French have nothing to show

 

The French clubs will be delighted to see the back of a weekend that was little short of an unmitigated disaster. Toulouse and Stade Francais, touted as potential Heineken European Cup winners, saw their respective challenges falter in the Principality.

Toulouse's prospects appear terminally damaged. Their opening day defeat to Saracens was compounded by a 27-16 defeat away to Cardiff. Welsh international outhalf Neil Jenkins presented his customary accuracy with the boot, registering 21 of his side's tally that also included a try.

The former French kingpins host Ulster next Sunday in a match they simply cannot afford to loose if they are to maintain tenuous hopes in Pool Three. Cardiff's victory - they lost to Ulster at Ravenhill in their first match - sets up a mouth-watering clash with pool toppers Saracens next weekend.

Stade Francais thrashed Roma in their first match 92-8 but found life at St Helen's considerably more arduous losing 18-16 to Swansea in an ill tempered affair. The French side led 11-0 at one stage and when Swansea were reduced to 14 players after flanker Colin Charvis - he got a two game ban - was sent off for an altercation with Diego Dominguez it appeared that they would grind out a victory.

However the mercurial talents of former Welsh outhalf Arwel Thomas transformed his side's plight. Three penalties reduced the deficit before Thomas produced a tour de force dropping three magnificent goals. A try eight minutes into injury time by Fabrice Landreau meant that Dominguez had a conversion to tie the match. He missed and Swansea celebrated a deserved victory.

Two tries from Irish international centre Rob Henderson helped Wasps to a 39-10 win at L'Aquila but next weekend they must travel to a Stade Francais side smarting from their Swansea defeat.

Llanelli's victory over Colomiers in France merely continued the theme of French misery, a considerable improvement to the Scarlets who lost their opening game against Gloucester at Stradey Park. Gloucester maintained their 100 per cent record in Pool 5 with an easy victory over Roma.

Wing Tom Beim set a record for the European Cup when he crossed for five tries, the last of which was an 80 metre gallop after he intercepted a pass inside his own 22.

Newport built on their promising performance against Munster with a 28-17 victory over Bath at Rodney Parade. It ensured that Munster would top Pool Four with two wins. Newport now face Castres in back-to-back home and away fixtures while Bath and Munster will be engaged in a similar tussle.

Arguably the surprise of the weekend was the defeat of the reigning European Cup holders Northampton at home to Edinburgh Reivers. Northampton led 13-0 at one stage but an injury time 45 metre drop goal from Edinburgh outhalf Duncan Hodge saw his side steal the points with a 23-22 victory.

The Scottish team lead Pool One with two victories but must travel to Biarritz next weekend before hosting the French side seven days later. Edinburgh's victory should galvanise a Leinster side who travel to Franklin's Gardens next Saturday buoyed by a comprehensive 35-9 victory over Biarritz.

If Leinster could somehow manage to sneak two wins against Northampton in the next fortnight it would give them a real opportunity to challenge for pool honours.

Leicester atoned for defeat by Glasgow Caledonians last season by claiming both points in a 33-21 victory. Ireland's Geordan Murphy was instrumental in their victory setting up the first two tries for Leon Lloyd and Neil Back.

Caledonians coach Richie Dixon lamented the number of unforced errors his side made and conceded that they face an uphill task to try and compete for Pool Six honours. Pau kept the French flag flying with a 12-9 victory over Pontypridd but Leicester, with four points, will be the team to catch in this pool.

Dean Richards' men face home and away games with Pontypridd and two victories would all but guarantee their qualification.