It means the Chiefs, who crept into the quarter-finals last year on a dramatic final weekend, are still in the hunt for a place in the last eight, although it will take at least a win in Clermont, or perhaps a bonus point victory, to join the top eight elite once again.
Ulster came into the game knowing they needed to win to give themselves a realistic chance of pushing on and stayed in the hunt throughout a very cagey first-half that ended all-square at 12-12. There were two tries each, with Sean Reidy rounding off a clean break through the heart of the home defence by Stuart McCloskey in only the second minute to draw first blood for the visitors.
Paddy Jackson missed the conversion, as did Gareth Steenson after Michele Campagnaro turned on the gas to cross for the equaliser midway through the half. That gave the Chiefs new life and Thomas Waldrom rounded off a strong period of pressure with a typical try from close range.
This time Steenson added the extras, but some thrilling footwork from the mercurial Ulster wing Charles Piutau enabled Jackson to level matters just before the interval. The home side dominated the third period and both Waldrom, from the base of a five metre scrum, and Campagnaro picked up their second tries to give the Chiefs a bonus point and a 24-12 lead after 54 minutes.
Some more magic between Jackson and Piutau on the hour conjured up a third Ulster try to cut the gap to five points as the wing gathered an inch perfect kick-pass from his outside half. Jackson added the conversion.
Jackson then turned from hero to villain as he picked up a yellow card 10 minutes from time as he put his hand in as Exeter went to turn a 3 v 1 overlap into a fifth try. French referee Romain Poite awarded a penalty try and Steenson kicked the conversion.
It is the sixth time in eight seasons that Clermont have reached the last eight and they will host Exeter Chiefs in Round 6 to try to ensure a home draw. Bordeaux’s defeat means they are now unlikely to progress as a best runner-up with their best total being 15 points.
The visitors had to come through a tricky start after going down to 13 men in the first half as Nigel Owens sent both full back Isaiah Toeava and prop Viktor Kolelishvili went to the sin-bin in the ninth and 13th minutes.
But the home side weren’t able to take advantage and a penalty a piece from Ian Madigan and Lopez meant it was 3-3 by the time both teams were back to a full quota. Having started brightly, Bordeuax came under increasing pressure as the half wore on, but it was 6-6 at the break after both outside halves added a second penalty.
Bordeaux came out looking to stamp their authority on proceedings as the rain poured down at the start of the second half and lock Tom Palmer got over the line, but was held up. Clermont did well to clear their lines after that and managed to grind out a few more penalty chances.
Lopez was wide with a drop goal attempt, but hit the mark with a 59th minute penalty to take the lead. He missed on the stroke of time, but by then it didn’t matter – Clermont had ground out a victory to take four points.
Mark McCall’s men arrived in West Wales knowing a victory would all-but guarantee them a home tie in the last eight. But the Scarlets had other ideas. Nathan Earle crossed for the visitors, but the boot of Dan Jones kept the Scarlets’ noses in-front.
Ashton levelled the scores with his 32nd try in Europe’s premier rugby competition, but Scott Williams hit-back. A late Jones penalty looked to have been enough, before Farrell and Ashton combined to snatch a draw.
Saracens will advance from Pool 3 and know a win against RC Toulon will guarantee a home tie in the last eight, while the Scarlets’ slim hopes of qualifying are over despite another heroic performance.
The West Walians raced out of the blocks and had two early chances to get over the whitewash. Jones’ cross-field kick did not bounce kindly for Sarries bound Liam Williams, before captain Ken Owens fumbled on the try line. They did go three points ahead thanks to a Jones penalty moments later, after a powerful scrum under the posts.
Their advantage did not last for long as the European champions turned on the power. A driving lineout was stopped short of the line, but wave after wave of carries weakened the Scarlets’ rearguard. Richard Wigglesworth fired a pass to Alex Lowzowski, who cushioned the ball into the path of Earle, who dived over for his second Champions Cup try.
But the Scarlets’ response was immediate. Jonny McNicholl was dragged into touch just short of the line, but Jones was on-target with a penalty moments later to retake the lead. He made it three from three moments later, before Farrell missed a penalty of his own to keep the gap at four points at half-time.
Four quickly became seven after another Dan Jones penalty, but the champions scored a try from nowhere to level it up. The Scarlets were repelling Sarries, before a loose ball was scooped up by Farrell. He sent Lozowski flying through a gap in midfield and the full-back found Ashton – who crossed for his 32nd European Cup try.
