Week one of this season’s Champions Cup has lived up to all expectation in terms of drama and excitement. If not in terms of flair and high scoring matches due to adverse weather conditions across the continent. Continuing our analysis of Champions Cup Pool Two, we react to all the big talking points from the weekend.
We have seen two matches played in horrific conditions As a result they down to the importance and game management and an ability to keep mistakes to a minimum. Both were immense spectacles and were played in front of stadiums full of raucous supporters in the West Country.
Gloucester vs Castres – A dream start for the Cherry and Whites
Things were looking somewhat gloomy for English teams heading into Sunday with no team able to pick up a win thus far. Gloucester bucked the trend and kickstarted a Sunday which saw a clean sweep for the English sides.
Once again Danny Cipriani staked his claim for an England call up. The mercurial master was at his all-round best. Not only did he show his classy skills to put Braley through for a try on 34 minutes. He then went on to add 14 points of his own from the tee to keep the scoreboard ticking and keep Gloucester’s noses in front. Tactical performances like this are not something one regularly associates Cipriani with. As a result many were tremendously impressed with his display.
In a thrilling match-up @gloucesterrugby hosted French champions @CastresRugby at the Kingsholm Stadium as the second game in Pool 2 ?
? Highlights ? #ChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/HPWsb4e1Rm
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) October 15, 2018
Castres did mount a second half comeback through a try from Laveau and from the boot of Dumora. However a costly mistake from Falatea who dropped the ball in a promising maul halted their momentum. This allowed Gloucester to squeeze home in their first Champions Cup game for four years. The defeat also made it Castres’ 37th defeat in 41 away European matches thus continuing their torrid time on the road.
It was a game dictated by the weather and Gloucester dealt with it the best. Their pack fronted up especially the likes of Morgan and Polledri. Gloucester have made a real statement here. On the basis of this display they could be a real threat in this Champions Cup pool.
Exeter vs Munster – Spoils shared at Sandy Park
It’s marginally advantage Munster after the match at Sandy Park ended in a draw. Johan van Graan appeared slightly more upbeat after the match describing the result ‘as good a two points you’ll earn’. Baxter conversely admitted his side were ‘a little below par’ especially in the first 20 minutes.
Both sides were quick to accentuate the importance of a gale force winds on Saturday. Home grown talent Henry Slade went as far as to describe it as ‘one of the windiest days’ he has played in and that is saying something.
Gareth Steenson and Joey Carbery traded penalties in the first half before Luke Cowan-Dickie crashed over just before the break. However Munster responded with the wind at their backs in the second half and CJ Stander punched over from short range.
This left the game in the balance heading into the final minutes. Exeter were handed a chance to win the game when Carbery kicked the ball dead but were unable to capitalise after 22 phases pounding the Munster line. For O’Mahony this defensive effort ‘speaks volumes’ about his side and their discipline.
Both sides would have come into the fixture wanting the win. However Munster will walk out the happier. Both sides looked to be powerhouses of the competition and we could see a winner takes all showdown at Thomond Park in the new year.
Rounding Up Round 1
After one weekend’s Champions Cup action we are left with a pool that is probably more open than when we began. Munster are probably the favourites having pick up away points and a home game next week. However, Gloucester will not be easy pickings having be buoyed by a win even if it is at Thomond Park. If Cipriani and the Gloucester pack bring their best we could have an upset on our hands.
Conversely for Castres, it is probably to early to say this, but next weekend’s game is almost must win. Especially given their poor away record and hence their unlikelihood of picking up an away win at Munster or Exeter. For the Chiefs they will be desperate for a win and if they do so they put themselves in the driving seat. However if they fail to do so they could be really up against it come rounds three and four.
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