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Heineken Champions Cup: Sharks beat Harlequins to record first South African win as Leinster and Gloucester start with victories

Sharks beat Harlequins 39-31 to record first South African success in the Heineken Champions Cup; Leinster start with impressive 42-10 win against Racing 92; Gloucester fight back to beat Bordeaux Begles; Northampton beaten 46-12 by holders La Rochelle; Exeter win 27-12 at Castres

Ox Nche's sending-off did not stop Sharks becoming the first South African team to win a European Champions Cup match
Image: Ox Nche's sending-off did not stop Sharks becoming the first South African team to win a Heineken Champions Cup match

Harlequins opened their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a defeat as Sharks became the first South African team to record a victory in the competition.

Quins were beaten 39-31 in Durban in the first fixture to feature one of the three South African teams admitted to this season's tournament.

The home side's win came despite a 60th-minute red card for prop Ox Nche, dished out following a head-on collision, and with a man extra Quins closed to within a point at 32-31 when Josh Bassett went over for his second try.

Breathing space was restored thanks to full-back Boeta Chamberlain's score, and Sharks saw the Pool A game out for a bonus-point victory; Quins' five tries - including another double, for Andre Esterhuizen - meant they headed back north with a bonus point of their own.

Quins head coach Tabai Matson said: "We have given them too many penalties and gave them too many opportunities, and good teams take them. We missed our own opportunities in the game to play our game, so it will be frustrating when we debrief the game."

Bulls later added a second South African win as they held off a Lyon fightback to win 42-36 in Pretoria, and there was a standout performance from Leinster, who hit the ground running with an impressive 42-10 win at Racing 92.

A concert scheduled for the French side's Paris stadium meant the game was played at Le Havre and, without genuine home advantage, Racing were no match for their Irish visitors.

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Josh van der Flier scored two of Leinster's six tries against Racing 92
Image: Josh van der Flier scored two of Leinster's six tries against Racing 92

Runners-up last season, Leinster made a statement of intent as they ran in six tries to earn a bonus point, the first of them coming through Andrew Porter seven minutes in and two more scored before the break by world player of the year Josh van der Flier.

Racing's sole try was scored late on by former England wing Christian Wade, back in rugby following a three-year stint in the NFL.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said: "The lads started with great intent and it was important to score early. I had watched Racing in their recent matches and they had scored a lot of early points. They had blitzed Clermont and it was important to take that away from them."

Elsewhere in Pool A, Gloucester recovered from a 12-point half-time deficit to start with a 22-17 win over Bordeaux Begles.

Trailing 17-5 at the break after a first-half performance marked with errors, the Premiership side were still behind by that scoreline with just 16 minutes left to play.

But late tries from Albert Tuisue, Santiago Socino and Charlie Chapman - putting the finishing touches to a smart move - turned the game the way of the home side.

Charlie Chapman gets a hug from Jack Clement after scoring Gloucester's match-winning try against Bordeaux Begles
Image: Charlie Chapman gets a hug from Jack Clement after scoring Gloucester's match-winning try against Bordeaux Begles

Next up is a trip to Leinster on Friday, and head coach George Skivington said: "You are pretty much playing Ireland. They've gone to Racing and beat them 42-10, which is pretty unbelievable. I am intrigued to watch that game, because I thought it would be a close match.

"We are up against the favourites for the tournament at their place, but it is exciting as well."

The 2020 champions Exeter also enjoyed a successful day with a bonus-point win at Castres.

Tries from Sam Simmonds, Dave Ewers, Sam Maunder and Olly Woodburn secured the extra point as the Chiefs pulled away from their French hosts with 15 unanswered second-half points to come through 27-12.

The boot of Julien Dumora had kept Castres in it during the first half, four penalties sending them in level at 12-12.

Simmonds matched Dumora's tally of 12 points, converting two of Exeter's tries and adding a penalty to go with his touchdown.

Dillyn Leyds was among La Rochelle's scorers against Northampton
Image: Dillyn Leyds was among La Rochelle's scorers against Northampton

In Pool B, Northampton were on the wrong end of a hammering at defending champions La Rochelle, who had a bonus point in the bag by half-time in a 46-12 win.

The home side made light of the absence of banned head coach Ronan O'Gara from the dugout, racing to a 32-0 lead at the break thanks to tries from Brice Dulin, Pierre Bourgarit, Pierre Boudehent and Dillyn Leyds.

A charged-down kick allowed Gregory Alldritt to add a fifth try shortly after the interval before UJ Seuteni scored the sixth, and Antoine Hastoy was no less ruthless with the boot as he kicked 16 points.

At 46-0 down with half an hour to play, a humiliating scoreline looked possible, but a rally saw James Ramm and Matt Proctor reply, and there was the welcome sight of England captain Courtney Lawes coming off the bench for a first appearance since he was concussed during a game in September.

In the other game in Pool B, Stormers failed to make it a hat-trick of South African wins as they were beaten 24-14 at Clermont Auvergne.

Challenge Cup: Double defeat for Premiership sides as Cardiff open with big win

Newcastle and Bath were both beaten in their opening Pool A games of the European Challenge Cup on a day to forget for the Premiership's representatives.

A Falcons line-up featuring 10 changes briefly led 8-7 at Connacht, but the Irish side were good value for a 22-8 success, sealed by their third try of the afternoon as Diarmuid Kilgallen crossed.

Bath had home advantage against Glasgow but went down 22-19 in a closely-fought game.

A 19-12 half-time lead for the visitors was breached thanks to Matt Gallagher's converted try only for Duncan Weir's late penalty to settle it the Warriors' way.

The third game in Pool A was more one-sided, Cardiff making light work of French opponents Brive in a 41-0 win.
Kristian Dacey contributed two of their seven tries, and the fourth of them - Lloyd Williams' score - ensured a bonus point in the 48th minute.

It was the first win in European competition for a Welsh side since December 2020, a run stretching to 21 matches.

Cardiff's compatriots Dragons had earlier drawn 31-31 with Lions of South Africa in a Pool B game in Johannesburg.
Dragons were ahead 24-17 at the break only for Edwill van der Merwe's double to put Lions in front.

The visitors dragged themselves level and both sides missed chances to win it, Sam Davies failing with a drop goal attempt and Jordan Hendrikse of the Lions off target with a penalty which was the final kick of the game.

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