Polledri, Cowan-Dickie and Ntamack shine to round off exceptional European weekend

Round Three in Europe is done and dusted and at the halfway stage we’re still gasping for air after a staggering weekend of rugby.

Round Three in Europe is done and dusted and at the halfway stage we’re still gasping for air after a staggering weekend of rugby.

If you missed any of the action we’ve got the lowdown here, starting with one or two Guinness Six Nations stars catching the eye on Sunday.

Gloucester and Connacht are sides that know each other well having faced off in Europe in recent seasons and they kicked Sunday off in style, with the English side running out 26-17 victors.

Gloucester full-back Tom Marshall, excellent on the day, struck early at Kingsholm but Connacht flyer John Porch soon replied and the Irish side led 10-7 at the interval.

The second half was all Gloucester though as young speedster Louis Rees-Zammit got over, followed by Marshall’s second and a pearler for Italy’s Jake Polledri – who typically slipped out of a tackle as is his powerful soap-bar style.

That was the bonus point and Connacht got one back late on through Quinn Roux, they sit on just four points but still have all to play for in the return fixture next week.

Montpellier have five, Gloucester seven, but way out in front is Toulouse on 13 thanks to their Romain Ntamack-inspired 23-9 win over their French rivals.

Thomas Ramos kicked a pair of early penalties before Ntamack, at inside centre on the day despite his fly-half showings in the Guinness Six Nations, grabbed a try either side of half-time.

Meanwhile in Pool 2 Exeter still have the most points in the competition – 14 – though level with Leinster now – as they edged a thriller against Sale at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Scotland and Exeter full-back Stuart Hogg started exceptionally and showed a few lovely touches, including a try, before unfortunately going off for a head knock.

Akker van der Merwe grabbed a double for Sale and Jono Ross ensured a thrilling finish with his 75th minute score but Exeter – featuring England men Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Alex Hepburn and Harry Williams, were just too good on the day and held on for 22-20 – hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie the best of the lot in claiming the man of the match award and a try.

John Cooney once again starred for Ulster on Saturday, as the Ireland scrum-half’s 79th-minute penalty ensured a perfect start for his club in Europe this season.

Cooney did not travel to Japan for the World Cup but, ahead of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, he again displayed his credentials as a man for the big occasions after his decisive kick, part of a ten-point haul, gave his side a 25-24 victory against Harlequins.

As he aims to help Ulster to a second successive European quarter-final, his game-winning moments against Bath in Round 1, Clermont in Round 2 and again against Harlequins proves the Ulstermen mean business this season – Brian O’Driscoll tipping him for international selection in recent weeks.

Elsewhere, victories for Leinster Rugby and Munster Rugby secured a clean sweep for Irish provinces in the Champions Cup on Saturday, with wins over Northampton Saints and Saracens, respectively – Leinster were particularly ruthless in despatching Northampton 43-16 at Franklin’s Gardens.

While it was a full house of victories for the Irish provinces, the same cannot be said for the English clubs.

All three suffered defeats at the hands of Irish opposition in the Champions Cup and will look to lick their wounds ahead of the return fixtures next weekend.

Saracens – without Mako and Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly – failed to find their feet at Thomond Park as they lost 10-3 against Munster but did leave with a  creditable bonus point.

Glasgow Warriors have reached the quarter-finals in Europe in two of the previous three seasons and if their determined display against La Rochelle proved anything, it is that the Scottish side are desperate to return to the knock-out stages.

While Finn Russell was sprinkling his seemingly unlimited stardust in Racing 92’s 40-19 away win at Ospreys, 14-cap Adam Hastings put his hand up to remind Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend not to forget about his dazzling talents when it comes to selecting his starting fly-half.

While Hastings’s expansive play can sometimes lead to problems – as seen in the build up to the French side’s opening try – his maverick style of running rugby put Glasgow in great positions throughout their 27-24 victory in France.

France fly-half Camille Lopez pulled the strings for Clermont Auvergne in a big Champions Cup win at Bath on Friday night in Pool 3.

Clermont went into Round 3 trailing pool leaders Ulster by two points and after a 60-minute arm-wrestle managed to shrug off Bath’s close attention to register the bonus point.

Lopez started alongside Morgan Parra in the half-backs but the No.9 was replaced by Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw before the break due to injury, a slow first 40 ending at 7-7.

Marginal gains continued to be found by both sides but then Clermont, who included Les Bleu’s Arthur Iturria and Rabah Slimani in their line-up, cut loose.

Electric 19-year-old wing Samuel Ezeala lit the touch paper, scrambling over under the posts before Alexandre Lapandry strode over and Lopez prodded through for Ezeala’s second.

There was consolation for Bath as returning England centre Jonathan Joseph streaked over the line, but it’s Clermont who find their feet after Round 2 defeat at Ulster.