England internationals Steward and Smith shine bright in Europe

Marcus Smith celebrates at the final whistle with Freddie Steward 20/11/2021
Only eight of the weekend’s scheduled European fixtures were able to be played as Covid and new travel measures resulted in a series of postponements.

Only eight of the weekend’s scheduled European fixtures were able to be played as Covid and new travel measures resulted in a series of postponements.

But that did not stop the games that did go ahead from delivering plenty of world-class rugby entertainment as international stars rose to the occasion for their club sides.

England internationals Freddie Steward and Nic Dolly both crossed the whitewash as Leicester Tigers beat Connacht 29-23 to maintain their perfect start to this season.

Dolly’s try helped Tigers race into a 12-3 lead against the Irish province before Ireland fly-half Jack Carty turned the tide for the visitors, who went into the half-time break 17-12 up.

Carty added a penalty after the restart to extend Connacht’s lead but momentum swung back in Tigers’ favour once again after Ireland prop Finlay Bealham was sin-binned.

Taking advantage of their numerical advantage, England full-back Steward – one of the stars of the Autumn Nations Series – burrowed his way through defenders to reduce the deficit.

Tongan Hosea Saumaki then sliced through Connacht to put Tigers ahead before Bryce Hegarty’s penalty sealed the victory despite Carty landing a late drop-goal for the visitors.

The victory was the Premiership leaders’ 13th win in a row this season, having won all nine of their league games, two games in the Premiership Rugby Cup and both European encounters.

On Saturday, Sam Simmonds’ try was not enough to save Exeter Chiefs as they slipped to a 22-7 defeat to Glasgow Warriors in their top tier European clash at Scotstoun.

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Ross Thompson’s boot did most of the damage for Warriors before the 2019/20 European champions threatened to fightback from 12-0 down through Simmonds’ try.

Thompson’s fifth penalty reasserted Warriors’ dominance, however, before Johnny Matthews crossed in the final minute to boot the hosts’ hopes of progressing to the last 16.

There were also many twists and turns at the Twickenham Stoop, where reigning Premiership champions Harlequins emerged with a 43-17 success against Cardiff Rugby.

England fly-half Marcus Smith and scrum-half Danny Care both crossed for the hosts while Wales international James Botham was among the scorers for Cardiff as the first half ended 17-all.

But Quins went from strength to strength against their depleted visitors after the restart, with England forwards Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marler scoring tries in the second half.

Dombrandt also touched down again before Andre Esterhuizen added his name to the scoresheet, with Smith landing five conversions and a penalty in the bonus-point win.

England and Harlequins No.8 Dombrandt, who was star of the match, said: “In the first half I don’t think we were good enough but in the second half I was really proud of the boys’ efforts.

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“Full credit to them [Cardiff]. They’re in a tricky situation as a club at the moment but I think their supporters and the club can be really proud of their efforts. We knew it was going to be tough.

“They’ve got some quality players, even with all the disruption they’ve had, and they were right there for 60 minutes, so we had to be on top of our game to get the result.”

Saturday’s other game saw Munster edge past Castres 19-13 at Thomond Park, with Jack O’Donoghue’s try and 14 points from Ben Healy getting the job done for the hosts.

On Friday night, Ulster held off a Northampton Saints fightback to maintain their unbeaten start to the European campaign, winning 27-22 at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

The hosts led for 78 minutes after Rob Herring crossed early, with Ethan McIlroy and a penalty try extending Ulster’s advantage as George Furbank’s boot kept Saints in the game.

England scrum-half Alex Mitchell and Craig Gilroy then traded second-half scores before Courtney Skosan’s late try made for a nervy final couple of minutes for Ulster.

Life was much more comfortable for Gloucester Rugby, with Italy scrum-half Stephen Varney and England wing Jonny May both scoring in a 54-25 win over Benetton at Kingsholm.

Sebastian Negri and Luca Morisi both crossed for the Italian outfit, who trailed by just one point at half-time, but Gloucester pulled away after the restart to secure the bonus-point triumph.

Finally, Ireland’s Quinn Roux and France scrum-half Baptiste Serin were both on the scoresheet for Toulon as they defeated Zebre 28-14 in their European encounter on Friday.