Connacht and Wasps secure quarter-final berths
January 16, 2010
Worcester's Matt Cox races in to score a try against Olympus Madrid at Sixways © Getty Images
The race for the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals intensified this weekend with the latest round of pool action.
Irish province Connacht were the first to book their place in the last eight with victory over Montpellier on Friday and they were joined by Premiership side London Wasps when results went their way on Saturday. The final three places are still to be decided - with three qualifiers set to come from the Heineken Cup - and as a result the battle for the knock out stages is set to go down to the wire.
Check out our Pool by Pool round-up of all the action.
Leeds Carnegie reclaimed top spot in the group by picking up a bonus point in an exciting 38-16 defeat of Overmach Parma at the Stadio del Rugby on Saturday afternoon. The visitors found themselves six points down early on after two Barry Irving penalties but put themselves firmly in control of the game with tries from Rhys Oakley and Jon Hepworth. Irving landed another shot on goal just before the half hour but Ceiron Thomas posted an almost immediate reply to send Leeds in 17-9 up at the break.
An upset appeared on the cards when Manoa Vosawai crashed over for Parma just after the restart but Leeds response' was as devastating as it was swift. Luther Burrell touched down on 48 minutes and he was followed over by Calum Clark moments later. Jon Goodridge put the seal on a timely purple patch when he crossed just after the hour. Thomas converted all three scores and there was no way back for Parma.
Leeds are now tied with Bourgoin at the top of the pool on 19 points apiece, meaning it will be winner takes all when the pair collide at Headingley next weekend.
Bourgoin had briefly risen to the summit of Pool 1 by beating Bucuresti 33-15 at the Stade Pierre Rajon on Thursday. A brace of tries either side of half-time from hooker Jean-Philippe Genevois set the Top 14 strugglers, and last year's beaten finalists, on their way and the result was rounded off by efforts from wing Albert Vulivuli and flanker Wessel Jooste. Bucuresti lock Valetin Ursache and fullback Bote Botezatu scored tries just after the hour to threaten a comeback, but Bourgoin stood firm.
Connacht qualified for the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup for the second year in succession after beating nearest rivals Montpellier 20-10 at the Galway Sportsground on Friday. Only two points separated the teams in Pool Two before the tie but the Irish province maintained their unbeaten record thanks to second-half tries from Liam Bibo and Fionn Carr.
A brace of penalties from the boot of fly-half Ian Keatley handed Connacht a 6-3 lead at half-time. But Bibo burst through after 57 minutes before wing Carr followed nine minutes later to settle the tie. Keatley converted both before Mamuka Gorgodze touched down in the final minute for the French team. However, their failure to gain a losing bonus point meant Connacht cannot now be passed for top spot in the group. Connacht travel to Madrid next week bidding to clinch top seeding and with it a guaranteed home draw in the last eight.
Meanwhile, Matt Cox bagged a remarkable second-half hat-trick as Worcester Warriors routed Olympus Madrid 54-3 at Sixways Stadium in the pool's other game. It was Madrid who actually opened the scoring, with centre Jeremias Palumbo slotting over a penalty with just two minutes on the clock, but that was to be as good as it got for the Spaniards, who were embarrassingly outclassed on the day.
Indeed, their lead lasted just six minutes, with Jake Abbott nipping in for the first of his two tries after being put away by Alex Grove. A spell of mediocrity followed before Worcester finally asserted their undoubted superiority with two tries just before the break. Sam Tuitupou barged through for the first before Grove and Abbott combined again for another score for the latter.
The second half was all about Cox. The flanker opened his account three minutes after the break by capitalising on some sloppy play from Madrid inside their own half. Matthew Jones then created a try for Chris Pennell with a clever cross-field kick before Cox made the most of some neat work in midfield from Greg King and Calum MacRae to notch his second of the game. King then got on the scoresheet himself after being released by Carlisle before Cox completed his hat-trick in fine style after once again leaving a number of Madrid players trailing in his wake.
Newcastle Falcons edged nearer the last eighth with a 16-14 come-from-behind win at Albi. Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth completed the Falcons' impressive second-half comeback by converting Josh Afu's try seven minutes from time to snatch a crucial away victory at Stade Municipal. The result stretches Newcastle's lead at the top of Pool Five to seven points over Montauban, who play tomorrow, before the final group matches next week.
Newcastle know victory over Italian minnows Petrarca at Kingston Park next weekend will guarantee their place in the last eight of the Challenge Cup for the fifth year in a row. However, they were made to work hard for the victory against Albi, who occupy a lowly position in France's Top 14. Penalties from Gopperth and Albi's Blair Stewart, a last-minute replacement at fly-half before kick-off, saw the teams level 6-6 at half-time. However, a try swiftly after the break by replacement Yogane Correa handed Albi a lead they would hold onto until late on. Stewart cancelled out Gopperth's third penalty before flanker Afu finished a blistering Falcons attack to level the scores 14-14 ahead of Gopperth's conversion.
Montauban, meanwhile, kept their slim hopes of pipping Newcastle to top spot alive by recording a bonus point-clinching 31-23 victory over Petrarca at the Stadio Plebiscito. Montauban made a fine start in Italy, racking up tries through Adrien Figueiredo and Alejandro Campos inside the opening 15 minutes. However, their hosts replied through Agustin Cavalieri and Ludovic Mercier to move 17-14 ahead by half-time. The visitors bossed the second half, though, and claimed a vital win courtesy of a second try from Campos and another from Romain Sazy.
Wasps put one foot into the quarter-finals with a 50-16 thrashing of Rugby Roma at Adams Park. The Premiership side bounced back from defeat to Leicester last weekend by running eight tries past the Italian minnows, with wing Tom Varndell's brace matched by another from Samoan flanker Dan Leo.
Varndell struck early but his effort was matched by a surprise score from Roma's centre Juan Gauthier. From there it was one-way traffic as Bob Baker, Leo, Paul Sackey and George Skivington wrapped up the bonus-point before half-time. Varndell's second arrived just after the hour, with Leo bagging his ten minutes later. Danny Cipriani started at fly-half and slotted five conversions including Leo's score and replacement Dom Waldouck crashed over to complete the scoring in the last minute.
In the other game in the pool, Bayonne notched a 27-14 victory over Racing Metro to end their French rivals' hopes and guarantee Wasps' passage through to the last eight. The hosts bounced back from an 11-6 half-time deficit with three tries from David Roumieu, Jean Baptiste Peyras and Jean-Jo Marmouyet for their third win of the campaign.
Castres fly-half Thomas Bouquie scored one of his team's seven tries in an easy 47-0 victory over Roma at Stade Jean Pierre-Antoine. Bouquie added six conversions to finish with 17 points though Castres cannot catch Saracens to qualify from Pool Three.
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament