Andy Friend’s Connacht were unable to complete a clean sweep for the Irish provinces at Gloucester in the third round of the Champions Cup. Leinster posted a chilling warning to all-comers in Northampton, Ulster kept their 100% record against Harlequins and Munster defeated Saracens in a Thomond deluge.
RANK 1: LEINSTER 3-0 (14 points)
Last Round: 2.
The way Leo Cullen’s men absorbed pressure through multiple phases and hit on the counter-attack speaks to how their game has evolved under Stuart Lancaster’s tutelage.
The flow of offloads was in stark contrast to Ireland’s ruck-to-ruck punctuation with newbies Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris able, if not always accurate, in this area, the Blues piling on the second-half points for a 7-try 43-16 trimming.
Round 4: v Northampton Saints, The Aviva, Saturday Dec 14.
RANK 2: EXETER CHIEFS 3-0 (14 points)
Last round: 1.
The magical touch of Stuart Hogg was the reason why the Chiefs got away from Sale, making one try and scoring another before leaving the field with an injury.
From there, Exeter went back to basics to ward off a worthy challenge, turning to their scramble defence to resist Sale’s second-half surge by the skin of their teeth (22-20).
Round 4: v Sale Sharks, Sandy Park, Sunday Dec 15.
RANK 3: TOULOUSE 3-0 (13 points)
Last Round: 4.
The heavyweight domestic squabble with Montpellier was decided by two tries from France centre Romain N’Tamack, either side of the break.
The constant rain made positive play a bonus, Toulouse’s 23-9 victory creating a six-point gap back to second-placed Gloucester in Pool 5.
Round 4: v Montpellier, GGL Stadium, Saturday Dec 14.
RANK 4: RACING 92 2-0-1 (12 points)
Last round: 6.
The Paris club were assisted on their travels when Ospreys full-back Dan Evans was rightly red-carded for a wild boot into the face of Teddy Thomas just 37 seconds into the match at the Liberty Stadium.
Initially, the Welsh outfit looked to make a fight of it through Hanno Dirksen’s try before falling flat as Thomas pounced for two of Racing’s six tries.
Round 4: v Ospreys, La Defense Arena, Friday Dec 13.
RANK 5: ULSTER 3-0 (12 points)
Last round: Rank 5.
That man John Cooney got the province out of jail once again with a 79th-minute penalty that only came about because of Tex Cavubati’s ludicrous off-the-ball tackle on Adam McBurney.
A positive view on how they came through in Belfast would talk-up their ability to win ugly. A negative interpretation would be that they just aren’t good enough to trouble the true contenders.
Round four: v Harlequins, The Stoop, Friday Dec 13.
RANK 6: CLERMONT-AUVERGNE 2-1 (11 points)
Last Round: 7.
Like Leinster, Clermont moved from the tightest of contests at the Recreation Ground to ruthlessly expose Bath on a heavy pitch on Friday night.
There were still three points in it (13-10) well into the final quarter when the French club blitzed Bath for three tries in eight minutes, two of them from Barcelona-born wing Samuel Ezeala on his Champions Cup debut, in an emphatic 34-17 victory.
Round 4: v Bath, Stade Marcel Michelin, Sunday Dec 15.
RANK 7: MUNSTER 2-0-1 (11 points)
Last Round: 8.
The danger was to under-estimate what Saracens put out at Thomond Park in a rain-soaked, dogfight in the ditches.
The old dog for the wet road Peter O’Mahony was the difference-maker for the only try of the match and for undermining the champions lineout.
Round 4: v Saracens, Allianz Arena, Saturday Dec 14.
RANK 8: NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 2-1 (9 points)
Last round: 3.
The Premiership leaders were systematically dismantled on their home turf in what must have come as a confidence-draining experience.
Coach Chris Boyd will stress the critical importance of building character through adversity and will look to his leaders Teimana Harrison and Tom Wood.
Round 4: v Leinster, The Aviva, Saturday December 14.
RANK 9: GLASGOW WARRIORS 2-1 (8 points)
Last round: Not Ranked.
The difficulties of Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle in Europe continued as Glasgow bounced straight into the play-off picture with a second successive win.
Scotland international Adam Hastings was the main architect, Kyle Steyn’s late try from deep the cherry on top of a fine performance in France.
Round 4: v La Rochelle, Scotstoun, Saturday Dec 14.
RANK 10: GLOUCESTER 1-2 (7 points)
Last round: Not ranked.
The line-gaining power of the Cherry and Whites is what eventually wore down Connacht (26-17) at Kingshom.
The Westerners deserved a three-point lead (10-7) at the break before wilting in the face of direct power runners like Jake Polledri, the bonus-point try-scorer.
Round 4: v Connacht, The Sportsground, Saturday December 14.
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