Leinster hang on for the draw
There were two tries apiece for home star David Smith and Leinster’s Irish centre Robbie Henshaw as the visitors discovered just how hard it is to win at Stade Pierre Antoine. Castres may have been out of the running for a place in the last eight, but they put up a huge fight.
In the end, it took a magnificent rearguard effort from pool winners Leinster, who were reduced to 14 men for the final four minutes when Mike McCarthy went to the sin-bin, to hold on for the draw and two vital points. They now have to wait to see if Connacht can get the full five points in Toulouse to challenge them for a home draw.
Leinster went out of the blocks at breakneck speed and were 10 points ahead in as many minutes thanks to an early Johnny Sexton penalty and hen conversion of the first of Henshaw’s tries. But then the Irish playmaker limped out of the battle midway through the first half – they also lost sipper Isa Nacewa later on – to be replaced by Ross Byrne.
Just before Sexton left, Castres hit back with a try by scrum half Antoine Dupont and was converted by Julien Dumora to cut the gap to three points. Dumora then levelled things up on the half-hour before Smith struck with the first of his tries on the end of a sweet back line passing move for a try that Dumora converted to make it 17-10 at the break.
It seemed as though Leinster had steadied the ship two minutes into the second half when Adam Byrne came off his wing to act as first receiver from a scrum in the home 22 and make the break that allowed Henshaw to cross at the posts for his second try.
Ross Byrne’s conversion drew Leinster level, but they made too many mistakes, and snubbed too many chances, to build on that great start to the second half. They did tighten up on the defence – they missed 17 tackles in the first-half -but couldn’t stop Smith scoring his second try at the foot of the right hand upright for a try that Dumora improved to make it 24-17 to the home side.
Leinster got a chance to strike when Pierre Berard was sent to the sin-bin on 62 minutes. A minute later, replacement back row man Dan Leavy barged his way over from close range and Ross Byrne converted to level the scores again.
But it was Castres, who grew stronger as the game went on as they introduced more of their front line players, who finished the stronger and put Leinster under intense pressure. They held out in the end and will now have to sit and wait to see if they get a home draw.
Nadolo brilliance downs Northampton
Nadolo created one score and crossed for two individual efforts of his own with the Saints unable to cope with his raw power in the contact area.
Tries from Kelian Galletier and Jacques Du Plessis came either side of Nadolo’s first to put the home side in command and when the man of the match completed his brace late on, his team were home and hosed.
Demetri Catrakilis added three conversions as visiting tries from Lee Dickson and Tom Kessell were their last two scores of a European campaign to forget. Montpellier’s bonus-point success means they can still qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the three best runners-up, if results go their way on Saturday.
Northampton, who have had a nightmare Champions Cup experience, made nine changes with a place in the quarter-finals well beyond them and it was Montpellier who started the game with a bang. Nadolo’s power game is well known, but on this occasion it was his precision passing which gave his team an early lead.
Attracting three Northampton tacklers, Nadolo bounced one and then offloaded out of the tackle with a sublime flick to release Galletier to score in the corner. Catrakilis added the extras.
At that stage the Saints were up against it, but after Montpellier lost Alexandre Dumoulin to injury and failed to make the most of their possession, Jim Mallinder’s men hit back.
From a scrum, powerful surges from Teimana Harrison and Ethan Waller splintered the French defence, allowing scrum-half and captain Dickson to sneak over from close range. JJ Hanrahan converted and then kicked a penalty and despite being under the cosh for the opening quarter, Saints turned around with a 10-7 half-time lead.
Mallinder’s side thought they had added to their advantage at the start of the second period too. A set-piece move saw Ahsee Tuala break clear. The full-back sprinted for the line and found George North inside him, but after referee John Lacey consulted the TMO, the score was ruled out for Tuala’s foot in touch.
Harry Mallinder then put a monster drop goal effort wide, before Nadolo continued to wreak more havoc.
Given the ball tight to the touchline, Nadolo looked a long way from the line but he bounced off five tacklers – North the last – to power to the line for a score eerily similar to that by the late Jonah Lomu against England at the 1995 World Cup.
That score was followed by a driving line-out try for replacement Du Plessis and with Catrakilis converting both efforts, Northampton were now up against it at 21-10 down. Montepellier didn’t let up their assault as they chased the vital bonus-point score and Nadolo powered over from a scrum to seal the win late on.
