Monday, November 14, 2011

Amlin Challenge Cup Round 1: Argentine and USA players in action

The second tier competition of European Club rugby, the European Challenge Cup, known as the Amlin Challenge Cup for corporate reasons, is under way for the 2011-2012 season. A full round of ten matches took place with matches being played in England, France, Italy, Romania and Spain. Despite the event being second string in comparison to the Heineken Cup the competition itself is very important, carrying permitations the best performing sides and a place in next seasons Heineken Cup guaranteed for the winner. Last seasons winner, Harlequins, have gone on to dominate the currente Aviva Premiership season in England as they sit in first place undefeated and they are also off to a good start in the Heineken Cup having won their first round match two days ago. The Amlin Challenge Cup involves twenty teams divided into five pools of four with the top sides advancing to the Quarter Finals. The remaining Quarter Finals places will go to the leading second placed sides in the Heineken Cup who fail to make it to the knock-out stage of that competition.

Last seasons finalists, Stade Français were on track to win the competition before Argentine international winger, Gonzalo Camacho scored a late try to give the Harlquins victory. The loss was hard to take for the Parisians as it meant the side would not play in this seasons Heineken Cup as they finished well outside of the top six in the 2010-2011 Top 14 Orange. Stade Français head Pool 1 of the Amlin Challenge Cup and travelled to England to face the Worcester Warriors at Sixways Stadium on Thursday. The Parisians were fielding a team packed with international players from tier one sides Argentina, England, France and Italy in addition to players from the Cook Islands and Samoa as well as former Australian and New Zealand internationals. Stade Français were therefore firm favorites but were made to work tough as Worcester transfered its impressive defensive form to shut down plenty of attacks from the Parisians. Worcester scored two tries to one but it was Stade Français who were victorious in winning the match 23-14. Argentina captain, Felipe Contepomi kicked 18 points. Despite having a rough night, as he was tackled hard throughout, Contepomi was named man of the match. He formed a midfield partnership with Gonzalo Tiesi who was making his first appearance since exiting the World Cup with a knee injury. Pumas loosehead prop, Rodrigo Roncero started in the number one shirt for Stade Français while Argentina born Italian international backrower and captain, Sergio Parisse played 8. USA Eagles secondrower, Scott LaValla was rested as was Pumas fullback, Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga.

Despite winning the match, Stade Français sit in secondplace of the group after Romanian side Bucureşti hosted and defeated Italian side Crociati 34-7 in Bucharest on Sunday. The home side known as the Wolves, showed that Romanian rugby is on track to return to its former more competitive ways as they notched up a bonus point win and left the Italians feeling blue. The only tried that Crociati was able to score was to former Racing Metro and Italian international hooker, Carlo Festuccia.

Group One Standings

1 Bucarest 5
1 Stade Français 4
3 Worcester Warriors 0
4 Crociati 0

A similar result took place for the Italian side in Group 2, Petrarca Padova as the club faced last seasons Heineken Cup Quarter Finalists, Toulon on Thursday. Toulon were unlucky to miss out on a place in this seasons Heineken Cup and, like Stade Français, will be looking to guarantee a place in the 2012-2013 tournament by winning this seasons Amlin Challenge Cup. The French club got off to the perfect start as they had no problems in scoring a full five points thanks to completing an eight try 53-22 bonus point win. The sides new recruit, Leonardo Senatore was unable to make his debut for Toulon as he is yet to have been given the neccessary clearances. Uncapped Argentine secondrower, Agustín Cavalieri scored a try for the Italians and weas joined in the starting lineup by two countrymen, Agustín Costa Repetto who played hooker and Juan Pablo Sánchez who played at outside centre. Sitting in second place of the group are Northern English side, the Newcastle Falcons who sit dead last in the Aviva Premiership and look like being favorites for relegation to the second division. Falcons fans´ had something to cheer about on Saturday, however, as Newcastle were too strong for Lyon OU in knocking over the French side 27-19 in Newcastle. Los Pumas backrower, Juan Manuel Leguizamón played the full 80 minutes for Lyon.

Group 2 Standings
1 Toulon 5
2 Newcastle Falcons 4
3 Lyon OU 0
4 Petrarca Padova 0

Both matches of Group 3 were played on Saturday. The newcomers to Top 14 Orange, Bordeaux-Begles played host to Aviva Premiership side, London Wasps but had their party spoiled as the English side proved to be far superior as they notched up a massive 47-14 bonus point victory. The win puts sends a message to the other teams in the competition that they are a much improved side from last season. Argentine international flyhalf, Nicolás Sánchez made his debut for Bordeaux-Begles, contributing four points as he converted his sides two tries. Former Pumas winger, Rafael Carballo also started for the French side. Meanwhile in Italy, Rovigo played hosted to Basque side Bayonne. The French side had few problems in completing a bonus point 43-10 victory to join London Wasps at the top of the table on five points. Bayonne have been performing poorly in the Top 14 but this may be set to change when the competition restarts. Two of the sides try scorers were world class finishers in Fijian born former All Black winger Joe Rokocoko and French international Cedric Heymans. Former Pumas flyhalf, Germán Bustos kicked a penalty and a conversion for Rovigo.

Group 3 Standings 

1 Bayonne 5
2 London Wasps 5
3 Bordeaux Begles 0
4 Rovigo 0

It was all Wales in Group 4 of the competition as Welsh region the Newport-Gwent Dragons crushed Italian side I Cavalieri Prato 33-3 in Italy on Saturday I and French Top 14 side, Perpignan sneacked home 15-12 in a tryless home match vs Aviva Premiership side the Exeter Chiefs. Perpignan´s win came thanks to the boot of Welsh international, James Hook. Uncapped Argentine and former Perpignan flyhalf, Ignacio Mieres was on the bench for ther Exeter Chiefs while Los Pumas World Cup winger, Gonzalo Camacho played the full 80 minutes for the English side. Perpignan take four points for the win to sit in second place behind the Newport-Gwent Dragons. I Cavalieri Prato who are bottom of the table had an Argentine player on the bench in the form of Martín Murgier. It was not a perfect afternoon for the Welsh side, however, as backrower and Welsh international Dan Lydiate left the field injured.

Group 4 Standings

1 Newport-Gwent Dragons 5
2 Perpignan 4
3 Exeter Chiefs 1
4 I Cavalieri Prato 0

French teams dominate Group 5 after the first round as both Brive and Agen were victorious. Brive hosted English side the Sale Sharks and the sides competed well with the Sharks mounting an impressive secondhalf comeback before going down 26-18 to Brive. The French clubs victory saw an 80 minute performance from the returning Argentine scrumhalf, Agustín Figuerola. He was joined in the Brive starting XV by former Argentine international loosehead prop, Pablo Henn. There was no place for fellow former Pumas frontrower, Pablo Cardinali who did not feature. Sale Sharks´ off-season Argentine recruit, Joaquín Tuculet also missed the match as he continues to recover from injury. Brive´s win was not enough to claim top spot of the group however as fellow French Top 14 side, Agen scored a bigger win vs Spanish club side, La Vila in Spain on Saturday. The 50-10 win continues Agen´s impressive run which has seen it do well in the earley stages of the French season. Agen´s bonus point win was completed without a number of usual starters. All three Argentine players at the club were rested with Miguel Avramovic, Martín Scelzo and Belisario Agulla all expected to return next week. USA international winger, Kevin Swiryn started for Agen and scored a try.

Group 5 Standings

1 Agen 5
2 Brive 4
3 Sale Sharks 0
4 La Vila 0

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