Power Ranking Europe's Top 10 Clubs: Ulster Slip
The last salvos have been fired for 2013 with a few big French guns failing.
Toulon, Toulouse and Castres all lost in the last action of 2013 in the Top 14, while England’s big hitters all recorded healthy wins, as did Munster and Leinster.
With the Heineken Cup’s last pool-stage matches looming early in the new year, each side still in with a shout of qualification will need to hit the ground running in 2014, which means there are plenty of players across the channel who need to pull their socks up.
10. (9) Castres, Top 14
Castres went down away to Grenobles, 20-16.
They were undone by a late try from Alipate Raitini but also travelled with a weakened side as Brice Dulin and Rory Kockott sat out the match.
The side taking advantage of Castres and Toulouse’s slip-ups is Stade Francais, who may not be dining at Europe’s top table this season but are threatening to break into this top 10 with a run of form that sees them sitting second in the Top 14 as we head into 2014.
9. (7) Toulouse, Top 14
Toulouse were undone away to Bayonne by a try from All Black legend Joe Rokocoko 12 minutes from time that condemned them to finishing the year outside the top four.
Their seventh defeat of the season leaves them nine points behind leaders Clermont Auvergne.
8. (5) Ulster, PRO12
Ulster fell to champions Leinster and have a tough task on their hands with the visit of Munster on Friday.
They have sunk to fifth in the table and now languish 10 points off the leaders, so they will need to throw everything at the men from Limerick in the first game of the new year if they don’t want to leave themselves a mountain to climb in 2014.
7. (10) Leicester, Premiership
The Tigers beat Sale 30-23 with tries from Adam Thompstone, Ed Slater and a penalty try to get their campaign back on track after a heavy defeat to Saracens.
But it didn’t stop a grumpy Richard Cockerill from sounding off about their opponents’ tactics.
The Leicester boss told BBC Radio Leicester he thought Sale were cheating at scrum time, which naturally upset Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond.
6. (8) Northampton, Premiership
The Saints put on a bravura display at Franklin’s Gardens, blowing Bath away with six tries.
Their 43-25 win came courtesy of scores from Christian Day (2), Jamie Elliott, Samu Manoa, George North and George Pisi.
It must have been satisfying for Jim Mallinder to see his side stretch their legs after a suffocating two-point win over Wasps the previous week.
With work to be done in their Heineken Cup pool, this sort of rampaging display will give Saints fans high hopes for the start of 2014.
5. (6) Leinster, PRO12
Leinster leapfrog Ulster after beating the Red Hand Gang 19-6 at home to claim second place in the table.
A single try from No. 8 Jordi Murphy and 14 points from Jimmy Gopperth saw Leinster home, but their win was marred by a suspected dislocated shoulder for Ireland talisman Sean O’Brien in the second half.
4. (4) Munster, PRO12
JJ Hanrahan scored all Munster’s points as they ground out a 22-16 win over Connacht.
Hanrahan scored a try, a conversion and five penalties as the league leaders scrapped their way to a hard-earned win over Eric Elwood’s side.
Munster’s lead over Leinster at the top of the table is now seven points, and they head to Ravenhill on Friday night for a tough exam against Ulster.
3. (3) Toulon, Top 14
Toulon went down away to the inconsistent Racing Metro in the battle of the Jonnies.
On this occasion, Jonathan Sexton got the better of Jonny Wilkinson as Racing beat the European champions 14-3.
The Irishman kicked three penalties to Wilkinson’s one, with Marc Andreu’s try the only five-pointer on the scoreboard.
2. (2) Saracens, Premiership
Sarries earned maximum reward from their trip to Sixways with a four-try, 8-26 win over bottom club Worcester.
With Northampton and Leicester both racking up high-scoring wins, it was important for Mark McCall’s men to make the most of the Warriors’ plight.
They did so with tries from Schalk Brits, Alex Goode, Charlie Hodgson and David Strettle. Sarries start the new year with a tough trip to Kingsholm to face a Gloucester side buoyed by an away win over London Irish.
1. (1) Clermont Auvergne, Top 14
Clermont’s unbeaten home record reached the 70 mark on Sunday with a 33-19 defeat of Oyonnax.
It’s an incredible record for the boys from the Stade de Marcel Michelin and points to a successful 2014 ahead as they look to finally add the Heineken Cup to their CV.
Victory over the minnows of the Top 14 was secured with tries from Noa Nakaitaci, Fritz Lee and Benjamin Kayser plus 10 points from the boot of Mike Delany.