Power Ranking Europe's Top 10 Rugby Clubs
It was back to domestic rugby warfare across Europe last weekend, with some key clashes at the top of the French Top 14 and Premiership revealing much about the depth of quality in some squads.
With players missing for many sides on international duty, this is a period where others can gain ground in the race for top placings. Things have tightened up in England and France as we head into the first Test weekend of the season.
Last week's rank in parentheses.
10. (10) Racing Metro, Top 14
Racing secured bragging rights in Paris after a 16-12 win over Stade Francais at the Stade de France.
Jonny Sexton was on target with 11 points after Luc Ducalcon’s try, while Julien Dupuy (three) and replacement Morne Steyn (one) scored penalties for Stade.
The victory creeps Racing up to eighth and just two points off the top four in a congested middle of the Top 14 table.
Having recruited on a grand scale in the summer, Racing Metro will be hoping they at least finish the season in the top four. After a win and a draw in the opening two fixtures of their tough Heineken Cup pool, qualification into the knockout stages is well within their grasp.
9. (8) Ulster, PRO12
It’s now six straight wins for Ulster, with a 39-21 win over Toulon’s conquerers Cardiff sealed with a try-bonus point.
Dan Tuohy scored twice while Luke Marshall, Jared Payne and Andrew Trimble also crossed.
Mark Anscombe’s side face the Scarlets in Wales next before entertaining Edinburgh. Two more wins there will set them up nicely for a double crack at Heineken Cup whipping boys Treviso.
Given Ulster's form, a few quid on six wins becoming 10 wouldn’t be the craziest bet you could place.
8. (7) Leicester, Premiership
Another side decimated by international call-ups, Leicester were beaten largely thanks to the efforts of one of their old boys.
It’s still a bit odd to see Andy Goode barreling around in Wasps colours, but it didn’t bother him.
The fly-half kicked 17 points, including a 62-metre penalty that denied the lacklustre Tigers even a losing bonus point.
It wasn’t the return to matchday duties Richard Cockerill was hoping for after his nine-game matchday ban, but with an entire back line missing, his side was always going to be up against it.
7. (9) Northampton, Premiership
The Saints put Saracens to the sword handsomely on Saturday, with two tries from Ben Foden a timely reminder of his attacking qualities against England rival Alex Goode.
Further tries from Jamie Elliott, Samu Manoa, Luther Burrell and Ken Pisi made for the heaviest defeat Sarries have suffered for four-and-a-half years and put the Saints just one point behind the league leaders.
On the evidence of this weekend, Jim Mallinder’s men could profit, while others suffer from the decimation of their squads by call-ups for the autumn internationals.
5. (5) Munster, Pro 12
Munster did what no one else has managed in the league this season and inflicted defeat on Glasgow, albeit in unspectacular circumstances.
JJ Hanrahan accounted for all 13 points in a seven-point win at Scotstoun, with the scoring completed by the 47th minute of a scrappy contest.
Munster move up to second having made eight changes from the side that beat Gloucester at home in the Heineken Cup.
Rod Penney will be content that he can rely on his backup players to perform when needed.
5. (4) Leinster, Pro 12
The Dubliners scraped past Connacht 16-13, coming back from 13-3 down thanks to 11 points from the boot of Ian Madigan.
Even with the likes of Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Rob Kearney, Sean Cronin and Devin Toner all starting for the three-time European champions, they found the Galwaymen a tough nut to crack.
They didn’t do themselves many favours when gifting Kieran Marmion a try from their own put-in at a scrum that stumbled backwards over their own try line before the ball squirted out to the Connacht No. 9.
They say the mark of a good side is one that finds a way to win when it’s not playing well.
Box ticked here.
4. (6) Clermont Auvergne, Top 14
An entertaining 36-29 win over Brive kept Clermont’s outstanding record at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin intact.
The visitors led with 15 minutes remaining, but a late 13-point blitz meant the men in yellow to second in the table behind Toulouse.
Napoloni Nalaga grabbed two tries with Mike Delany and Brock James amassing 10 and 11 points, respectively.
Check out the outrageous pass from out of the back of his hand by Brock James to set Nalaga up for his second.
3. (3) Saracens, Premiership
Sarries were battered by Northampton as the Saints ran in six tries in a 41-20 romp that cuts the Fez Heads’ league lead to one point.
Despite missing England squad members Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, Joel Tomkins and both Vunipola brothers, Mark McCall’s men were simply second best.
But a side containing Alex Goode, Chris Wyles, Jacques Burger and Matt Stevens to name just a few experienced campaigners still went down worryingly easily at Franklin’s Gardens.
They need to weather their autumn depletion better than this to sustain their title hopes.
2. (2) Toulon, Top 14
A miserable weekend for the European champions was capped by an uncharacteristic display from Jonny Wilkinson who, rising from the bench to salvage the game, missed three shots at goal in blustery conditions.
It meant a 13-12 defeat at Stade Ernest Wallon against a side sure to be battling it out for the title come the end of the season.
It wasn’t a good day for the side’s English contingent, with Andrew Sheridan receiving a yellow card for a professional foul.
Toulon drop down to fourth in the table and have now suffered two consecutive defeats.
1. (1) Toulouse, Top 14
The big guns trained their sights on each other in France last weekend as Toulouse hosted Toulon, and it was the home side who came out on top. Just.
It looked like Toulon would conquer their hosts after racing into a 12-0 half-time lead. But Freddie Michalak’s four first-half penalties were overhauled by penalties from Jean Pascal Barrraque and Jean-Marc Doussain before Jano Vermaak scored the game’s only try.
The Toulousain sit top of the table after 10 games with a two-point cushion, and their enormous squad is exactly what's required to sustain a season-long effort.
When Louis Picamoles was forced off injured in the first half, being able to call on a monster like Gillian Galan from the bench is not an option many other sides can enjoy.
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