European rugby: Leinster and Toulouse red hot


Two Irish teams, Leinster and Munster, the French powerhouse Toulouse and the Northampton Saints, Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins from England, along with the Stormers and Bulls, were the great standouts in the European Cup series this weekend.

Although the Lions were beaten by Montpellier in the European Challenge Cup Series, four South African teams are certain of the knockout rounds: The Stormers and Bulls in the Champions Cup Series and the Sharks and Lions in the Challenge Cup Series. The door is also still wide open for the Cheetahs, who play against Pau in Amsterdam on Sunday afternoon.

Leinster, who thrashed France’s Stade Francais 43-7, provided most of the fireworks along with Toulouse, who thrashed Ulster 48-24.

Leinster, who had 11 Irish World Cup players in the squad, scored six tries against Stade Francais in Dublin.

The French gave their top players a break to qualify instead for the French Top14 series, which cost them dearly.

Leinster comfortably lead Group 4 with 14 points, followed by the Leicester Tigers and Stormers (both 9 points) and the Sale Sharks (5).

The Stormers play against Stade Francais in Paris this coming weekend. The French must win to qualify for the knockout rounds.

In Group 3, Munster achieved an important victory of 29-18 over Toulon in the Stade Felix Mayol and also won a bonus point.

Munster, who are going through an injury crisis, kept the back door open to qualify for the knock-out rounds and are third behind Northampton (14 points) and Exeter (13). Then follows Munster (8) and the Glasgow Warriors (5).

Northampton made a big impression on Friday when the Saints won 61-14 over Bayonne.

Toulouse, who have already won the series six times, scored seven tries in their 48-24 win over Ulster in Group 2 in Belfast.

Toulouse’s big stars were Tomas Ramos, Antoine Dupont and Anthony Jelonch.

Toulouse lead Group 2 with 15 points and are followed by Bath and Harlequins (both 10 points), with Ulster on just 5 points.

In Group 1, Lyon is ahead with 12 league points followed by Bordeaux-Begles and the Bulls together second on 10 points. Saracens have 5 points with the Bristol Bears, who were beaten against the Bulls, with Saracens fourth on 5 points.

The Bulls play against Bordeaux-Begles at Loftus Versfeld this coming Saturday and can clinch second place.

Friday and Saturday’s results: Champions Cup series: Northampton Saints 61, Bayonne 14; Lyon 34, Connacht 20; Bristol Bears 17, Bulls 31; Cardiff Rugby 15, Harlequins 54; Ulster 24, Toulouse 48; Exeter Chiefs 19, Glasgow Warriors 17; Toulon 18, Munster 28; Leinster 43, Stade Francais 7; Stormers 31, Bristol Bears 24.

* In the European Challenge Cup series, the Sharks made a big impression with their 38-7 away win over Oyonnax.

The Sharks (12) lead in Group 1, followed by Clermont (9) and Zebre (8).

In Group 2, Montpellier (14 points) is in front, followed by Benetton (11) and then the Lions and Ospreys (both 8).

In Group 3, Gloucester (12 points) is ahead, followed by Castres, Clermont (10) and Edinburgh (6).

Saturday’s results: Sharks 38, Oyonnax 7; Zebras 20, Dragons 17; Montpellier 13, Lions 3; Clermont 38, Scarlets 17; Castres 28, Black Lions 6; Edinburgh 20, Gloucester 21.