinster continued their charge to try to reclaim the European crown as they battled to victory away to Top 14 leaders Lyon.

The Guinness PRO14 champions did not have it easy at the Matmut Stadium de Gerland but a Max Deegan try made the difference in a 13-6 success.

Munster also remain unbeaten, but they had to do it the hard way as they came from behind to earn a 21-21 draw at home to Racing 92.

It was a tougher afternoon for the remainder of the Guinness PRO14 contingent however as Benetton and Connacht saw second-half leads slip while Glasgow Warriors and Ospreys both fell away to English opposition.

LEINSTER EXPERIENCE SHOWS

Max Deegan was handed his first European start as Leinster travelled to Lyon and he made it count with the try that ended up splitting the sides.

The French team have enjoyed a fine start domestically this season, and were looking to bounce back following last week’s defeat away to Northampton Saints.

They started strongly but Leinster’s defence was steadfast, holding their hosts at bay as they battered away in the 22.

Leo Cullen’s team, by contrast, were clinical on their first incursion into the 22, Deegan forcing his way over after Josh van der Flier’s chargedown set up the field position.

Van der Flier was everywhere for Leinster, who led 10-0 at the break. The flanker finished the game with 22 tackles and three clean breaks in an all-action display.

The second half was harder going, with Lyon spending long periods in the 22, but Leinster were able to keep them out, and two further Johnny Sexton penalties made it two wins from two for the four-time champions.

MORE MUNSTER MAGIC

Matches between Munster and Racing are emotionally charged affairs with the shared history of Anthony Foley’s passing in 2016.

This game also saw Simon Zebo return to Thomond Park for the first time but it was another of Racing’s high-profile backs who stole the show. Finn Russell scored the opening try with a sensational grubber through, before Teddy Thomas produced an exquisite finish for the second.

Munster were up against it, but Keith Earls crossed on the stroke of half-time to get them back to within three.

Russell continued to run the show, ghosting through to put Juan Imhoff in for Racing’s third after Munster had drawn level. But when they finally got some field position, Munster were able to put Andrew Conway over in the right corner. JJ Hanrahan added the touchline conversion with a nerveless kick, but could not then snatch the victory when set up with a late drop goal.

That leaves both sides on seven points in the pool, and Saracens lurking on five after they powered to a 44-3 win over the Ospreys.

FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE KINGSPAN

On Friday it was Ulster who made it two wins from two, getting the better of Clermont Auvergne in an 18-13 success.

It was an impressive display from Dan McFarland’s men, whose record at home to French sides is excellent, with Jordi Murphy’s first-half try giving them a 13-3 advantage at the break.

John Cooney’s fine individual score looked to have settled it, but a penalty try thanks to the strong Clermont scrum ensured the French side came away with a losing bonus point.

That win puts Ulster top of the pool, two points clear of their opponents on the night.

LETTING LEADS SLIP

In Treviso, Benetton suffered the cruellest of fates as they went down 35-32 to Northampton Saints in a game that they dominated for large periods.

Kieran Crowley’s team flew out of the blocks and had three tries inside half an hour as they threatened to run away with it.

Hame Faiva, Ratuva Tavuyara and Juan Ignacio Brex had them 25-8 up before a Cobus Reinach try just before half-time got Saints back into it.

The visitors added two more tries in the second half to take the lead, but Faiva’s second levelled matters. Benetton had their chances to win it, but could not find a way through, and when Tavuyara was penalised for an intentional knock-on with the final play, Dan Biggar slotted the dagger to win it, leaving Benetton with two points for their efforts.

That was more than Connacht, who led 17-15 on the hour away in Toulouse before falling away in a 32-17 defeat. The final scoreline was not a fair reflection on the game, with Connacht scoring two fine first-half tries, the first through Tom Farrell, the second Caolin Blade after a searing break and clever dummy by Colby Fainga’a.

But Toulouse are not French champions for nothing, and ran in four tries of their own including one from former Connacht man Pita Ahki with the final play to take all five points and seize control of the pool.

Glasgow Warriors will also have some regrets from their 34-18 loss to Exeter Chiefs, despite leading 13-10 at half-time.

Nick Grigg had got them off to the perfect start, but Exeter’s Tom O’Flaherty and Henry Slade stepped it up in the second half and in the end the Warriors came away with nothing to leave themselves with work to do ahead of a double header against La Rochelle.

CHALLENGE CUP ACTION

In the Challenge Cup, Cardiff Blues played out a hardfought encounter against Leicester Tigers, losing to a Tom Hardwick penalty with the final kick of the game.

Aled Summerhill’s try had helped John Mulvihill’s team to an 11-8 half-time, lead, but two Hardwick penalties after the break meant that it was Tigers who came away from the Welsh capital with the 14-11 success.

Elsewhere Zebre almost secured a famous scalp as they went down by a single point, 13-12, at home to French side Stade Français.

Up against the former Challenge Cup winners, Zebre trailed 13-5 at the break, Gaël Fickou crossing for the visitors before Charlie Walker scored Zebre’s first.

They kept the French side scoreless in the second half, but a penalty try six minutes from time was only enough for a losing bonus point in the end.

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