Wednesday 11 December 2019

Champions Cup Power Rankings Week 2: Leinster move in the right direction

23 November 2019; Robbie Henshaw, right, and Jonathan Sexton celebrate a try which was subsequently disallowed during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 2 match between Lyon and Leinster at Matmut Stadium in Lyon, France. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
23 November 2019; Robbie Henshaw, right, and Jonathan Sexton celebrate a try which was subsequently disallowed during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 2 match between Lyon and Leinster at Matmut Stadium in Lyon, France. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Des Berry

There are many familiar faces gathering speed in the sprint that is the six rounds of qualification for the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

RANK 1: EXETER CHIEFS 2-0 (10 points)

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Last week: 1

Rob Baxter's men blasted back from a three-point deficit to Glasgow at half-time to stamp their authority all over Pool 2.

They stand alone as the only club with maximum points after the two rounds.

It couldn't have been any more impressive, initially struggling to cope with Glasgow's continuity for the first forty, reassessing the situation and punching in tries by Henry Slade, Sam Simmonds, Tom O'Flaherty for the 34-18 statement.

Round 3: v Sale Sharks, AJ Bell Stadium, Sunday, December 8.

RANK 2: LEINSTER 2-0 (9 points)

Last week: 3

Beforehand, Leo Cullen would have gladly settled for the scrappy, patchy 13-6 victory they came away with from Lyon.

That is exactly what they got when moving 10 points clear before running aground on a heavy pitch.

However, there were chances missed, Rob Kearney and particularly Robbie Henshaw passing up the right choice for the safe one, leaving James Lowe parched for possession in the right area of the field.

Leinster lacked the sharpness in attack that was so readily on show in a disciplined defence.

Round 3: v Northampton Saints, Franklins Gardens, Saturday, December 7.

RANK 3: NORTHAMPTON 2-0 (9 points)

Last Week: 9

Kiwi coach Chris Boyd is drilling a degree of resilience into Saints.

They showed the heart and the fluidity to overcome a 17-point gap close to half-time at Stadio Monigo, sparked by Springbok Cobus Reinach's opportunist try, converted by Dan Biggar.

In a match of fascinating, changing fortunes, Saints marched on with 22 unanswered points to take over, before Hame Faiva's converted try tied it up.

This is when Iliesa Ratuva's indiscipline emerged to hand Biggar a shot at snatching all five points which the Wales fly-half took with ice-cool composure.

Round 3: v Leinster, Franklins Gardens, Saturday, December 7.

RANK 4: TOULOUSE 2-0 (9 points)

Last week: 5

Connacht made a fabulous fist of exposing Toulouse frailties in a see-saw opening hour to old a 17-15 edge at Stade Wallon.

It was a hard pill to swallow to come away empty-handed, while Jerome Kaino rolled over for the third try and Connacht's former wing Pita Ahki picked up the bonus-point at the death.

The four-time champions are in the driving seat before a monster back-to-back with Montpellier.

Round 3: v Montpellier, Stade Wallon, Sunday, December 8.

RANK 5: ULSTER 2-0 (8 points)

Last week: 8

The Kingspan can be a real leveller when the rain is coming down in the dark of a Friday night.

The sight of Peceli Yato, Fritz Lee and Paul Jedrasiak being blasted back in the tackle was all the encouragement the men in white needed.

Once again, John Cooney made the decisive move, spotting an exposed short side, chipping, controlling and plunging for the winning play in the 18-13 victory to take a two-point lead over Clermont in Pool 3.

Round 3: v Harlequins, Kingspan Stadium, Saturday, December 7.

RANK 6: RACING 92 1-0-1 (7 points)

Last week: 3.

Coach Laurent Travers will be kicking himself, and his players, that Racing could do no better than a 17-all draw at Thomond Park.

They created enough opportunities to put Munster in a deep hole without the ruthlessness to accompany it.

Racing destroyed the Munster scrum and sacked the lineout to prevent any decent set-piece possession and, still, it was enough.

With Ospreys serving as the whipping boys, Travers will target 10 points from the next two rounds to create clear water back to Munster and Saracens.
Round 3: v Ospreys, Liberty Stadium, Saturday, December 7.

RANK 7: CLERMONT-AUVERGNE 1-1 (6 points)

Last week: 2.

The enigma that is Clermont in Europe was on show in Belfast on Friday night when they failed to fire a shot in anger.
They arrived with glaring advantages in physical and scoring power and left with a single bonus-point from the 18-13 loss to a home side who, plain and simple, wanted it more.

The frustration on the face of their Director of Rugby Franck Azema told a familiar story, to be less than the sum of their parts.

Round 3: v Montpellier, Stade Wallon, Sunday, December 8.

RANK 8: MUNSTER 1-0-1 (7 points)
Last week: 6.

The sound of JJ Hanrahan's last-minute drop goal whipping wide of the left upright was about as painful as they come.

In truth, the Kerryman's left-to-right picture-perfect pass for Andrew Conway's try and the subsequent touchline conversion rescued Munster from just their fifth defeat at Thomond Park in Europe.

The problem was Racing were dominant at times, showing Saracens how to literally kick and run the Reds into submission.

Round 3: v Saracens, Thomond Park, Saturday, December 7.

RANK 9: SARACENS 1-1 (5 points)

Last week: Not Ranked.

There had to be a broad smile breaking across the usually non-plussed face of Mark McCall as Munster and Racing went blow-for-blow for a draw neither would have wanted.

The Ospreys are about as lifeless as roadkill in the true Pool of Death and Sarries were able to ease Elliot Daly, Mako Vinupola and George Kruis back into action with Jamie George appearing off the bench in a 44-3 slaughter.

The half-dozen tries did wonders for their overall position, sneaking to within two points of Munster and Racing with the back-to-back against Peter O'Mahony's men assuming even greater significance.

Round 3: v Munster, Thomond Park, Saturday, December 8.

RANK 10: MONTPELLIER 1-1 (5 points)

Last week: Not Ranked.

The French club had to survive a 55th-minute red card for Jacques du Plessis's elbow to the head of Gerbrandt Grobler in the 30-27 defeat of Gloucester.

Montpellier looked likely for the bonus-point when Nemani Nadolo struck for their third in first-half injury-time.

They just about held out to set up a mouthwatering back-to-back with Toulouse which could turn the Pool on its' head.

Round 3: v Toulouse, Stade Wallon, Sunday, December 8.

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