The English clubs have the most to celebrate after the final round of pool matches in this season's European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, but not everyone covered themselves in glory.
Six different try-scorers crossed the whitewash for Wasps as they demolished Leinster 51-10 to finish top of the European Champions Cup Pool of Death.
The pick of the bunch was scored by superb centre Elliot Daly, who turned on the after-burners from around halfway to cut a swathe through the Leinster defence early in the second half. The English side were already leading 18-10 at that stage and they went on to become the first team to put 50 points past Leinster since the Irish side lost 56-31 to Stade Francais in 1998 (thanks to Stuart Farmer for the stats.)
Charles Piutau added a wonderful individual try, sprinting in from his own half with ten minutes to go, but he couldn’t pip Daly for the Man of the Match award. The win meant Wasps overtook Toulon to finish top of Pool Five.
Two tries each from James Short and Thomas Waldrom helped Exeter Chiefs finish top in Pool Two and snatch the last quarter-final place on a dramatic Sunday afternoon.
Waldrom took a quick tapped penalty to help set up the first try for Kai Horstmann in the 33-17 win over the Ospreys and he grabbed a try of his own in each half, both times driven over by his mates in the pack.
Waldrom was named Man of the Match but it was a great team effort from the Chiefs, who went all out to get the bonus point win which they knew they needed to have any chance of qualifying from this tightest of pools.
Bath were beaten 19-14 by Toulon in their Champions Cup Pool Five encounter and while Steffon Armitage stole the headlines with a terrific performance for the French side, my highlight of the match was provided by Bath’s replacement prop Davey Wilson.
His team were trailing 16-14 with nine minutes to play and the prop saw the chance to turn a loose ball in midfield into an attacking opportunity. He executed a superb fly-hack, which took play right up into the Toulon 22 and earned Bath a lineout. From there, they set up a penalty chance, but sadly George Ford slotted it wide from a difficult angle on the right and Bath’s chance to retake the lead was missed. It was a great effort from Wilson though.
Saints go marching on
Northampton needed a bonus point win at the Scarlets to give themselves a chance of claiming a spot in the Champions Cup quarter-finals and the conditions were not exactly conducive, with steady rain soaking the Parc y Scarlets. However, the Saints got the job done, with George North scoring the bonus-point try against his old team.
George Pisi played his part, sliding cleverly over the wet turf to score Saints’ second try after 21 minutes, but the Man of the Match award went to Harry Mallinder for the second weekend in a row. Playing at centre, the youngster scored an interception try to get Northampton rolling early in the game and was also involved in the build-up to the other three tries, showing a great ability to read the game and make an impact.
Saracens kept their 100% winning record in tact to the end of the Champions Cup pool stages, beating Toulouse 28-17. Their pack dominated the French hosts, but the play of the match featured a glorious, mazy run out of his own half from the ever-elusive Alex Goode. He passed to Ben Spencer, who executed a perfect chip and chase and sprinted in for a fabulous try. The win meant Saracens qualify for the quarter-finals as top seeds.
Pride of the Pro12
It was a bad weekend for the Guinness Pro12 sides as none of them made it into the Champions Cup quarter-finals, but Ulster did their best to fly the flag for the league as they walloped Oyonnax 56-3 to finish second in Pool One on 18 points. It didn’t turn out to be enough to get a best runners-up spot, as Northampton and Stade Francais both finished with 19 points, but Ulster did everything in their power to qualify, continuing to attack and score tries long after the bonus-point win was secure.
Their eight tries all came from different scorers, while Paddy Jackson kicked five conversions and Ian Humphreys three. Nick Williams was the ultimate star of the show for Ulster, earning the Man of the Match award with his 14 carries and seven tackles.
Glasgow Warriors also deserve a tip of the hat for beating high-flying Racing 92 22-5. It was especially impressive as the Warriors had to play the match at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock because their own Scotstoun pitch is waterlogged.