Catrakilis missed the conversion and Kessell grabbed a late consolation, converted by Hanrahan, but it’s Montpellier who will now have to wait and see if they make Europe’s last eight while Northampton concentrate solely on domestic action.
Bordeaux down Ulster
Two late penalties from replacement Simon Hickey did the business for the French side as they ended the pool stages on a high and left Ulster contemplating back-to-back defeats.
Bordeaux were outscored three tries to two but still came out on top as the boot of Ian Madigan and Hickey’s late salvo off the bench saw them come out on top.
With the two teams unable to make the quarter-finals, both decided to go hell for leather from the off and the result was an entertaining encounter.
The first half hour saw two tries apiece, the away side the ones to open the scoring. Scrum-half Yann Lesgourgues crossed for Bordeaux’s first, Irish fly-half Madigan converting on his return to home soil.
Ulster were disappointing in defeat to Exeter in their last encounter and their concession of an early try spurred them into life. Andrew Trimble hit back in the 19th minute, Paddy Jackson adding the extras to level the scores, but that didn’t stop the rate of scoring.
Within five minutes Cardiff Blues-bound lock Franco Van der Merwe and Bordeaux No 8 Marco Tauleigne had exchanged scores with Madigan succeeding with his conversion where international team-mate Jackson could not.
Madigan had earlier booted penalties in both the second and 32nd minute but after Bordeaux full-back Geoffrey Cros was yellow carded on the verge of half time for slowing down the ball with Ulster pushing for the line, Jackson kicked another goal to narrow his team’s interval deficit to five points.
With a man advantage at the start of the second period, Ulster had designs on getting back into things but a raft of changes hit their momentum.
David Shanahan and Robbie Diack were among those to leave the field, and the substitutions played a big part in a scoreless first 19 minutes after the break.
But just before the hour mark, Ulster secured a vital score as outside centre Darren Cave crashed over.
Jackson converted to put the Irishmen ahead going into the final quarter and at that stage everything pointed to a home win in the last round of pool matches.
Ulster, though, have been struggling of late and they failed to close out the game once again.
In the final 10 minutes they coughed up two penalties which Hickey converted to give the visitors the win.
MacGinty boots Sale to victory
Both sides were out of the Pool 3 race heading into Round 6, but the Sharks looked determined to get a victory in this season’s competition. Tries from Paulo Odogwu and Will Addison put Sale in a commanding position before DTH van der Merwe’s score on the stroke of half-time.
A penalty try brought the Scarlets closer, before Jones landed a penalty to put the Welsh region ahead. But a late AJ MacGinty penalty earned the victory.
Scarlets were caught cold in Salford as the Sharks raced out of the blocks in search of a first Champions Cup triumph. Some heavy pressure resulted in a penalty, which AJ MacGinty converted for a 3-0 lead.
Sale’s continued their early dominance and were rewarded with a try moments later. The Sharks backline fixed the Welsh defence and spread the ball wide to Odogwu, who dived in acrobatically at the corner. MacGinty missed the conversion but hit another penalty to make it 11-0 after 20 minutes.
And it was to get even better for the crowd at the AJ Bell Stadium. Addison received the ball in midfield and sliced through the defence before he accelerated away to score from 50 metres out. Dan Jones finally got the Scarlets on the scoreboard with a penalty, before DTH van der Merwe gave the West Walians a lifeline. The ball was worked wide for the Canadian to score, and Jones converted to make it 16-10 at half-time.
MacGinty and Jones traded penalties after the interval, but the US Eagle landed another to put the hosts 22-13 ahead. But the Scarlets bit-back to have Sale fans sweating after 65 minutes. Magnus Lund entered a driving maul from the side after a close-range lineout, and referee Pascal Gauzere awarded a penalty try and sent Lund to the sin-bin. Jones kicked the conversion to pull Wayne Pivac’s men back to within two points.
They hit the front for the first time as Jones landed his fifth penalty from five attempts to give the Scarlets a 23-22 advantage. But MacGinty stepped up again to land one of his own to seal Sale’s first victory in Europe this season.
