There we have it, another year of European group stages are over and now we can focus on the knockout rounds. This week certainly had all the drama needed to make it a classic two days of rugby. Despite having to work out all the mathematical connotations for every scored there has still plenty of nail biting, quality rugby on show for us to enjoy. So lets look back at the action and as usual we start with pool 1.
La Rochelle v Harlequins
This game officially meaning much more to La Rochelle than Harlequins really should have been a formality to the French team chasing a last 8 place and for the first half this looked to be the case but Harlequins young guns, marshalled by Marcus Smith really took the second half to La Rochelle. With the game ending 16-7, in the Frenchmen’s favour this would be enough to see them into a quarter final spot.
Wasps v Ulster
With both teams fighting for a position in the next round this game was always going to be one to watch. At home Wasps will always fancy their chances but with their extensive injury list this would always be a tough game against the men from Ulster. Wasps came out swinging with an early Thompson try, Ulster soon replied with their own score courtesy of Sean Reidy, but this was to be where Wasps took over, dominating the Irish team with tries from Cruse, Le Roux and Cooper Wooley to take control of the game and take a 26-7 win. Unfortunately for the Coventry outfit this would not be enough to take them into a top 8 berth.
Saracens v Northampton
Coming into the game Saracens where the only team with anything to play for with Northampton already too far behind the pack to make any impact on the game, having said that, caretaker boss Alan Gaffney still picked a side he would have felt could have done a job. Unfortunately for Saints he was wrong with Saracens hammering the midlanders 62-14 in a seven try massacre that showed the world how they became European champions last year. This win put Sarries on 18 points and would have to nervously wait for other results to seal their fate. Although this was a sorry day for Saints, they will be looking to put this behind them tom concentrate on matters in the league.
Clermont v Ospreys
This was the game with all to play for with both teams capable of taking top spot with a win. Ospreys came to town with confidence and a real desire to take that place in the next round but that was not to be enough after tries from Englishman Nick Abendanon and Kiwi Luke McAlister secured a 24-7 win for the French team. The Ospreys battled hard and never gave up which was apparent with their consolation try from centre Ashley Beck but the boot of Morgan Parra always kept the Welsh team at bay. What could be more worrying for Ospreys and Wales was the sight of international stand off Dan Biggar leaving the field, writhing in pain clutching his shoulder. This result was enough to see Clermont take the pool and their place in the next round and consign Ospreys to third place.
Montpellier v Leinster
Leinster started this game needing any sort of point to guarantee them a home quarter final but Montpellier would certainly be out to stop this as only a bonus point win would do for them to stand a chance of qualifying. Leinster started the game the stronger with an early try for young fly half Ross Byrne which seemed to spur Montpellier and a driving maul saw them come back with a try from former Springbok skipper Bismark Du Plessis. The game always seemed to be Leinster’s control despite Montpellier’s best efforts. Further tries from Robbie Henshaw and hooker Sean Cronin saw them seal the 14-23 win and a home quarter final. The result left Montpellier consigned to third spot, wondering how much more money they will need to spend to compete at the highest level.
Glasgow v Exeter
Glasgow were much in the same boat as Northampton with the game making no difference on their standings in the group whereas the Chief’s needed a good win to stand a good chance of taking a runner up spot. The Warriors welcomed back Scotland full back Stuart Hogg and he immediately made an impact, scoring Glasgow’s first try. Exeter then answered back with a try of their own through England hopeful Sam Simmonds but Glasgow seemed to be playing rugby without pressure and were their to show what they could really do and this was never more obvious than their third try, Hogg, Horne and Seymour combining to go the full length of the pitch that will be a strong contender for try of the season. After falling 28-7 behind, Exeter decided to show why they where English champions with tries through Don Armand and Ian Whitten making the final 10 minutes exciting again. But alas this was not enough as they slipped to a 28-21 loss, a result that would see them slip out of range of a runners up spot.
Leicester v Racing 92
Leicester approached this game knowing that todays game is only a matter of pride for them with Racing knowing a win would see them through to the quarter finals. With snow covering the ground, the conditions were hardly conducive to running rugby but that didn’t hinder the tension on show at Welford Road. A brave effort came from Tigers but in the end the Racing pack was just too powerful and the Parisian front eight led their team to a 20-23 win.
Munster v Castres
By the time that Munster had kicked off after a 3 hour delay for a waterlogged pitch they were already guaranteed a last 8 spot but a win would give them the home quarter final they will crave at Thomond Park. Castres came to play against Munster and gave them a real challenge but in the end the Irish team were just too strong and in turn took their place in the quarter finals.
Scarlets v Toulon
The first time in a while the Parc Y Scarlets was at full capacity to welcome French giants Toulon in what would be a winner takes all game for the top of pool 5. Scarlets started the game on fire, taking the game to the former champions with winger Tom Prydie going in the corner after successive phases. Scarlets looked in control of the game but a team with the quality players that Toulon possess were never going to be far behind, a 60m race in for Chris Ashton and two tries for Vermuelen made for an edgy final 10 minutes with Scarlets eventually taking the 30-27 win, securing their spot in the Quarter finals, becoming the first welsh team in 6 years to make it. Toulon would have to wait on other results to find out their fate.
Benetton v Bath
Bath went into this game knowing only a bonus point win would stand them any chance of progression. The start of the game really didn’t go to plan with Benetton striking first through early substitute Luca Sperandio, though this was a small setback with Bath going on to score 7 tries of their own. As they have shown a lot of late Benetton would not just roll over and die and looked to play some rugby of their own, and 3 more tries of their own would seal a try scoring bonus point, Bath did all they could but as Toulon scored a losing bonus point the Somerset team were consigned to third place.
Round 6 of the Champions Cup really does have it all, playing the pool game concurrently really makes for an exciting format and with some quality rugby and incredibly tense finishes it’s a weekend of rugby I love to watch. Thank you for reading Gain Line Rugby and our review of round 6, let us know your thoughts on the action and we will see you for next weeks Anglo-Welsh Cup action.