Europe’s second competition—behind the more lucrative Heineken Cup—saw English sides excel against French opposition at the weekend as Top14 sides Stade Français and Brive were outclassed against sides with plenty of European heritage.
On Thursday night, Northampton Saints kept alive their hopes of winning silverware as a second-string XV produced a convincing 28-14 win over Sale Sharks in Salford.
A four-try blitz in the first half from Jim Mallinder’s side was enough for the Saints as their forwards and notable strength in depth dominated their Aviva Premiership rivals.
The home side took struck first when England tighthead Henry Thomas found his way over the line, but Saints hit back with two tries from Ben Nutley and one apiece from Sam Dickinson and Ben Foden before the break.
A disappointing second half yielded just one further score as Sharks number 8 Viliami Fihaki reduced the deficit near the end, but Steve Diamond’s side rarely looked capable of turning around the match.
On Friday night in the French capital, three-time Challenge Cup winner Harlequins crushed a misfiring Stade Français side 29-6 at the Stade Jean Bouin with outside-half Nick Evans impressing with a 100 per cent kicking record with four penalties, a drop goal and conversion.
With a 9-6 lead at the break, Quins turned up the heat in the second half as the Six Nations player of the championship Mike Brown went over after five minutes.
Evans landed a fourth penalty against a weakened SF side and kicked a drop goal to seal the match with seven minutes to go before Tim Molenaar went over for Quins’ second try, with Ben Botica capping off a perfect performance with the conversion.
Saturday afternoon saw a weakened Brive side outclassed by Bath at the Rec as they went down 39-7 as Gavin Henson did his future with the Premiership the world of good with a man of the match performance as he set up two tries.
Argentina wing Horacio Agulla picked up his first of three tries inside 10 minutes before full-back Nick Abendanon and Semesa Rokodaguni got in on the act and Agulla added his second in a dominant spell in the second quarter.
Young England outside-half George Ford was misfiring from the tee, but such was Bath’s dominance is mattered not as they led 35-0 at the break.
Scrum-half Michael Young scored the home side’s fifth try two minutes after the restart before Agulla gratefully secured a hat-trick of tries seven minutes later.
At 39-0 and the match already won, Brive got on the scoreboard with 11 minutes to go through powerful Aberdeen-born number 8 Kieran Murphy with Thomas Laranjeira adding the extras.
In the game of the round, London Wasps came out on top 36-24 against Gloucester at Adams Park.
Andy Goode opened the scoring with a drop goal after 13 minutes, but it took half an hour before for the first try to come as Matt Mullan went over the first of Wasps’ three tries.
Rob Cook hit back three minutes later for Gloucester, but Goode knocked over his first successful penalty of the clash to give the High Wycombe-based side a 13-3 lead at the break.
Italian hooker Carlo Festuccia went over for Wasps’ second try three minutes after the break and Goode’s 21 points from the boot helped rack up points as the two-time European Cup winners enjoyed a 20-point lead.
But the Cherry and Whites hit back through England wing Jonny May and replacement back row forward Gareth Evans with 20 minutes to play to reduce the difference to six points.
Tongan winger Will Helu finished off Wasps final try with four minutes to go to put Gloucester out of reach and Martyn Thomas’ effort with the clock red was mere consolation for Nigel Davies’ side.
Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-finals:
Northampton Saints vs Harlequins, Franklin’s Gardens, Friday 25 April | Kick-off 20:00 BST
London Wasps vs Bath Rugby, Adams Park, Sunday 27 April | Kick-off 13:00 BST
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BIOGRAPHY: Cesc Fabregas