Toulouse join Biarritz in last eight
January 17, 2010
Ben Foden helped to inspire Northampton © Getty Images
It was crunch time in the Heineken Cup this weekend with the penultimate round of pool action seeing the race for the knock out stages hotting up.
Biarritz became the first side to secure a place in the quarter-finals, despite defeat at the hands of Gloucester, and they were joined in the last eight by three-times champions Toulouse thanks to their bonus-point win over Harlequins.
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Toulouse booked their place in the quarter-finals with a 33-21 bonus-point victory over Harlequins.
Florian Fritz bagged the opening try for the hosts before second-half tries from Jean Bouilhou, Cedric Heymans and Maxime Medard eased Guy Noves' side to victory and the knock-out stages at the Stade Ernest-Wallon. Mike Brown and Ugo Monye crossed for the visitors who suffered their fifth defeat of this year's competition.
Quins bagged the opening try as a slick handling move put lock James Percival through a gap and although his pass looked forward, Brown was able to score under the posts. The joy was to be short-lived for the visitors.
Jean-Baptiste Elissalde booted home two penalties in quick succession to take the lead before Heymans broke and found a reverse pass for Fritz to score. The second try came through flanker Bouilhou. Elissalde made the break in midfield and after neat support play by replacement Gregory Lamboley and Dusautoir, Bouilhou added the finishing touch.
Quins' misery was further compounded when prop Ceri Jones was yellow-carded for a clear trip on Elissalde. Immediately, Toulouse capitalised on the numerical advantage and Heymans added a third before Medard confirmed the home side's place in the quarter-finals with the bonus point try. Monye scored a late consolation brace for Quins.
Sale's hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals were severely dented by a 36-19 defeat by the Cardiff Blues. Despite scoring three tries, through Sisa Koyamaibole, Mathew Tait and James Gaskell, they left the Cardiff City Stadium empty handed.
That was down to the excellent goal-kicking of Blues fullback Ben Blair and the fact that the hosts managed three touchdowns of their own, with Richie Rees, Bradley Davies and Xavier Rush all dotting during an absorbing second half. Sale fell behind to a penalty from Blair less than 60 seconds after kick-off but, in truth, they could not have hoped for a better start as Koyamaibole crashed over some horribly lax work from the Blues at the back of a scrum just a couple of metres out from their own line.
However, the home side had opened up a seven-point lead by half time after two successful strikes on goal from Blair and a long-range effort from Leigh Halfpenny. The game was then effectively decided in Cardiff's favour during a four-minute spell after the restart in which both Rees and Davies sniped over from close range.
Sale responded with a well-worked try for Tait but Blair's boot kept them at arm's length. Another superb spell of possession from the visitors resulted in a third try, this time for Gaskell, and that meant that one more try would have secured Sale not only a losing bonus point but also a try bonus point. However, their attempts to keep the ball in hand and run from deep ultimately resulted in an intercept try for Rush with the last play of the game which ultimately left Sale's qualification hopes hanging by a thread.
London Irish gave themselves a mountain to climb by losing 31-22 to the Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets.
Braces from Jonathan Davies and flanker Rob McCusker proved too much for the Exiles as the Scarlets fought back from 22-10 down, with Davies' second denying the visitors a losing bonus-point. Irish's meeting with Leinster at Twickenham next weekend now has a new complexion as they must deny Leinster any points and bag a five-point haul of their own to progress as group winners.
Rhys Priestland pulled an early shot at goal wide for the home side, who were quickly behind when young Exiles wing Tom Homer darted over in the corner following a Ryan Lamb cross-kick and some wonderful handling from lock Nick Kennedy.
The Scarlets' response was a thrilling break from wing Andy Fenby, whose pace left Homer and Lamb grasping at thin air along the touchline. Fenby timed his pass perfectly and Wales centre Davies crashed over under the posts. The open game continued though as Irish hooker David Paice scored their second after wriggling free from a last-ditch tackle. Their lead was extended by a Lamb penalty, which followed a sin-binning for home lock Lou Reed.
No.8 Chris Hala'ufia further punished the Scarlets after the break by powering through some weak tackles to score the Exiles' third. With thoughts turning to a bonus-point the home side rallied, with first a brilliant chip and chase from Priestland and then a dramatic try as McCusker tore through to score untouched. Minutes later the rangy Wales tourist powered over for his second despite an attempted tackle by Peter Richards and the visitors struggled to get out of their half for the remainder of the game. Davies burst clear to score his second and round off the victory in style with the final play of the game.
