Munster canter to home play-off
Munster and Clermont clinched home European Cup quarterfinals as they raced to comfortable wins over Edinburgh and Racing Metro on Sunday.
Munster and Clermont clinched home European Cup quarterfinals as they raced to comfortable wins over Edinburgh and Racing Metro on Sunday.
Munster scored six tries in a 38-6 bonus point win over Edinburgh at Thomond Park before Clermont eased to a 28-3 bonus point win over an ill disciplined Racing Metro side at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
In other results, Gloucester and Harlequins booked their place in the European Challenge Cup play-offs, the fomer thanks to a 36-18 bonus point triumph over Perpignan and latter due to a narrow 22-20 win over Scarlets.
We look at Sunday's action!
Munster 38-6 Edinburgh
Munster produced a five-star performance against Edinburgh at Thomond Park on Sunday to clinch home ground advantage in the European Cup quarterfinals on the first weekend of April.
Munster were already safely through to the money-spinning knockout stages for a record 15th time in the 19 years of European club rugby's premier tournament but their 38-6, six-try haul took them up to 23 match points and that priceless home tie in the last eight.
Munster, the European champions in 2006 and 2008, gained full revenge for their 29-23 defeat in Edinburgh in Round One as the 2012 semifinalists did not help themselves by having two of their players yellow carded and Munster punishing them on the scoreboard.
Greg Laidlaw was presented with the first real scoring chance with a second minute penalty but pulled his effort wide and although he made amends with a similar effort minutes later, Munster's response was with the ball in hand.
They reclaimed the restart through the inspirational Paul O'Connell and No.8 James Coughlan darted through but Ian Keatley failed to add the extra points when his conversion attempt hit an upright.
Munster spurned points through potential penalty goals and turned up the heat at a succession of scrums close to the Edinburgh line and that enterprise paid dividends.
Although it was not Munster's best scrum, when the ball bobbled out Johne Murphy took the pass from Conor Murray and cut back inside the Edinburgh cover, avoiding two tackles to touch down under the posts.
It was the simplest of conversions for Keatley but Munster then lost Keith Earls with a left leg injury, replaced by Simon Zebo, before Laidlaw added a second penalty when Munster failed to release.
O'Connell and Zebo then joined forces to keep Laidlaw out as Edinburgh came again but they would start the second half a man down after Cornell du Preez was yellow carded by English referee Wayne Barnes.
And 14-man Edinburgh conceded a third try just three minutes after the restart with Murray finishing off excellent work by Tommy O'Donnell, Felix Jones, Keatley and Tommy O'Donnell.
Keatley's conversion opened up a 13-point advantage and captain Peter O'Mahony claimed try number four and the priceless bonus point with 24 minutes to spare.
Zebo was next to get in on the try-scoring act as Munster gave their army of fans plenty to sing about and with Edinburgh again reduced to 14 with Geoff Cross sin binned, Felix Jones got the sixth to hammer home their advantage in real style.
Tries: Coughlan, Murphy, Murray, O'Mahony, Zebo, Jones
Cons: Keatley 4
Pens: Laidlaw 2
Yellow cards: Cornell du Preez (Edinburgh, 40), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh, 73)
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Peter O'Mahony (captain), 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Dave Foley, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Damian Varley, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 James Cronin, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Paddy Butler, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Simon Zebo.
Edinburgh: 15 Jack Cuthbert, 14 Dougie Fife, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Ben Atiga, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Dave Denton, 7 Roddy Grant, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Al Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Wicus Blaauw, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Oliver Atkins, 20 Tomas Leonardi, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Carl Bezuidenhout, 23 Joaquin Dominguez.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth (England), Roy Maybank (England)
TMO: Sean Davey (England)
Perpignan 18-36 Gloucester
Gloucester will be playing European rugby in April after they stunned Perpignan at the Stade Aime Giral on Sunday afternoon.
The 2006 European Challenge Cup winners will have the chance to regain that trophy when continental competition returns in the spring after they secured maximum points in a 36-18 success in the south of France.
Gloucester ran in five tries in all to finish the pool stages on 14 points, leapfrogging Pool Two runners-up Cardiff Blues in the process courtesy of their better try-scoring record across all six fixtures.
A quarterfinal spot seemed a distant dream after back-to-back home defeats to Edinburgh and Munster but Gloucester left their best performance til last to revive a disappointing season to date.
Shane Monahan scored twice for the visitors, with Jonny May, Charlie Sharples and Ben Morgan also touching down and Freddie Burns kicking 11 points through four conversions and a drop-goal as he missed just once from the tee.
May set Gloucester on their way when he sliced through from 80 metres with 13 minutes gone. The 23-year-old left four defenders in his wake after picking up Sione Piukala's dropped pass just inside the Gloucester 22, with the Perpignan cover grasping at thin air thanks to May's pace and balance.
