English clubs represented 2 of the final 8 in the Champions Cup Quarter Finals, with Wasps travelling to Ireland to play Leinster and Saracens welcoming Glasgow Warriors to London.
Leinster and Wasps kicked off the weekend’s Champions cup action in a hotly anticipated contest at the Aviva Stadium. Wasps’ attack has been on red-hot form this season and it seemed it would be a story of whether they could outscore their Irish opponents. Leinster started off the brighter. Sustained pressure allowed Jonny Sexton to slot a penalty before Ica Nacewa benefited from the impressive Joey Carbery’s pass to slide in the corner. However, Leinster should have been made to pay for their profligacy soon after as a scything Kurtley Beale break sent Willie le Roux over the line in space only for the Sprinkbok to drop the ball mid-dive. 8-0 down after 23 minutes it would have been a turning point for Wasps. Indeed, just 10 minutes later Carbery and Fergus McFadden linked up nicely to send Jack Conan cantering over in the right-hand corner before Robbie Henshaw crossed soon after to make the score 23-3 at the break. Wasps were much improved in the second half, and scored early on- Christian Wade chipping ahead down the wing and grounding over the line. Gopperth also added a fine solo effort after moving to fly-half to take Wasps back to within 8 points, but McFadden’s late try put the result out of doubt. Final score 32-17.
The second fixture on Saturday saw Munster welcome Toulouse to Thomond Park. Munster started the quicker going 10 points up in as many minutes thanks to John Ryan’s try, but the boot of Jean-Marc Doussain ensured Toulouse stayed in it 13-9 at the break. The second half, however, was all Munster. CJ Stander drove over after 47 minutes before Tyler Bleyendaal added 2 penalties. Toulouse hit back in controversial style. Yoann Maestri’s final pass to Paul Perez was deemed flat after TMO referral but in replays seemed obviously forward. Munster held strong though, and two late tries from Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway left them 41-16 victors.
Sunday saw Glasgow Warriors travel to Allianz Park to take on reigning champions Saracens. The holders started strongly, with both Sean Maitland and Chris Ashton having efforts ruled out for marginal touchline calls, before Chris Ashton finally wriggled his way over after some nice footwork. This, in addition to Farrell’s previous 3 penalties, gave Saracens a 14-3 lead at half-time. The Scottish side returned the stronger, Lee Jones benefitting from a pinpoint Fin Russell kick and some weak defending from Ashton and Alex Goode to go over. But the turning point came soon after. Some Schalk Brits inspired attacking play led to Marcelo Bosch powering between two defenders and then stepping the last man to score under the posts. Brad Barritt and Ashton added further efforts as Saracens tightened the screw before Ryan Wilson scored a late consolation. Russell could not add the extras leaving the final score 38-13 to Saracens.
The final quarter-final was an all French affair as Clermont welcomed Toulon to Stade Marcel Michelin. The wet conditions meant for some less attractive rugby as both teams scored in 3s, but with the scores at 9-9 Noa Nakaitaci added some excitement to the game in the 60th minute- going over after sustained Clermont attacking play. Morgan Parra added the extras and then 10 minutes later Camille Lopez slotted a drop-goal to put the home side 10 points ahead with 10 minutes left. A further Parra penalty sealed the result before Damien Penaud scored with time up after good work from Nick Abendanon to leave the final score 29-9.
- Toulouse’s try: Fortunately, it didn’t directly influence the result, but it seems crazy that with the video technology in use this try was given. JP Doyle stated that there was not an angle which, to him, showed the pass being obviously forward, but to those watching at home and in the studio it was fairly blatant- the cheeky smile on Paul Perez’ face upon it being awarded told the whole story.
- Lions Contenders: There were a number of players who both raised and lowered their chances of making the Lions Squad when it is announced on the 19th of April. CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony had huge games for Munster whilst Billy Vunipola showed his class as he continues his return to form at Saracens. Sean O’Brian was colossal for Leinster too and all will be hoping to make the squad. Leinster’s Joey Carbery also impressed with a livewire performance at fullback for the Irish side, whilst Chris Ashton and Christian Wade helped their slim chances with well-taken tries. Danny Cipriani was notably absent for Wasps after being namechecked by Gatland as a dark horse, and they looked much more dangerous with Gopperth at 10.