Clermont and Saracens advance
Clermont and Saracens booked their places in the semifinals of the European Cup with impressive wins on Saturday.
Clermont booked their place in the semifinals of the European Cup on Saturday by dispatching fellow French Top 14 foes Montpellier 36-14, while Saracens also advanced after beating Ulster 27-16.
Clermont will face the winner of Sunday's quarterfinal between Harlequins and Munster at Montpellier's Stade de la Mosson on April 27 as they try to go a step further than last year's semifinal defeat to eventual champions Leinster.
Three penalties from the boot of Benoit Paillaugue staked Montpellier to an early 9-3 lead but a first-half ankle injury sustained by flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc derailed the visitors with Wesley Fofana and Aurelien Rougerie touching down in quick succession to push Clermont 15-9 ahead at the break.
A sensational individual try from wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, who eluded five opposing players to cross the line after a 60-metre run, and a subsequent score from Lee Byrne then gave the hosts further breathing space.
Napolioni Nalaga became the fifth Clermont player to notch a try as he went over with five minutes remaining, while a late effort from Montpellier wing Timoci Nagusa gave the scoreline a slightly more respectable look.
Meanwhile, English Premiership pacesetters Saracens brushed aside Irish province Ulster at Twickenham with tries from Will Fraser and Chris Ashton as well as 17 points from England fly-half Owen Farrell.
Ruan Pienaar slotted over three penalties for Ulster, the second of which levelled the scores at 6-6 before Saracens responded with 13 unanswered points, also converting Iain Henderson's late try in a losing cause.
Next up for Saracens will be an April 28 last-four clash at Twickenham against the winner of Sunday's tie between Toulon and Leicester.
We look at all Saturday's action!
Clermont 36-14 Montpellier
ASM Clermont Auvergne became the first team to book their place in the Heineken Cup semifinals after cruising past Montpellier.
The French giants were irrepressible at Stade Marcel Michelin with Sitiveni Sivivatu and Wesley Fofana running riot.
Montpellier made the better start but Clermont soon found their stride and they entered half-time leading 15-9 thanks to Fofana and Aurelien Rougerie tries.
Sivivatu claimed his side's third touchdown in the second half before Lee Byrne put the result beyond doubt and Napolioni Nalaga struck at the death.
Clermont were knocked out at semifinals, by eventual winners Leinster, last season but they will be one of the favourites to lift the biggest prize in European club rugby following another devastating display.
They face the winners Sunday's clash between Harlequins and Munster, with the last four tie to be held on April 27.
Montpellier opened the scoring on five minutes at Stade Marcel Michelin with Paillaugue dissecting the posts after Benjamin Kayser was penalised for blocking.
They continued to pile the pressure on the hosts and the scrum-half added a second penalty on 12 minutes.
Clermont had a promising opportunity to attack with a scrum in Montpellier's twenty-two but the visitors decimated the set-piece and stole possession.
Alex Tulou broke and he linked with Thomas Combezou, who fed Timoci Nagusa. The wing was hauled down but Montpellier were handed a penalty.
Paillaugue was unable to stretch his side's lead but the dominance at the scrum struck a huge mental blow to the hosts.
Parra hit back on 20 minutes but Paillaugue quickly responded to restore the visitors' six-point advantage.
Montpellier were dealt a blow with the loss of Francois Trinh-Duc mid-way through the half. The fly-half had struggled with a leg injury for several minutes before he was unable to continue.
Clermont grabbed the opening try on 27 minutes. Following some strong forward charges, Parra dinked a dangerous box-kick into the corner and Fofana finished in emphatic fashion.
Parra failed to add the touchline conversion but the try cut the deficit to a single point and they soon surged into the lead.
Sivivatu burst onto the ball at pace and turned three defenders inside out before drawing Lucas Amorosino to send Rougerie under the sticks.
Parra knocked over the simple conversion to bring the scores to 15-9 at the break, although he was unable to kick the scoreboard back into action following the restart.
But the hosts took a giant stride towards the semifinals as Sivivatu blazed over for a stunning try.
Fofana made the initial inroads and he offloaded inside to the onrushing Sivivatu. The jet-heeled wing jinked past three defenders including Santiago Fernandez.
They sealed the win on 68 minutes with Rougerie superbly offloading from Fulgence Ouedraogo's tackle to send Byrne diving over.
David Skrela converted to open up an insurmountable 20-point lead.
Clermont rubbed salt into Montpellier's wounds as Nalaga finished another attack in the closing stages but the visitors had the final word with Timoci Nagusa scoring in injury time.
Tries: Fofana, Rougerie, Sivivatu, Byrne, Nalaga
Cons: Parra 2, Skrela 2
Pen: Paillaugue 3
ASM Clermont Auvergne: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Aurelien Rougerie (captain), 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Julien Bonnaire, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Gerhard Vosloo, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 David Skrela, 22 Regan King, 23 Jean-Marcel Buttin.
Montpellier: 15 Lucas Amorosino, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Yohann Artru, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo (captain), 5 Thibault Privat, 4 Mamuka Gorgodze, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Yvan Watremez.
Replacements: 16 Erasmus Van Vuuren, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Barry Fa'amausili, 19 Mickael De Marco, 20 Johnnie Beattie, 21 Eric Escande, 22 Paul Bosch, 23 Pierre Berard.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Stuart Terheege (England)
Saracens 27-16 Ulster
Saracens will return to Twickenham Stadium at the end of the month for the Heineken Cup semifinals after beating Ulster at the home of English rugby.
In front of a record crowd for a quarterfinal in England of 37,888, tries from Will Fraser and Chris Ashton, Sarries booked their place in the final four of the competition for only the second time in their history.
Flyhalf Owen Farrell also kicked 17 points in the victory that sets up the semifinal clash at Twickenham on April 28.
Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar booted three penalties for Ulster and converted flank Iain Henderson’s late try, yet they never threatened a repeat of last season’s Heineken Cup heroics that saw them reach the final.
Farrell booted Saracens ahead through a second-minute penalty but the opening exchanges were dominated by largely aimless tactical kicking from both teams as try-scoring opportunities proved few and far between.
Ulster quickly grew into the game but Pienaar missed two penalty chances in three minutes - his second attempt hit the post - but he made no mistake from close range two minutes later.
And with Saracens finding themselves under increased scrummage pressure, England prop Mako Vunipola was penalised after being demolished by Ulster tighthead John Afoa and Pienaar hauled Ulster level.
They were only on level terms for three minutes, though, as a concerted spell of Saracens pressure resulted in Fraser powering over, although it required several reviews by television match official Eric Gauzins before the try was awarded.
Farrell converted and then kicked a penalty as half-time approached, hoisting Saracens 10 points clear to give them a degree of breathing space for the first time.
And when Farrell added a further penalty eight minutes into the second period Ulster had a mountain to climb, trailing by 13 points and with seemingly little hope of replicating last season’s achievement in Europe.
Ulster tried to increase the tempo but Saracens were not noticeably threatened defensively despite some powerful Ulster surges led by blindside flank Iain Henderson.
Farrell kicked another penalty to give Ulster further cause for concern and victory was sealed when prop Rhys Gill secured possession in midfield and Ashton ran around two defenders to claim a try that he celebrated with a trademark dive.
Henderson had the final say, posting a try that Pienaar converted, but it was Saracens’ day.
Tries: Fraser, Ashton
Pen: Farrell 5
Pens: Pienaar 3
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Kelly Brown, 6 Ernst Joubert, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (captain), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Leighton Hodges (Wales), Cédric Marchat (France)
AFP & ERC