Burns pushed the conversion attempt across the face of the posts but Gloucester were 5-3 up after Tom Ecochard's fourth-minute penalty had opened the scoring for the hosts.
Perpignan were celebrating a try of their own after 18 minutes, though, when Piukala powered through after David Marty's well-timed pop left May flat footed.
Ecohord's conversion from 10 metres to the right of the posts left Gloucester with a 10-5 deficit at the end of the first quarter but they were back in front by the half hour.
The pack went close with a series of carries wide on the right before Burns, May and Rob Cook put Monahan over on the opposite touchline with 28 minutes gone.
Burns sent over a superb conversion to push Gloucester 12-10 ahead and things got even better for Nigel Davies and company when Sharples finished off a brilliant breakaway four minutes after Monahan had touched down for his first.
Gloucester pounced when former Wasps forward Dan Leo lost possession in the visitors' 22, with Burns and Billy Twelvetrees giving No.8 Gareth Evans a hint of a gap 15 metres from his own line.
Evans showed a stunning turn of pace and great awareness to cut in between two defenders before galloping towards the Perpignan line. He could have stretched for the line himself but instead unselfishly offloaded to Sharples who dotted down despite pressure from Joffrey Michel.
Burns again succeeded with the conversion from wide on the right in between a brace of penalty misses from Ecohord and Gloucester took a 19-10 lead into the interval.
Ecohord narrowed the gap to six points a minute after the restart but Gloucester grabbed the bonus point try when Monahan dived over on the left after Dan Robson's quick-fire pass from a close-range ruck. Burns added the extras and Gloucester were 13 points up at 26-13 and with the hard work seemingly done.
A Karl Chateau try after good work from Ecohord gave Perpignan hope of a comeback two minutes past the hour but Gloucester never looked like letting things slip in the final quarter.
Instead, Burns slotted a drop-goal to effectively seal the win with a little over six minutes left and Morgan stretched over from a five-metre scrum for a try converted by Burns at the death after Perpignan prop George Jgenti saw yellow.
Tries: Piukala, Chateau
Pens: Ecochard 2
Tries: May, Monahan 2, Sharples, Morgan
Cons: Burns 4
Yellow card: George Jgenti (Perpignan, 77)
Perpignan: 15 Joffrey Michel, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 David Marty (captain), 12 Sione Piukala, 11 Watisoni Votu, 10 Sofiane Guitoune, 9 Tom Ecochard, 8 Karl Chateau 7 Luke Narraway, 6 Justin Purll, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Dan Leo, 3 Paulica Ion, 2 Romain Terrain, 1 Sébastien Taofifenua.
Replacements: 16 Maxime Delonca, 17 George Jgenti, 18 Sona Taumalolo, 19 Jean-Pierre Perez, 20 Nicolas Durand, 21 Lifeimi Mafi, 22 Jens Torfs, 23 Alasdair Strokosch.
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Jonny May, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (captain), 11 Shane Monahan, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Gareth Evans 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Matt Cox, 5 James Hudson, 4 Elliot Stooke, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Yann Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Daniel George, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Will James, 20 Sione Kalafamoni, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Martyn Thomas, 23 Steph Reynolds.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Jonathan Peak (Ireland)
TMO: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
Scarlets 20-22 Harlequins
The battle for the final place in the European Challenge Cup quarterfinals went down to the wire at Parc y Scarlets and wasn't decided until three minutes from time when Ben Botica kicked a decisive penalty.
Up until then it looked as though the Scarlets were going to maintain their discipline and hold onto their slender lead to give Wales one team to follow in the latter stages of European competition. But a fatal step offside in the 77th minute gave Botica the chance to step up a grab the glory.
It was a kick that, given the conditions, wasn't the easiest in the world, but he would have expected to land the goal. His father, former All Black Frano, was watching in the stands with mixed feelings.
While he was delighted for his son, he had to hold back any celebrations because he used to play for Llanelli. It was a killer blow for the home side who had gone into the game hoping to notch a notable double over the English outfit.
Both teams came into the game knowing there was the chance to continue their European adventure in the Challenge Cup and the Quins arrived wanting to put the record straight following their 26-33 defeat at the Twickenham Stoop in the opening round.
There was an almost perfect start for the home team when a thrilling break over half-way by Jordan Williams was converted into a try for scrumhalf Gareth Davies following a useful link by skipper Rob McCusker. Rhys Priestland added the conversion.
Back row man Aaron Shingler was then given a 10-minute spell in the sin bin for his reckless charge into a maul and a minute later the Quins made their numerical advantage pay with a try wide out on the right for fullback Mike Brown. Nick Evans used the inside of the upright to coax over his conversion.
A second try wide out from the visitors, this time from right wing Ollie Lindsay-Hague, edged Quins ahead on 27 minutes. Evans again converted, but a Priestland penalty soon pegged back the visitors' advantage.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, Shingler atoned for his earlier misdemeanour by driving through a ruck on the Quins' line to touch down under the noses of his opposing back row to give the Scarlets a 15-14 interval lead.