Defending champions Leinster has no such problems with a 27-10 bonus point win against Brive - but they had to wait until the last minute for their five-point haul thanks to a moment of magic from winger Shane Horgan and captain Brian O'Driscoll.
Despite obvious rustiness and a scrappy all-round display, Michael Cheika's men showed enough glimpses of class - including Shane Horgan's sublime offload for O'Driscoll's score - to seal a deserved fourth pool win. Back after a spell out with a hand injury, Jonathan Sexton kicked a penalty and two conversions - the first of which came after a penalty try. Isa Nacewa and Gordon D'Arcy were Leinster's other try scorers, while Brive's commitment and spirit saw them deservedly cross the whitewash twice through Retief Uys and Scott Spedding.
Northampton centre Jon Clarke scored a vital bonus point try with the last play of the game to pick up maximum points from their 34-0 victory over a shadow Perpignan side at Franklin's Gardens.
The Saints now travel to face Munster at Thomond Park in a shootout for top spot, but their bonus point puts them on 18 points heading into the next round and in pole position for a runners-up spot. Northampton had to re-adjust their plans hours before the match when England's new young forward, Courtney Lawes, was forced to drop out with a groin strain.
Perpignan pressed early on but lost fly-half Steve Meyer to the sin-bin after he illegally halted a counter attack from Ben Foden. A sweeping move involving Bruce Reihana, Foden and Shane Geraghty brought the opening points as Geraghty hammered over a 35-yard penalty following an infringement.
Northampton took the initiative from the restart and scored a wonderful try after only three minutes involving England call-ups Foden and Chris Ashton. Foden made a searing break involving three dummies to pass which bemused the defence before releasing Ashton up the right. The prolific wing scored his 16th try in 17 games.
Again it was the Foden-Ashton axis that shredded Perpignan in the 55th minute. Snappy passing between the two saw Ashton hurtling towards the line and the wing popped the ball outside for Phil Dowson to score.
Scrum-half Lee Dickson burrowed over in the 61st minute and the visitors were a spent force. Northampton captain Dylan Hartley kicked possession away in a failed attempt to cross-kick to his wing, when a pass to his left might have led to a fourth try, but Clarke eased all fears with his dramatic try in the last minute.
Munster powered towards the last eight with a six-try 44-7 demolition of Treviso at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo. Keith Earls helped himself to a brace of tries, while Denis Hurley, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul Warwick and Donnacha Ryan all scored one apiece. Treviso did at least manage one of their own, though, Alessandro Zanni but the Italians were thoroughly outclassed from start to finish.
Treviso had given Munster a fright before eventually capitulating at Thomond Park in Round 2 but they were out of this one by the end of the first quarter with the visitors racking up three tries in the space of eight minutes to take complete control of the game. Earls created the first, for Hurley, with a blistering midfield break before scoring the second after being brilliantly set up by Doug Howlett. Moments later, O'Callaghan crashed over after exchanging passes with Niall Ronan.
O'Gara converted the third of those tries and then added a penalty to extend the visitors' lead to 20 points. Treviso finally got off the mark when Zanni intercepted Tomas O'Leary's loose pass on halfway to score but Munster reasserted their superiority before Warwick got on the end of his own chip forward to secure the bonus point for his side.
Munster eased up somewhat after the interval but still manage two more tries. Earls bagged his second of the game after excellent work by Jean de Villiers before Ryan forced his way over shortly before the end.
Ulster maintained their push for this season's quarter-finals with a 21-13 victory over Edinburgh at Ravenhill on Friday night. Issac Boss and Darren Cave scored tries and Ian Humphreys kicked eight points, with Niall O'Connor adding a penalty. Edinburgh replied with a Jim Thompson try and eight points from the boot of Chris Paterson.
Stade Francais continue to set the pace in the pool but they failed to shut the door on Ulster despite beating Premiership rivals Bath 15-13 at the Stade Jean Bouin. The hosts went into the game knowing that a bonus-point victory would seal their place in the knockout stages. However, they managed just two tries - both of which were scored by Julien Arias - in what proved a hard-earned win in desperately difficult conditions.