Champions earn home quarter-final
But inside of diving over in the right corner on the 4G pitch, the flying Fijian wing tried to place the ball one-handed and lost control at the vital moment. Saracens breathed again, having only just stopped Bryan Habana on the line moments earlier, and eventually ground out a 10-3 win.
The scoreboard barely moved all game and there was only a solitary Owen Farrell penalty to register in an intense first-half. Toulon arrived knowing the bare minimum for them was a losing bonus point if they wanted to keep alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
The quest for reigning champions Saracens was to book a home tie in the last eight by posting a fifth win of the campaign to go with last weekend’s last-gasp draw at Parc y Scarlets. That’s why the close shaves from both sides – Marcello Bosh was held up on the line for Saracens – will have left the coaches wondering what might have been.
In his 50th appearance in the European Cup, Farrell managed a penalty and a conversion of Chris Ashton’s 34th European Cup try – and against the team he will be joining in the summer. His second half effort left Toulon teetering on the brink of extinction, but a 45 metre penalty from Leigh Halfpenny brought them back into bonus-point territory in the end.
The Wales and British & Irish Lions full back hit the post with another wide angled shot and Toulon came close to forcing a draw at the death. Now they will have to prepare for a trip to No 1 ranked side ASM Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals.
Glasgow Warriors create history
The Tigers had never conceded more than five tries in a European match, but Gregor Townsend’s men racked up six scores to sail into the last-eight for the first time. The bonus-point was wrapped up before half-time after scores from Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, Jonny Gray and a penalty try gave the Scots a 31-0 lead at half-time.
And it was more of the same after the break as Ryan Wilson and Tim Swinson scored to put the cherry on a historic 43-0 triumph at Welford Road. Glasgow advance from Pool 1 as a best runner-up.
Glasgow got off to the perfect start in their bid to reach the last eight. They piled on the pressure from the off and were soon on the attack deep in Leicester territory. The Scotland wing picked up from the base of a ruck after the 27th phase and wrestled his way over to score. Russell converted give his side an early 7-0 lead.
The Scotland playmaker added a penalty moments later, before Matthew Tait was sin-binned for blocking the path of Lee Jones after the wing had chipped ahead. Glasgow went to the corner with the penalty and made their man advantage count immediately. The Warriors pack shunted the Tigers back and Marius Mitrea awarded a penalty try after judging the maul had been pulled down illegally.
It got even worse for the hosts when Russell broke in midfield. He was brought down but the ball was then sent wide to Bennett who crashed over at the corner. And the bonus-point was in the bag before half-time when Gray latched onto a Bennett offload to power over. Russell added the extras to make it 31-0 at the break.
Glasgow continued to assert their dominance after the break on their way to becoming the first Scottish side to win at Welford Road for over a century. Wilson pinched a Tigers’ lineout and charged downfield before being brought down. The Warriors recycled the ball before Wilson popped up again to crash over from close-range.
Leicester then allowed the Warriors to claim a record for all the wrong reasons. Swinson burrowed over from close range for the sixth try – a record number conceded by the Tigers in European competition.
Munster march on and grab home quarter
Buoyed by their bonus-point win over Leicester Tigers in Round 5, last season’s Champions Cup finalists and reigning French champions turned the final game of their campaign into anything but a cakewalk for the home side.
While there was little other than pride to play for in the Racing ranks, Munster were looking to bag a home draw in the quarter-finals the week after clinching their ticket into the last eight. They eventually reached their target, just edging out Champions Cup holders Saracens for the No 2 ranking, but they were made to fight all the way.
Maxime Machenaud got the first chance to set the scoreboard moving after 12 minutes, but he pulled his penalty attempt. In the end, it took 36 minutes of ding-dong action before Simon Zebo crashed over for the first of three Munster tries.
That came moments after Benjamin Dambielle was sent to the sin-bin for stopping Conor Murray getting the ball at the base of a ruck on the Racing line. A score seemed inevitable and Zebo came up with his sixth try in four games against the French side.
Tyler Bleyendaal added the conversion, but Machenaud knocked over a penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 7-3 at the break. The opening 10 minutes of the second half saw Munster put their foot on the accelerator as Bleyendaal kicked a penalty and then converted a try wide out on the left by Ronan O’Mahony.
