With places in the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup semi-finals at stake, there was everything to play for this weekend. Who rose to the occasion and who wilted under pressure?
Wasps will take on Saracens in the European Champions Cup semi-finals on 23 April thanks to Jimmy Gopperth’s nerves of steel. The fly-half struck a final-kick conversion from five metres in from the right touchline to take his team to a 25-24 win over an Exeter Chiefs side who had led for most of the match.
Goppeth had the chance to steal the glory thanks to Charles Piutau’s try which was set up by patient team-work. It was a remarkable comeback for Wasps as they were 24-11 down with just 16 minutes of the match to go, but they did not panic and showed extraordinary belief. They now have a shot at winning Europe’s top club competition for the third time.
Leicester were at their best as they trounced Stade Francais 41-13 at Welford Road in their Champions Cup quarter-final. Freddie Burns had a superb game for the Tigers, creating plenty of attacking chanced for his team-mates, scoring an interception try and thinking quickly to take an instant throw-in after a mistake by Djibril Camara close to his own line, which set up the easiest of tries for Manu Tuilagi.
Man of the Match Peter Betham was also on top form, while Tigers wing Vereniki Goneva deserves a special mention, not only for scoring two tries but for unselfishly passing to blindside Michael Fitzgerald so he could score in the left-hand corner, when Goneva could have tried to power through to complete his hat-trick. With Leicester already 31-13 up, no one would have blamed Goneva if he had gone for glory and failed, but he did the best thing for his team and put Fitzgerald over.
Brad gets a grip
Chris Ashton, Chris Wyles and Owen Farrell get the headlines for scoring Saracens’ points in their 29-20 Champions Cup win over Northampton Saints, but centre Brad Barritt also did a crucial piece of work to stop a score which might have given the Saints some early momentum.
Saracens were 3-0 up in the 13th minute when Jamie Elliott looked set to score in the left-hand corner, but Barritt just managed to get hold of the Saint’s right arm as he reached down to ground the ball and he forced him to drop it. Referee Jeromes Garces disallowed the try, with help from the TV ref, and Northampton had missed out on a chance to make Saracens play catch-up.
Rising to the Challenge
Charlie Davies is the toast of Wales today after his late try took Newport Gwent Dragons to their biggest ever European win as they beat Challenge Cup holders Gloucester 23-21 on their home patch.
The replacement scrum-half spotted that Gareth Evans had left the door ever so slightly ajar by joining the side of a maul which the Dragons were driving towards the Gloucester line, and he went for the gap Evans had left in the line, dived over and scored a try which Dorian Jones converted to secure the win.
A hat-trick of tries from Harlequins captain Danny Care played a big part in his side’s 38-30 Challenge Cup quarter-final win over London Irish. Quins were trailing 30-18 with 52 minutes gone but then created three tries from driving mauls and Care touched down at the back of two of them, having already scored an interception try in the first half.
There were heroics on the losing side in the Challenge Cup from Sale Sharks centre Sam James, who scored a superb individual try in the last five minutes of the game against Montpellier. Trailing 25-14, the Sharks needed something a bit special and James’s chip and chase up the left fitted the bill, but Sale could not close the gap entirely and lost 25-19.
Plaudits also go to Matt Healy of Connacht, who created two tries for team-mate Niyi Adeolokun and scored one of his own, but the Irish side fell agonisingly short of grabbing a memorable win at Grenoble, losing 33-32.
Look after the ball
On big occasions against top opponents you have to take all your scoring chances and Northampton Saints wing Jamie Elliott wasted one during Saturday’s Champion’s Cup quarter-final against Saracens.
Elliott darted down the left touchline, battering his way through one big hit, but as he reached forward to put the ball down over the line, Brad Barritt managed to get his right hand onto Elliott’s right arm and forced him to drop the ball. If Elliott had been carrying the ball in his left hand, away from the defenders covering across, he probably would have scored but as it was he missed a chance to put Northampton ahead.
Elliott was not the only sinning Saint. With Northampton trailing 22-13 in the 77th minute, JJ Hanrahan threw out a wild pass when he was tackled inside his own 22 by Duncan Taylor as his team attempted to run from their own line. He should have taken the hit and recycled, as there were other Saints on hand to help, but his reckless offload was pounced on by Chris Wyles who scored a try to put Saracens well out of reach.
Getting away with it
He ended up on the winning side, so Bradley Davies must be mighty relieved that the interception try he handed to Thomas Waldrom did not cost his Wasps team any dearer in their Champions Cup quarter-final against Exeter Chiefs.
With 36 minutes gone and Exeter already 7-6 up, Wasps were in possession around their own ten-metre line when Davies had to turn 180 degrees to collect a wayward pass. As Brian O’Driscoll said on BT Sport after the game, “Don’t pass on a wayward pass.” Davies had obviously not heard that saying and with his back to play, he shifted the ball on and Waldrom appeared from over his shoulder to snaffle it and sprint for the line, sliding the last few metres to complete the score.
Brendan McKibbin made London Irish’s task of trying to win their Challenge Cup quarter-final at Harlequins all the harder by gifting a try to Danny Care after 20 minutes. From a lineout on half-way, he sent a long pass out, but Care had anticipated the plan and he sprinted round the back of the lineout, latched onto the ball and dashed in for a try which gave Harlequins the lead.
Tim Visser gifted a try back to London Irish later in the half when he made a mess of tidying up a kick up the right and let the ball go lose and Fergus Mulchrone pounced to score.
On a weekend when interception tries seemed to be all the rage, Toulon centre Maxime Mermoz saw his offload snaffled by Racing 92’s Juan Imhoff and the try the Argentine scored from there proved decisive in a game which ended in a 19-16 win for Racing and saw holders Toulon dumped out of the Champions Cup.