There were wins for Gloucester, Cheetahs, Sharks, Castres, Ospreys and Dragons during Saturday’s Challenge Cup action.
Lukhanyo Am and Eben Etzbeth both scored braces for the Sharks as they thrashed Top 14 outfit Pau 45-5 in Durban, while earlier in the day, the Cheetahs claimed an impressive 15-33 win thanks largely to the efforts of veteran Springbok scrum-half Ruan Pienaar.
Over in Georgia, Gloucester ended a run of six successive defeats by claiming a narrow 15-10 win over Black Lion, who were making their tournament debut.
Castres also got their campaign off to a strong start, running in six tries to defeat the Scarlets 34-16 while Ospreys claimed a 43-34 win over Benetton.
The day’s final Challenge Cup game saw the Dragons defeat Oyonnax 24-7 in a tight encounter.
After a humbling 44-10 loss to the Bulls last week in the United Rugby Championship, John Plumtree selected a Sharks starting XV featuring ten Springboks for their opening Challenge Cup fixture against Pau. His decision to do so reaped rewards from the onset, with Bok centre Lukhanyo Am scoring twice in the opening 30 minutes, either side of Gregoire Arfeuil’s try to give the hosts a 14-5 lead. Curwin Bosch converted both of Am’s scores and added a penalty after missing one moments before. Etzebeth grabbed the Sharks’ third try just before the break as they went into the break with a 24-5 lead.
They started the second half as they finished the first with winger Marnus Potgieter scoring minutes into the second period, with Etzebeth grabbing another from close range in the 46th minute. Makazole Mapimpi also got in on the try-scoring action in the 49th minute as the Sharks extended their lead to 45-5. Bosch converted Mapimpi’s try as the hosts took their foot off the gas and failed to add to their lead for the remainder of the match.
Meanwhile, the Cheetahs also got their campaign off to a winning start, claiming a 33-15 bonus point win over Zebre. 39-year-old Pienaar was the star of the show, producing a man-of-the-match performance, which included 18 points off the tee in a flawless kicking display. He added three penalties and converted Cohen Jasper, Reinhard Fortuin and Louis van der Westhuizen’s tries.
Zebre did put up a strong fight at home but left it too late with their two tries, scored by Alessandro Fusco and Simone Gesi, coming in the final knockings of the match.
George Barton ended Gloucester’s losing streak by kicking five penalties to clinch a 15-10 European Challenge Cup victory over tournament debutants Black Lion in Tbilisi.
Gloucester made the trip to Georgia after suffering six successive Gallagher Premiership defeats – a sequence of results that had ramped up external pressure on rugby director George Skivington.
But they prevailed in a tense encounter at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, with fly-half Barton the match-winner.
Barton booted two early penalties before Black Lion went ahead through a Luka Matkava try that he also converted, but Barton completed a hat-trick before the break.
The second period proved try-less, but two more Barton penalties to one from Matkava meant that Gloucester rediscovered a winning formula.
The Scarlets had Wales internationals Steff Evans and Kieran Hardy yellow-carded as they suffered a 34-16 away defeat against Castres.
Evans was sin-binned in the first minute, and Hardy followed suit before half-time as Castres ran in tries by Josaia Raisuqe, Jeremy Fernandez, Abraham Papalii, Julien Dumora and Louis Le Brun, who also kicked three conversions and a penalty.
Fly-half Ioan Lloyd scored all of Scarlets’ points through a try, conversion and three penalties.
Scarlets’ fellow Welsh representatives, the Ospreys, saw their Wales international hooker Dewi Lake score four tries as they overcame Benetton 43-34 in Swansea.
Lake, Wales co-captain at the Rugby World Cup, completed his hat-trick shortly after half-time and then added a fourth as the sides shared 10 tries.
Lake was joined on the try-sheet by Wales prop Gareth Thomas, while number eight Morgan Morris also touched down, with Owen Williams kicking four conversions and Jack Walsh one conversion and a late penalty that denied Benetton a second losing bonus point.
Onisi Ratave scored two tries for Benetton, and his fellow wing Paolo Odogwu also crossed, along with flanker Sebastian Negri. Jacob Umaga kicked the rest of Benetton’s points through four conversions and two penalties.
Wales wing Rio Dyer scored two tries in the final four minutes to seal a 24-7 win for the Dragons against Oyonnax at Rodney Parade.
There had been little to choose between the sides for much of the contest after Oyonnax centre Leo Treilles’ try, converted by Jules Soulan, was cancelled out by an Ashton Hewitt touchdown, with Will Reed adding the extras.
But Dragons finished strongly as lock Joe Davies crossed with seven minutes remaining before Dyer’s double secured a bonus point, and Reed kicked one more conversion.