The return of European rugby brought with it some outstanding performances from the internationals who have recently returned from Guinness Six Nations duty.
However the pick of the performances might have come from a player who missed out on the Championship and will be keen to force his way back in by the 2023 edition.
Ulster’s Robert Baloucoune grabbed a hat-trick in a stunning 26-20 victory in Toulouse, the province setting themselves up nicely for next weekend’s second leg of the Heineken Champions Cup last-16 tie.
An early red card to Juan Cruz Mallia made life tough for the defending champions and Ireland winger Baloucoune took full advantage, crossing three times including an intercept score 15 minutes from time.
Despite playing with 14 men, Toulouse hung in there with their recent Grand Slam champions playing a key part. And Romain Ntamack’s late try will at least give them some hope ahead of a daunting trip to Belfast.
MORE IRELAND WING SUCCESS
Baloucoune was not the only Ireland winger in form this weekend, with James Lowe, one of the men keeping him out of the side, catching the eye on Friday night.
The Leinster winger, who scored three times during the 2022 Guinness Six Nations, kept up his try-scoring run with two more in a hard-fought 26-21 win over Connacht in Galway. Hugo Keenan also crossed for Leo Cullen’s side while Johnny Sexton chipped in with two penalties and a conversion.
HOGG’S ALL-ROUND IMPACT
One of the closest games of the weekend came at Sandy Park in Exeter, where Chiefs edged past Munster 13-8 thanks in large part to Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg.
The full-back struck early when he popped up to finish of a fine strike move off a lineout for the opening try.
And later it was his monster drop goal from a goal-line dropout that allowed Exeter to extend their lead despite being down to 13 men because of a pair of sin-binnings.
GENGE SHINES IN FRANCE
Three weeks on from an all-action display in Paris in defeat for England, Ellis Genge was on the right side of an impressive Leicester Tigers win in France.
Away to Clermont Auvergne, Tigers were able to dominate up front with Genge at the heart of it, scoring the first try to lead the way in a 29-10 win at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
In Sunday’s other game, Marcus Smith slotted nine points as Harlequins kept themselves in with a shout after a 40-26 defeat to Montpellier.
The tie looked over as Montpellier ran in the first five tries, but a fightback from the visitors gives them a chance heading into the second leg.
Italy fly-half Paolo Garbisi pulled the strings for Montpellier, also chipping in with three conversions and a penalty.
DIFFERING OUTCOMES FOR FRANCE STARS
Aside from the Toulouse contingent, there were a host of other Grand Slam champions in action across the weekend, particularly with two all-French affairs.
Cameron Woki finished acrobatically for Bordeaux but it made little difference in a heavy 31-13 home defeat to La Rochelle.
His France teammate Jonathan Danty scored and was outstanding for La Rochelle, with Grégory Alldritt also exceptional for the visitors.
Danty’s midfield partner Gaël Fickou was also on song as Racing 92 made it back-to-back derby victories against Stade Français. He scored in a 22-9 win that puts Racing in a strong position ahead of the return fixture.