It looked as though that might be the launch-pad for a push for more points from the home side, but Racing had other ideas. They stayed in the game, worked Henry Chavancy over for a try that Machenaud improved and had the Munster faithful moving onto the edge of their seats with the scoreboard showing 17-10 with 20 minutes to go.
It stayed that way for the next 10 minutes until Ian Keatley made an immediate impact after replacing Zebo by taking an inside pas from Andre Conway to dive over for the vital third try. Bleyendaal couldn’t convert, but that was job done as far as Munster were concerned.
They will be back at Thomond Park in the quarter-finals for the ninth time in their history.
Toulouse advance and deny Connacht
Connacht knew a losing bonus-point would have been enough to seal a first appearance in the Champions Cup last-eight. But they paid the price for a slow start. Tries from Gael Fickou, Arthur Bonneval and Joe Tekori put the four-time champions 19-3 ahead at the start of the second-half.
John Muldoon’s try gave Pat Lam hope of a place in the quarter-finals, but they failed to find the decisive penalty or drop-goal that would have seen them advance. Toulouse qualify as best runner-up from Pool 2 and will travel to Thomond Park to take-on Munster in a mouthwatering clash at Thomond Park.
Toulouse got off to a ferocious start at Stade Ernest Wallon. Fickou used his fast feet to break in midfield and storm downfield to put the hosts on the front-foot. Cyril Baille was held-up over the line after some heavy pressure, but the breakthrough soon came. The hosts took a quick-tap penalty and hammered away at the try-line, before Sebastien Bezy found Fickou in space, and all he had to do was dive over the try line. Jean Marc Doussain converted for an early 7-0 lead.
And it got even better for the four-time European champions after 17 minutes. Yoann Huget sliced through in midfield and charged downfield before finding Bonneval with a perfectly weighted pass. The winger fended off the challenge of Matt Healey to dive over at the corner. Doussain made it 14-0 with the conversion from the touchline.
Connacht finally got on the scoreboard after 33 minutes with a Craig Ronaldson penalty, before Quinn Roux was shown a yellow card with Toulouse leading 14-3 just before half-time.
The Toulouse power shone through after the break as they gave Connacht a mountain to climb. Some indiscipline from the Irish defence allowed their Pool 2 rivals to pile on the pressure. And they soon cracked as Tekori peeled off the back of a powerful maul to score and make it 19-3.
But just when Connacht needed a leader, Muldoon reignited their quarter-final charge. Peter Robb made good ground with a powerful run down the centre before the ball was shipped to their skipper, who barged his way over. Ronaldson converted to cut the gap to 19-10. But Toulouse held-off Connacht in the final minutes to advance.
Zebre make Wasps work hard
Zebre gave their best performance of the season and led 13-3 midway through the first-half. It was a far cry from the 82-14 massacre they suffered in Round 1 when Wasps ran in 12 tries.
Three months on and the losing margin was reduced to 14 points and they cut the number of Wasps tries in half – and scored three themselves. Had they not lost two players to the sin-bin who knows how much closer they might have got to winning.
Italian outside half Carlo Canna kicked his side into an eighth minute lead and then converted a try four minutes later from international centre Mattia Bellini, who left Kurtley Beale for dead in the Wasps 22. Dany Cipriani got Wasps on the board with a penalty, but then Marcello Violi stepped up to kick a simple home penalty while his half-back partner, Canna, was changing his boots.
Then came the crucial moment for the visitors as Zebre hooker Oliviera Fabiani was sent to the bin for a no-arms tackle. Off the back of the scrum 15 metres out of the home posts, England No 8 picked up and his back row colleague Ashley Johnson bashed his way over for the first of his two tries.
Cipriani then ghosted his way over for a try which he also converted before England centre Elliot Daly raced to the left corner on the stroke of half-time. Cipriani converted off the touchline and at the break Wasps were leading 22-13.
No sooner had Zebre No 8 Derick Minnie picked up his yellow card in the 51st minute for swimming down the side of a ruck than Johnson grabbed the bonus-point try and there was clear daylight. Wasps went on to grab two more tries, a electrifying 30 sprint fro Christian Wade and short range crash over from Hughes, but Zebre hit back with two more of their own.
Canna and Bellini set-up full back Kurt Baker for a run-in to the posts and then replacement lock Federico Ruzza made it three tries in two games against Wasps this season with a close range lunge in the last move of the match.