4 winners and 5 losers after the crucial back-to-back European rugby fixtures

WHATEVER NAME YOU put on the European Cup, its December back-to-back fixtures have often set the tone for the competition to come. It’s the equivalent of moving day in a golf major, when those with intentions of winning shake off the early cobwebs and move into position by hook or by crook. Hopefully this year will not follow that trend, because in the Champions Cup at least, rounds three and four were not pretty viewing for Irish fans.

Here’s who we think will be thinking happy thoughts going in to the New Year.


Source: James Crombie/INPHO


Alright, so this will be the first and last reference to the (sadly, mostly meaningless) European Challenge Cup. But Connacht head coach Pat Lam  could not have planned a better seven-day window in the competition.

Two games, nine points and two completely different starting line-ups tell the tale of a province that is absolutely thriving at present.

We said after the opening three weeks of this season that Lam was presiding over the most exciting team in Ireland. This Friday West will meet East and Connacht will be fresh, confident and a contrast to Leinster in many more ways.


European Rugby’s old money have yet to put a bonus point on the board, but they are also the only team with four wins out of four.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Many people tipped Glasgow Warriors as their dark horse in this year’s competition and after the brilliant opening round win over Bath, they declared themselves vindicated. Toulouse, however, shelved the flair rugby for the crucial back-to-back rounds and flew out of Scotland smelling of, not quite roses, but a hard-earned victory.

There is a perceived weakness about Toulouse these days, but a little know-how around European qualification is invaluable.

Racing Metro

While their pool rivals Northampton Saints claimed 10 points as expected in two games against Treviso, Racing (without Jonathan Sexton) will go in to the fifth round of fixtures just a point behind.

Source: David Davies

It could have been better, of course, and they were guilty of coughing up late scores against Ospreys – forcing a draw in Swansea – but six points from two games is a decent return. Only Northampton and Toulouse have more than 14 points on the board.


Fourth from bottom in the Premiership, Conor O’Shea will be hoping that shutting down the three-time European Champions will provide a timely boost to his side’s stop-start season.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Despite losing their out-half early in week three and the England captain before week four, Quins took five points away from their back-to-back meetings with Leinster and kept control of the summit in Pool 2.



While Munster and Clermont went head-to-head, Saracens had an opportunity to make a statement and move top of Pool 1.

Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Instead, the defending champions merely kept pace with the Top 14 club. For a team with as much quality as Mark McCall’s side, two victories over Sale Sharks amount to two blown chances at a bonus point. They go into a mouth-watering round five meeting with Munster just three points ahead of the southern province. They’ll be kicking themselves that it’s not five.


Losing at home simply wasn’t part of the plan, but it happened for just the third time in Munster’s history.

Though the performance improved on the trip to France and the new attacking structure caused Clermont problems, they could have been blasted away by Franck Azema’s side were it not for some poor second half finishing.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Typically, though, Munster did not allow themselves to be blown off the park. They rallied, they found a way to draw their own silver lining on an otherwise disappointing eight days and the losing bonus point will give them a small sense of momentum going to England in January.


‘It’s just a flesh wound…’

Neil Doak is fast becoming the Champions Cup’s very own Black Knight, refusing to accept that Ulster, with three defeats in four, are out.

Source: Presseye/Ben Evans/INPHO

The hopeful outlook found some traction after defeat to Toulon in round two, but only because there was a possibility of running up 10 points from two games against the Scarlets. They did the first half of the task in unconvincing fashion at Kingspan Park, but last night’s loss in Llanelli sent them tumbling to the foot of pool 3.

Like Connacht, the Pro12 should now be Ulster’s primary focus, because January’s trip to Toulon looks like an impossible task that can only distract from achievable goals.

Montpellier & Castres

Cheers for continuing to devalue and skew the competition, lads.

TheScore.ie’s Irish XV of the fourth Champions Cup weekendWho knew O’Connell and Cudmore could stand together without beating the head off each other?

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