- Wins for Saracens, Gloucester and Exeter in Heineken Cup Round one
- Dylan Hartley try cannot prevent Northampton defeat in Castres
Photo: Getty Images
Saracens and Leicester Tigers enjoyed mixed fortunes over the Irish Sea as the Heineken Cup got underway on Friday night.
At a raucous Ravenhill, some superb industry in defence kept the East Midlands in touch against Ulster – Saxons back-rower Jordan Crane racked up 11 tackles, with Tom Youngs typically tenacious on the way to making 10.
Toby Flood kicked eight points as well, but the hosts’ tremendous physicality made them good value for a 22-16 victory. Even so, Leicester’s losing bonus point could prove crucial in the final Pool 5 shake-up.
Over in Galway, Chris Ashton scored the second of two early tries as Saracens looked likely to pull away from Connacht. However, Michael Swift’s underdogs stormed back to reach half time at 17-17.
From there, Owen Farrell kept his nerve on the way to a 13-point haul that took Saracens home. Alex Goode – making 68 metres and beating four defenders – and the Vunipola brothers were also stand-out performers.
Northampton Saints travelled to Castres on Saturday for another instalment of their seemingly annual group-stage tussles with the Top 14 champions. While they went behind thanks to a score from Romain Martial on eight minutes, Dylan Hartley replied from close range after the break to give the East Midlands outfit a sniff.
As it was, Saints settled for a consolation point following a 19-13 reverse, but Tom Wood (15 carries, eight tackles and eight lineout claims) and Ben Foden (75 running metres) can be proud of their efforts.
Harlequins boss Conor O’Shea was decidedly unimpressed with how his charges fell to a 33-26 loss against a Rhys Priestland-inspired Scarlets – Mike Brown’s brace failing to redeem a significant set-back.
Photo: Getty Images
However, Gloucester Rugby restored some pride for the Aviva Premiership by prevailing over Perpignan in an enthralling Pool 6 match at Kingsholm. With Freddie Burns out through illness, his regular midfield partner Billy Twelvetrees shifted to fly half and assumed the kicking duties.
Passing a tough test of nerves in style, the 24 year-old British and Irish Lions tourist returned 17 points from the tee to guide the Cherry and Whites to a 27-22 triumph.
Wing Jonny May, who made his Test debut in Buenos Aires four months ago, was a constant menace in attack and thoroughly deserved his decisive try five minutes from time.
Perhaps the pick of the English clubs’ performances came from another West Country side on Sunday as Exeter Chiefs dispatched a star-studded Cardiff Blues at Sandy Park.
Talisman Tom Johnson was only on the field for 33 minutes before succumbing to injury, but the blindside was ubiquitous in that period.
He opened the scoring by shunting over in the right-hand corner and laid the foundations for Chiefs to tear into a stunning 36-3 half-time lead. Though the Blues battled to secure a four-try bonus of their own in the second half, Rob Baxter eventually registered a 44-29 result.