There was a dramatic start to the second half with the Scarlets almost scoring at one end before the Quins turned the home miss into a 14-point turn around with a Karl Dickson try three minutes after the restart.
But the Scarlets were in no mood to lie down and Wales centre Scott Williams burrowed his way over for a try after 50 minutes that made it 20-19.
Priestland failed with his conversion attempt and there were also a couple of long-range penalty misses from inside his own half by Jordan Williams.
And that is how the scoreline stayed in a second half played in torrential rain and with mounting pressure. Something had to give and it was at the Scarlets' end of the pitch three minutes from time.
Up stepped Botica and over went the penalty that guaranteed Quins a trip to Paris to face Stade Francais in the European Challenge Cup quarterfinals.
Tries: Davies, Shingler, S Williams
Tries: Brown, Lindsay-Hague, Dickson
Cons: Evans 2
Yellow card: Aaron Shingler (Scarlets, 10)
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Jordan Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 John Barclay, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Jake Ball, 4 George Earle, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Johan Snyman, 20 Josh Turnbull, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Adam Warren, 23 Gareth Owen.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Tim Molenaar, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Karl Dickson, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 Nick Kennedy, 3 Will Collier, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Tom Williams.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Patrick Péchambert (France), Maxime Chalon (France)
TMO: Jean-Marie Piraveau (France)
Clermont 28-3 Racing Metro
Clermont secured a home quarterfinal with Leicester Tigers after they picked up maximum points against Racing Metro.
Last season's beaten finalists knew a bonus point win would see them return to the Stade Marcel Michelin, while a failure to score four tries would have seen them head out on the road on the first weekend of April.
Dreadful weather conditions made Clermont's task much tougher than it might otherwise had been but they still had way too much power and pace for a Racing side who had lost four straight games in Pool Four since they edged the reverse fixture in Round One.
Gerhard Vosloo scored twice for the hosts, with Fritz Lee and Vincent Debaty also touching down in a comfortable 28-3 success.
Clermont's 70-match unbeaten home record never looked in doubt but strong Racing defence in the third quarter suggested they might be left disappointed as far as a home tie in the last eight was concerned as their French rivals refused to buckle despite seeing three men sin binned in the space of 14 minutes.
Clermont enjoyed the perfect start when Lee powered over with just five minutes on the clock after strong early pressure from the home pack.
Mike Delany's conversion completed the seven-point score and that advantage was doubled early in the second quarter as flank Vosloo ended a superb team move with a fine finish out wide.
Clermont kept the ball alive brilliantly, with the likes of Wesley Fofana and prop Clement Ric both heavily involved, as they showed just how hard they will be to stop in this competition.
Delany again added the extras but the only other score of the half was a Maxime Machenaud penalty that cut Racing's deficit to 14-3 by the half-time break.
Racing's already formidable task got even harder when they lost blindside flank Bernard le Roux to a yellow card just two minutes into the second period, though, as Clermont stepped up the anti.
Clermont thought they had their third try shortly after the restart as Fofana powered through from 10 metres out but referee Greg Garner called for the TMO and he wasn't willing to give the answer the home faithful were hoping for.
Lee took out Benjamin Dambielle in the build up to create the hole through which Fofana charged through and Garner duly wiped out the score.
Le Roux's return on 52 minutes should have boosted Racing but instead they lost captain Dimitri Szarzewski to the sin bin straight away and were constantly on the back foot at the set-piece as a result.
Clermont continued to pile on the pressure and things went from bad to worse for Racing when replacement prop Luc Ducalcon became the third visitor to be sent to the sin bin for a scrum offence just four minutes after Szarzewski had departed.
But Racing wouldn't roll over and you sensed that they might just be able to frustrate Clermont at a sodden Stade Marcel Michelin.
Clermont's worries were soon ended, though, as Vosloo crashed over on the hour and replacement forward Debaty followed suit to seal the deal seven minutes later.
Tries: Lee, Vosloo 2, Debaty
Cons: Delany 4
For Racing Metro:
Yellow cards: Bernard le Roux (Racing Metro, 42), Dimitri Szarzewski (Racing Metro, 52), Luc Ducalcon (Racing Metro, 56)
Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Aurélien Rougerie (captain), 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Ludovic Radoslavjevic, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Gerhard Vosloo, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Clément Ric, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Vincent Debaty, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Benson Stanley, 23 Jean-Marcellin Buttin.
Racing Metro: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Fabrice Estebanez, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Jone Qovu Nailiko, 7 Camille Gerondeau, 6 Bernard Le Roux, 5 Karim Ghezal, 4 Francois van der Merwe, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski (captain), 1 Julien Brugnaut.
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Davit Khinchagishvili, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Jacques Cronje, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Laurent Magnaval, 22 Benjamin Dambielle, 23 Alexandre Dumoulin.
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Darren Gamage (England), Nigel Carrick (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)