Champions Saracens state their intent by raiding Toulon’s tower
Round-up: French club lose for first time at home in Europe; Saints and Scarlets win in Pool 4; Wasps run in 12 tries in Zebre rout
Saracens’ Sean Maitland dives over for the first try despite being tackled by Ma’a Nonu and Leigh Halfpenny during the European Rugby Champions Cup match at Stade Felix Mayol. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Zebre Rugby players looks dejected after Wasps score their 11th try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool Two at Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images via Reuters/Livepic
Toulon 23 Saracens 31
Saracens sent out a real statement of intent as they kicked off the defence of their European Champions Cup crown by beating French giants Toulon 31-23 at Stade Mayol.
The home side had never lost a home game in this competition but they found themselves 28-9 down early in the second half of this Pool Three opener.
Sean Maitland, Richard Wigglesworth and Chris Wyles all scored tries, with Owen Farrell kicking 13 points on his first appearance of the season for Saracens.
But three-time winners Toulon came roaring back through tries from Levan Chilachava and Bryan Habana plus Leigh Halfpenny’s boot.
But Sarries held on with a late Farrell penalty sealing a famous win and laying down a marker to any side with ideas of taking their mantle as European champions.
Northampton 16 Montpellier 14
Stephen Myler landed an injury-time penalty to give Northampton a winning start to their Pool 4 campaign in a 16-14 victory over Montpellier at Franklin’s Gardens.
Myler was on target in the final act of the game to ensure Saints’ domestic malaise, consisting of four defeats in six Aviva Premiership matches, was not carried into Europe.
France number eight Louis Picamoles was outstanding once again and finished as man of the match, but it was Myler who landed the killer blow after Montpellier scrumhalf Nic White had failed to put the ball into touch.
Montpellier, who sit second in the French league and host Leinster on Sunday week, fielded a gigantic starting XV with a large South African contingent and their bench was every bit as imposing, but Saints camped in their 22 in the final 10 minutes and were eventually rewarded.
The result will have eased the anxiety at Franklin’s Gardens caused by a poor start to the season which saw attack coach Alex King, who was linked with England less than 12 months ago, leave the club on Friday.
Scarlets 28 Sale Sharks 11
Sale slumped to a 12th successive defeat in top-flight European competition as their Champions Cup campaign suffered an immediate setback at Parc-y-Scarlets.
The Sharks, without a European Cup win since they beat Cardiff Blues two years ago, were sent on their way by first-half tries from Scarlets scrumhalf Gareth Davies and wing DTH van der Merwe.
And Van der Merwe’s second touchdown after 57 minutes ended the contest, with Scarlets outhalf Rhys Patchell adding three penalties and two conversions to underpin a comfortable win before next Saturday’s daunting assignment against Saracens in north London.
Hooker Neil Briggs claimed a try for the visitors, with outhalf Dan Mugford adding two penalties, but in a group that also includes European heavyweights Saracens and Toulon, Sale already look as if they will be making up the numbers.
The Sharks host Toulon in six days’ time.
Wasps 82 Zebre 14
Wasps made an impressive start to their Champions Cup campaign with a 12-try thrashing of Zebre at the Ricoh Arena.
The Italians had no answer to the power of the home pack in which Nathan Hughes and Joe Launchbury excelled and this allowed the Wasps backs to run riot and record their highest score in the top tier of European competition.
Rob Miller and Joe Simpson scored two each with Frank Halai, Ashley Johnson, Elliot Daly, Jake Cooper-Woolley, Josh Bassett, James Gaskell, Dan Robson and Launchbury one apiece. Danny Cipriani converted six and former Leinster outhalf Jimmy Gopperth five.
Connacht host Toulouse in Saturday’s other Pool 2 game, the game kicking off at 5.35pm at The Sportsground.