The European Champions and Challenge Cups have got underway in dramatic style, with all the Welsh regions having made a winning start to their campaigns.
Much of the opening ten days was sadly overshadowed by the terrible news of the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley, an Irish rugby legend, who died in a Paris hotel overnight ahead of the Munster game against Racing 92. Naturally the game was postponed, but Munster paid Foley a fitting tribute in beating Glasgow in an emotional return to the field the day after his funeral. It was great to see so many rugby supporters coming together to pay respect to this rugby legend.
Here is the lowdown on the fortunes of the Welsh regions in the opening two rounds of action.
- Cardiff Blues
A superb start. A much needed response to the Ospreys defeat saw Blues earn a bonus point at local rivals Bristol in Round One. Alex Cuthbert made only his second competitive start of the season following an injury picked up against Glasgow, and scored his second try of the season in the process. He looks to be returning to form, which is brilliant for Blues and a welcome boost for Wales ahead of the Autumn Series.
Round Two saw a return to the Arms Park against French side Pau, and a second victory, although the hosts were denied a bonus point, being restricted to three tries. Cory Allen scored two of Blues’ tries in a Man of the Match performance. The Wales centre seems to be staking his claim for his jersey ahead of the arrival of hugely talented New Zealander Willis Halaholo. This win sees Blues currently top Pool 4.
A brilliant thrashing of Newcastle Falcons (45-0) at home was followed by another bonus point victory away at Lyon (31-13). Justin Tipuric is in sublime form, and scored one of the best solo tries of the season so far against Newcastle. Young winger Keelan Giles showed his class, scoring three tries in their Round 2 win. Ospreys scored a maximum 10 match points from the opening pool games, and currently top their group.
The West-Walians beat a stubborn Sale Sharks side at home in round one, but were comfortably swept aside by Saracens in London in round two. Sarries’ Owen Farrell has made a superb return to playing after injury, and really has their back-line firing. Scarlets now face the daunting task of back-to-back games against French giants Toulon when the Champions Cup resumes in December.
The Dragons have an interesting pool draw which also includes Worcester, Brive, and Russian side Enisei-STM who qualifies through the European play-off system. The Newport-based region began with a bonus point, try-fest win at home to Brive. Their inconsistency again proved their downfall, however, as they lost to Enisei away 38-18. Remarkably, it’s the Russian side who now top the pool, having also narrowly beaten Worcester the week before. I must say, I love a good underdog story. Dragons coach Kingsley Jones concedes they were well beaten on Saturday, however, I feel this is a pool the Dragons could go on to win, especially with Worcester currently struggling in the English Premiership. It would be absolutely brilliant to see three Welsh teams in the Challenge Cup knock-out stages.