The Scarlets’ star men stood up to restore the seven point lead. The hosts went straight back down the other end before Scott Williams punctured the Sarries defence to score from close range. Wayne Pivac would have been pleased with the way his charges kept the ball deep in Sarries territory, until Jones snatched at a drop-goal. Liam Williams failed to deal with the long restart and Stuff Evans gifted them a penalty to cut the gap to 19-15.
Jones nailed his fifth penalty to make it 22-15 before Will Skleton was sin-binned. But Farrell broke clean through and sent Ashton in at the posts, before converting to rescue a draw.
In their second game under interim coach Aaron Mauger, the Welford Road outfit struggled to cope with the power of the French side and paid the price for a huge number of mistakes.
Xavier Chauveau, Marc Andreu and Gerbrandt Grobler all crossed in the first half and a penalty try after the break ended the game as a contest.
Leicester did improve in a tighter second period but were unable to come up with a try of their own and Andreu completed the scoring late on to send them out of Europe.
The English side had been thrashed by both Glasgow and Munster on the road earlier this season and the early exchanges in Paris only pointed to another one-sided encounter.
Scrum-half Chauveau soon crossed for the game’s opening score in the 12th minute. Dan Carter missed the conversion but then booted a penalty before the New Zealander saw his team extend their advantage.
The score was all Leicester’s fault, the Tigers opting to run the ball clear but then turning it over. Andreu was the beneficiary, hacking on and dotting down under the posts.
Carter added the simple extras to make it 15-0 and with a quarter of the game gone, the visitors were in trouble. Ben Youngs’ exasperation summed things up and although Leicester did finally get themselves on the board with a Freddie Burns penalty, Racing soon moved further clear.
Carter missed with a penalty effort but Matt Tait knocked on behind the posts, handing the French side a scrum five metres out. From the set-piece lock Grobler powered over for another try Mauger’s side could easily have prevented. Carter converted for a 22-3 half-time lead.
Racing’s giant pack had finally turned up in Europe and another powerful forward surge saw them secure a bonus point soon after the restart.
A driving maul from a line-out was stopped illegally by the Tigers, referee Ben Whitehouse rightly going under the posts to award a penalty try.
Will Evans was yellow carded for his role in trying to prevent the score, with Carter once again adding the extras.
Antoine Claasen’s sinbinning for dragging down a Leicester maul then made it 14-a-side, but the Tigers were still having no luck.
What looked like a legitimate try was adjudged to have been held up by Whitehouse and then the Welsh official decided Burns’ kick to touch had gone dead.
The two incidents didn’t help Leicester’s mood and Andreu’s second with a couple of minutes to go compounded a miserable evening for the visitors.
Saili, who replaced Jaco Taute in the second half, came up trumps with the game’s only score in the final 10 minutes as the visitors made the most of a yellow card for Stuart Hogg.
A tight match saw the boot dominate, but when it mattered most Saili’s effort proved the difference between the teams. A man light late on, Glasgow pushed to move back ahead but Finn Russell opted against a drop goal shot and his team went down to defeat.
With both sides in excellent form and Munster on the back of thrashing Racing 92 last weekend, an eagerly-anticipated encounter was on the cards.
And at a packed Scotstoun, the game didn’t disappoint.
A tight first period ended level at 6-6, the two sets of forwards going hell for leather at each other on a chilly Scottish night.
Glasgow fly-half Russell, so impressive in recent weeks, swapped penalties with opposite number Tyler Bleyendaal in an opening quarter which saw physicality and defensive organisation dominate proceedings.
Munster initially looked the more dangerous in attack, but after failing to make the most of a number of penalties, they slipped behind. Lions prospect Hogg nailed a long-range penalty to put Glasgow 6-3 up but after Bleyendaal had booted another kick and Hogg missed with a second monster effort, the two teams went into the break level.
It had been nip and tuck though there remained a feeling Glasgow were yet to fully find the attacking form which saw them do the double over Racing.
The start of the second period saw Russell and Bleyendaal then exchange further kicks at goal as the second 40 went a similar way to the first.
Conor Murray’s sublime kicking game ensured Munster kept things tight defensively, a big line-out steal in the 54th minute summing up their effort.
For all their resilience, though, the Irish side struggled in their search for a try and Russell’s third penalty of the evening made it 12-9 on the hour mark.
A raft of replacements were then introduced, but the key moment arrived with 10 minutes remaining. A Munster attack saw Andrew Conway put into space and the right wing looked like he was going to make it to the line.
He was scragged round the neck by Hogg and although the decision not to award a penalty try was the right one, the full-back correctly saw yellow.
Munster immediately took advantage and Saili’s try came less than a minute after Hogg walked from the field.