Stade appeared well on their way to a bonus point at half-time. After Lionel Beauxis and Nicky Little had exchanged penalties in the opening quarter, Stade took control of the game when Arias dived over after winning the race to Mathieu Bastareaud's clever kick in behind the Bath defence. Arias was over again in the 34th minute, the winger putting the finishing touches on a free-flowing move involving James Haskell, Hugo Southwell and Dimitri Szarzewski.
However, Bath were gifted a route back into the game just before the interval when Beauxis made a mess of an attempted clearance, allowing Michael Claasens in for the simplest of scores. Little converted and then stroked over a penalty in the early stages of the second half to draw the men from the West Country to within one score of victory. However, despite their best efforts, Stade held on quite comfortably to strengthen their position at the top of the Pool.
Leicester's Scott Hamilton made it five tries in two games against Viadana by crossing twice in the Tigers' 47-8 victory at Welford Road. Dan Hipkiss also struck twice for the Tigers, for whom Ben Woods, Toby Flood and Aaron Mauger also touched down. However, some of the shine was taken off what was a resounding win by a knee injury to Tom Croft which forced the England international off after just 27 minutes of play.
Hipkiss opened the scoring six minutes after jinking his way past two would-be tacklers and although Garry Law replied with a penalty for the visitors, Leicester pulled further clear when Woods beat Michele Sepe to Jordan Crane's grubber kick down the line. Flood coasted over just after the half hour after Alesana Tuilagi's awesome break had left the Viadana defence in tatters and Hamilton wrapped up the bonus point when he streaked clear to score on 34 minutes. The fullback dotted again just before the interval, this time touching down after being released by Flood, who then maintained his perfect record with the boot by nailing the resulting conversion.
Leicester, somewhat unsurprisingly, took their foot off the gas in the second half and Viadana took advantage, scoring a fine breakaway try through Italy's Pablo Canavosio in the 55th minute. However, the Tigers still summoned up enough energy and interest to see the game out in style, racking up two further tries in the closing minutes. First, Sam Vesty put Hipkiss in for his second try of the game and then Tuilagi went on the rampage again before leaving Mauger with an easy finish.
On Friday, Glasgow held on for a 29-25 victory over the Dragons at the Firhill Arena. With both sides out of contention for a quarter-final berth, their only hope of continuing their European season beyond next weekend came with the slim chance of European Challenge Cup quarter-final qualification.
The hosts made a superb start to the game with two tries in the opening four minutes courtesy of centre Rob Dewey and No.8 John Beattie. Fly-half Ruaridh Jackson converted one of the scores to cement his side's advantage. But the Dragons rallied immediately and lock Robert Sidoli crossed to reduce the arrears. The kicking exploits of Jackson and scrum-half Colin Gregor kept Glasgow in control but tries for Dragons flanker James Harris and centre Rhodri Gomer-Davies pegged them back before the break. The visitors edged the second half but a try from hooker Fergus Thomson saw Glasgow hold on for the win and edge towards a likely Challenge Cup quarter-final berth.
However, Gloucester still have high hopes of extending their run in Europe beyond January with an impressive 23-8 victory over Biarritz at Kingsholm less than 24 hours later. Tries in either half from Lesley Vainikolo and Tim Molenaar, and 13 points from the boot of Nicky Robinson proved enough to see off their French foes, for whom veteran No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy touched down late on. Gloucester now lied second in the pool on 12 points, six behind Biarritz, whose place in the last eight is assured after four wins from their opening four games.
Biarritz arrived at Kingsholm without a number of first-team regulars through injury and it certainly showed. Gloucester dominated the first half and after Robinson had opened the scoring ten minutes in, the try that the home side's early endeavour deserved arrived at the end of the first quarter when Vainikolo touched down after an excellent break from Alasdair Dickinson. Valentine Courrent responded with a penalty for Biarritz but Robinson responded in kind just after the half hour to send Gloucester in 13-3 ahead at the break. Robinson struck again six minutes into the second half and the Cherry and Whites effectively put the game beyond their Basque visitors when man of the match Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu released Vainikolo, who put Molenaar away to score.
Indeed, the game had long since last its intensity by the time Harinordoquy barged over under the posts from close range with just five minutes remaining.
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