Two tries from full-back Simon Hammersley helped Newcastle Falcons defeat European Challenge Cup Pool One leaders Brive 27-23. The second try was particularly good, with Hammersley scooping up his own kick ahead to finish off a great attacking move.
It wasn’t enough to take the Falcons through to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals but it did totally scupper Brive’s hopes as they were overtaken in the table by Connacht and didn’t have enough points to get through as a runner-up.
Lack of Cler thinking
Pool Two of the Champions Cup went down to the thinnest fragment of the wire on Sunday as, in the closing stages of the last two matches, all four teams looked likely to finish on 16 points. If that had happened, Clermont Auvergne would have gone through with the best points-difference, but then they conceded a try to Bordeaux-Begles and found themselves 37-28 down and minus the losing bonus point they needed.
Clermont attacked and were awarded a penalty right under the sticks. A successful kick would have been enough to put them into the quarter-finals. However, Morgan Parra tapped and went, clearly believing his team needed to score a try, despite the situation in the other match, where Exeter Chiefs were comfortably heading for a bonus-point win v Ospreys.
His decision cost his team the chance to play in the quarter-finals, but Parra is not the only sinner here. None of his team-mates knew the situation either, so I blame the Clermont management. Players often say that in the heat of the battle they don’t remember what they do and don’t need from a game like this, but the management have access to information about what is happening in the other game and in the pool as a whole and should prioritise communicating that to their players. All Parra needed to know was that three points was enough. He clearly didn’t know that and Clermont have paid the price.
Oh no Owen!
As comedy errors go, this was a good one. Owen Farrell strode across the Toulouse try-line unchallenged, with his team already 19-7 up, and jogged towards the posts ready to touch the ball down. But somehow he dropped it, leading to howls of derision and laughter from the French fans, and even a wry smile from Farrell himself, when he had finished thumping the turf in frustration. Luckily for the England fly-half, his mistake had no bearing on the result or Saracens’ march to the Champions Cup quarter-finals, but it is not something he will want to repeat.
Ospreys in a flap
The Ospreys went to Sandy Park as the leaders of Pool Two, and while they haven’t won away in Europe since 2009, it turned out that a losing bonus point would have been enough to go through to the quarter-finals. However, the Welsh side were outgunned by Exeter and two individual errors in particular cost them dear at a critical time. First, Scott Baldwin got himself sin-binned for a needless late tackle on Thomas Waldrom. The Ospreys were trailing 14-10 at the time, with 48 minutes gone, so it was not a good time to go a man down.
Baldwin’s mistake was compounded by Sam Davies, who then missed a vital and entirely makeable tackle on James Short, letting the Chiefs wing in for a try which put his side 19-10 up and a step closer to victory.
Bath were 14-11 up against Toulon in Pool Five, looking for a win even though they were out of the race for the quarter-finals. Toulon were attacking and Quade Cooper put a cross-field kick over to the left inside the 22, where Bath No 8 David Denton got his mitts on the ball after no one caught it cleanly. He saw the chance to put Semesa Rokoduguni away on a run out of defence, but as Denton tried to lob the ball over to the wing, Bryan Habana leapt up, snaffled it and darted over the line for a cruel interception try. The score put Toulon 16-14 up and they went on to win 19-14.
Maselino Paulino and Courtney Lawes can cosy up together on the Sinners bench this week, after a double dose of foul play in the Scarlets v Northampton clash. First Paulino charged into a maul early in the second half, smashing his forearm into the jaw of Lawes, who was at the front of the drive. The Scarlets lock was sin-binned and with his team already 17-3 down, it was not a welcome development for the Welsh side.
Later in the half Lawes charged shoulder first into Paulino. Referee Pascal Gauzere took a look at the replays and decided the Englishman’s act warranted a penalty not a card, but it looked like Lawes was lucky to escape so lightly.
Salon of Shame
Now Oyonnax are out of Europe, maybe their openside Pierrick Gunther can take a long look in the mirror and book himself an appointment at the barbers. I have nothing against men with long hair, but the shaved sides with the pony tail…no!