European Challenge Cup - Round 3 Review
Wasps take control with Bayonne win
December 12, 2009
Dan Ward-Smith takes on the Bayonne defence © Getty Images
The European Challenge Cup swung back in to action this weekend, with away wins for Saracens and Connacht and a vital home win for Wasps.
Wasps took control at the summit of Pool 4 by seeing off their nearest rivals Bayonne 22-18 at Adams Park. The victory puts Tony Hanks' men four points clear at the top after three rounds.
Tom Varndell translated the try-scoring form that has seen him pick up five Premiership scores by notching a second-half brace to take the game away from a dogged Bayonne outfit. The sides had been locked together at 9-9 at the break as visiting scrum-half Cedric Garcia traded penalties with the ever-dependable Wasps pivot Dave Walder. Garcia's kicks all followed bulldozing scrums from the visiting pack, with Wasps' Tim Payne under heavy pressure.
Garcia gave Bayonne the lead soon after the break before Varndell pounced for his first try. Walder probed behind the Bayonne defence with a chip, which was followed up by Dom Waldouck. The centre was hauled down short and the forwards piled in, creating space for Varndell to cross in the corner.
The Top 14 side found no answer as Walder extended Wasps' advantage with his fourth penalty. Varndell's second try made the points safe. Replacement Ben Jacobs played a key role as the forwards again set up position, spinning the ball out for Varndell to run in for an almost identical try out wide. Italian international fly-half Craig Gower sent over two penalties to secure a losing bonus-point for Bayonne.
Elsewhere in Pool 4, Racing Metro ran in 10 tries on their way to a 62-0 victory over Rugby Roma at Stade Yves du Manoir in Colombes. The victory kept their quarter-final hopes alive but they still trail leaders Wasps and Bayonne.
Connacht continued their impressive European form by picking up the points with a 26-21 away win over Worcester at Sixways. Tom Wood's early try gave the home side the impetus but his effort was matched by a try from Connacht fly-half Ian Keatley, who also clipped over an early penalty. Willie Walker slotted two first-half penalties but the visitors had another try in their locker before the break as Fionn Carr was on hand to score.
Sean Cronin scored Connacht's third as the clock ticked towards 70 minutes but a try from Walker pegged back the Magners League side before Keatley's last minute penalty put the seal on the victory.
Montpellier temporarily moved ahead of Worcester and Connacht with a comfortable 57-24 win over Olympus Rugby XV Madrid on Friday. Fullback Benjamin Thiery scored 13 points as the Frenchmen ran in eight tries, while Cesar Sempere bagged 14 points, more than Madrid had managed in their previous two outings in the pool.
Leeds survived a scare in Romania on Saturday, scraping past a committed Bucuresti Oaks side 6-10 thanks to a last-gasp try from No.8 Rhys Oakley. Andy Key and Neil Back took a much-changed side to eastern Europe and their charges were made to work for every point as snow blanketed the ground.
Home fullback Florin Vlaicu slotted a penalty and a drop-goal for a 6-3 lead goining in to the final minutes, with a Jason Strange penalty keeping Leeds in touch as both sides struggled to get to grips with a fussy display from French referee Mathieu Raynal. Oakley latched on to a charge-down to slide in for the winning try, but Leeds were forced to defend for their lives in the closing stages as the Oaks piled on the pressure.
In the Pool's other game, Bourgoin slipped up in Italy, losing 14-9 to Overmach Parma at the Stadio XXV Aprile. Winger Giulio Rubini scored the only try of the game for the home side, with Barry Irving slotting two penalties and fullback Edd Thrower chipping in with a drop-goal. Benjamin Boyet kicked all of Bourgoin's points a week after they dispatched Top 14 leaders Castres on the domestic stage.
Saracens kept the heat on Toulon by defeating Castres 23-9 in our Game of the Week.
On Friday, Toulon recorded their biggest victory in Europe, beating Italians Rugby Rovigo 73-3. Fijian wing Gabi Lovobalavu crossed four times, including the first and last of the French team's 11 tries at Stade Felix Mayol. Fellow wing Sinoti Sinoti also scored twice while Felipe Contepomi added five conversions.
Newcastle Falcons kicked off the weekend's Challenge Cup action with a 17-6 win over an understrength, but highly competitive Montauban at a bitterly cold Kingston Park on Thursday.
After a tight first half that saw the French side lead 6-3 at the break, the Falcons stepped up a gear in the second period with Alex Tait's 56th minute try proving crucial before Jimmy Gopperth kicked them home. The win means Newcastle sit pretty atop Pool 5, six points clear of the visitors in second.
Montauban started the better side, despite making fourteen changes from the side that beat Perpignan in the Top 14 last weekend and Johan Dalla Riva kicked a fine early drop goal to give them the lead. Gopperth equalised with a penalty, before a second drop goal - this time from Cedric Coll - restored the Frenchmen's lead.
But the hosts emerged re-energised after half time and after Gopperth had equalised with his second penalty, before a slick backline move started by man of the match Micky Young saw Gcobani Bobo send Tait over in the corner for the crucial try.
The French heads dropped thereafter as indiscipline cost them and having missed the conversion, Gopperth was given two kickable penalty opportunities and made no mistake. Montauban pushed for a bonus point at the end of the game, but their efforts came up short and they left Tyneside empty handed.
Also in Pool 5, Albi produced their first victory of this season's European Challenge Cup by thrashing Padova 35-16 at the Stadio Plebiscito. The Top 14's bottom side had too much for their Italian hosts and scored five tries to secure a bonus-point. Winger Dave Vainqueur led the way with a brace and his efforts were complemented by further scores to Benjamin Lapeyre, Anthony Poujol and tight-head Ronny Sua.