That, in the end, proved to be the winning moment.
Pat Lam’s men ran in six tries before the break to take total control of the game despite Zebre crossing for two themselves early on.
But there was only ever going to be one winner in this encounter as Connacht added four more tries in the second half. It completed a miserable few days in Ireland for Zebre after they followed their 10-try Pro12 loss to Leinster last weekend by conceding the same number of tries in Galway to go down to their 17th successive European defeat.
Matt Healy, man of the match Tiernan O’Halloran and Kieran Marmion ended the one-sided contest with two tries each leaving Connacht to turn their attentions to next weekend’s crunch visit to Toulouse.
A fast start saw both sides score two tries inside an entertaining opening quarter.
With less than 90 seconds on the clock, O’Halloran’s searing break allowed Healy to go over in the corner, John Cooney converting for a 7-0 lead.
Zebre have had a miserable Champions Cup campaign but with nothing to lose, they rolled the dice and soon hit back. Back-row forwards Johan Meyer and Federico Ruzza crossed for two quick-fire scores from close range and with Italian fly-half Carlo Canna adding the extras, it was now 14-7 to the visitors.
A capacity Sportsground crowd were shocked but with Zebre vulnerable defensively, it wasn’t long before their team were back ahead and with a bonus point too.
With Marmion looking dangerous at scrum-half, Cooney sprinted clear to score before O’Halloran collected the fly-half’s delicate chip through to dot down underneath the posts. Cooney converted both scores before prop Finlay Bealham crossed from a rolling maul for the crucial fourth of the day.
Cooney kicked the goal once more to make it 28-14 and it wasn’t long before the wheels fell off for Zebre.
The visitors were struggling with discipline and their penalty count was through the roof so it was no surprise when Lloyd Greef and Pietro Cecccarelli were both yellow carded in quick succession.
Down to 13 men, Zebre’s already failing defence then fell apart, the excellent Marmion crossing himself and then setting up Craig Ronaldson for another just before half time. Cooney converted the second of those scores to make it 40-14 at the break.
Zebre began the second half two men light and the action continued to follow a familiar pattern.
Just seconds after the restart, Healy brushed off some woeful tackling to score in the corner and O’Halloran then added his second of the game.
Cooney’s kicking was superb and two more conversions took him to 19 points for the day.
The return of Greef and Cecccarelli helped Zebre shore things up a touch and while Marmion crossed for Connacht’s ninth after running another superb support line, the visitors didn’t go away.
After finally finding some possession, Mattia Bellini scored their third try, with Canna converting.
By that stage both teams had made a raft of changes, but that failed to stop the scoring as Connacht replacement Caolin Blade made it 10 home tries on the day to complete the rout late on.
A year on from their worst European campaign the three-time champions turned on the style as they ran in eight tries, three of them from Heineken Man of the Match Jack Conan, to put themselves within touching distance of a coveted home draw in the knock-out stages.
They go to Castres in Round 6 with the pool title in the bag, the 12th in their history, with 21 points already to their credit. If they play as fluently as this then anything is possible.
Isa Nacewa got Leinster off the mark with a try in the right corner and by the end of the game they had run 14-man Montpellier ragged. It was the TOP 14 side’s heaviest defeat in the Champions Cup and they also picked up records for the most tries and conversion conceded.
Their cause wasn’t helped by the 15th minute dismissal of Frans Steyn for a head high shot on opposite number Johnny Sexton. It was the third Champions Cup game in a row in which Montpellier have had a player sent-off this season.
Sexton left the field for an HIA, but returned to carry on directing operations and steer his side into the last eight. Having taken the lead with the Nacewa try, converted by Sexton, Leinster bagged two more scores before the break to put themselves on the brink of the bonus-point.
Steyn kicked a penalty mid-way through the first-half, but that was as good as it got for the visitors. Back row man Conan crossed for his first Champions Cup try and then acted as the link to give Adam Byrne a third to make it 24-3 at half-time.
The high-tempo Leinster brought into the game certainly warmed things up on a freezing night in Dublin and their all action approach simply made things hotter and hotter for Montpellier after the break. It may have taken 14 minutes before the bonus point try arrived, courtesy of Conan, but that was merely the start of a try-fest.
Four more tries flowed before the game came to an end. Conan got his hat-trick, Luke McGrath raced 30 metres to the posts, Cian Healy burrowed over from two metres and Garry Ringrose weaved his way over at the posts for the eighth and final score.
Sexton went through 500 points in the tournament with his three conversions and his replacement, Ross Byrne, chipped in four.