It was a good weekend of EPCR rugby for the five South African teams participating in the Investec Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, with four teams registering encouraging victories to make a strong statement for the domestic teams.
The Vodacom Bulls built on their early-season form in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship as they defeated Saracens 27-16 in Pretoria on Saturday, but it was a disappointing round for the DHL Stormers who suffered a heart-breaking 35-26 defeat against Leicester Tigers in England, where they were denied a bonus point at the death.
In the EPCR Challenge Cup, it was smiles all around for SA’s teams as the Toyota Cheetahs beat Zebre Parma 33-15 in Italy, the Hollywoodbets Sharks thumped Section Paloise 45-5 in Durban, and the Emirates Lions earned a 28-12 victory against Perpignan in France.
Vodacom Bulls overpower Saracens for a valuable home win
The Vodacom Bulls delivered on their objective to carry their momentum from the Vodacom URC into the Investec Champions Cup as they defeated Saracens 27-16 at Loftus Versfeld – which marked their fourth home win in a row this season – and had it not been for a few disallowed tries, they could have walked away with a much bigger score.
The Pretoria side, who were dominant at the breakdown and backed this up with a solid defence, started strongly with a try in the second minute by David Kriel, and Johan Goosen added the conversion and two penalty goals in the first quarter to take control of the match early on.
England flyhalf Owen Farrell kicked two penalty goals for Saracens in the first 23 minutes, but they were dealt a huge blow soon after as Alex Goode and Maro Itoje received yellow cards within 12 minutes, and this paved the way for the Vodacom Bulls’ Janko Swanepoel to add their second try for a handy 20-6 halftime lead.
Rugby World Cup winning Springbok speedster Canan Moodie stretched the hosts’ lead with their third try early in the second half, and the team managed to hold on despite a spirited fightback by Saracens, who found themselves down to 14 men from the 51st minute after Billy Vunipola received a red card.
Despite being a man down they added two tries within nine minutes in the third quarter – the latter after Swanepoel was yellow-carded – and in the end they went down 27-16.
Leicester shut out determined DHL Stormers
The DHL Stormers – featuring a fairly young team following the decision to leave most of their star players in Cape Town – had a strong start against the Leicester Tigers at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Sunday as they built up an encouraging 17-10 halftime lead, before succumbing to a 35-26 defeat against the English outfit.
The Capetonians scored two first-half tries compliments of Keke Morabe and Courtnall Skosan to only one by the hosts to add to an early penalty goal by Leicester’s RWC-winning Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard, which pushed them seven points ahead going into the sheds.
Leicester, however, fought back with intent in the second half, which they started with two penalty goals by Pollard and a converted try in the third quarter, before the DHL Stormers were reduced to 14 men in the 63rd minute when Lee-Marvin Mazibuko received a yellow card. The hosts took immediate advantage of this with Pollard scoring a converted try for a 30-20 lead with 15 minutes left to play.
The Cape outfit managed to keep the scoreboard ticking with two penalty goals and a drop goal in the half by Jurie Matthee, but this was not enough as Leicester added their bonus-point try on the stroke of fulltime to snatch the 35-26 victory, which denied the visitors a valuable bonus point.
Toyota Cheetahs start season on a high in Parma
The Toyota Cheetahs got their season off to a strong start in their first top-class game of the year in the EPCR Challenge Cup as they capitalised on their point-scoring chances well to register an invaluable 33-15 away win against Zebre Parma in Italy.
The match may have started slowly as the teams tried to make their presence felt, but when the Toyota Cheetahs found their rhythm, they took their chances – even with the team down to 14 men after Laurence Victor received a yellow card in the 28th minute.
Ruan Pienaar, who scored 18 of the team’s points, slotted three penalty goals and a conversion in the first stanza to add to a try by Cohen Jasper, while they limited the hosts to a penalty goal for their efforts.
They continued to retain control of the scoreboard in the second half with further tries by Reinhardt Fortuin and Louis van der Westhuizen to add to yet another penalty goal by Pienaar, which pushed them 33-3 ahead. However, they allowed Zebre Parma to claw their way back in the dying minutes with two tries in four minutes.
While they will be disappointed with the way the match ended, the victory will undoubtedly boost their confidence as they prepare for their next in Durban on Sunday in a local derby against the Hollywoodbets Sharks.
Hollywoodbets Sharks bag vital win against Section Paloise
Braces by Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks Lukhanyo Am and Eben Etzebeth set up the Hollywoodbets Sharks for a much-needed 45-5 victory against Section Paloise in Durban in their debut EPCR Challenge Cup game, which will undoubtedly boost their confidence after a disappointing start to the Vodacom URC this season.
Am made his presence felt early on scoring two tries in the first 24 minutes, while the visitors scored their first and only try in between. It was one-way traffic on the scoreboard for the rest of the match as Etzebeth touched down for his first try on the stroke of halftime to push the team into a 24-5 lead.
The KwaZulu-Natalians picked up where they left off in the second half with Marnus Potgieter crossing the tryline one minute after play resumed. And matters got worse for Section Paloise soon after as they were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes, which paved the way for Etzebeth cross for his second try followed by his Bok team-mate Makazole Mapimpi.
Neither team was able to add to the score in the fourth quarter, but the victory will mean a lot for the Hollywoodbets Sharks, who have won only one match in the Vodacom URC so far.
Emirates Lions down Perpignan for good EPCR start
The accurate boot of Emirates Lions flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse proved to be decisive in their EPCR Challenge Cup clash against Perpignan, with the talented young star scoring 23 points in the team’s 28-12 victory in France on Sunday.
Only one try was scored in the match, by the Johannesburgers’ Rabz Maxwane in the ninth minute, while Perpignan’s Jean-Pasqual Barraque and Hendrikse traded penalty goals for the rest of the game.
Perpignan’s ill-discipline assisted the Emirates Lions’ cause significantly, with Hendrikse slotting over three three-pointers in the first half and four in the second half to steer his team to victory.
This result was encouraging for the Johannesburg outfit and for SA’s teams in general in the European competitions, as it sealed the full house of wins for SA’s EPCR Challenge Cup teams.
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