NEW YORK, NY – First off… Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day to all. If you are unfamiliar with King, you might want to Google him. His life and achievements are worthy of everyone’s attention… Speaking of achievements, there were feats aplenty in all codes of football – other than Aussie Rules, ironically. Aside from the rugby, there was NFL Football and proper football in the African Cup of Nations. But you’ll have to go somewhere else for the gridiron and soccer talk; we’re all about the Heineken Cup and Amlin Cup.
Heading into round, the permutations were many regarding which teams needed to win and by how much to move on to quarter-finals. 4 teams had already clinched – Clermont (France/French Top 14), Harlequins (England/Aviva Premiership), Toulon (France/French Top 14) and Ulster (Ireland/RaboDirect 12) – so they were playing for a home draw. Two of the remaining four spots would go the winners of the two yet-to-be-determined pool winners. The final two berths would go to the 2 best second place teams out of the 6 pools. So, there was plenty to play for…
The first matches of the weekend saw Harlequins finish the pool play stage with an unblemished record. Despite Biarritz still having an opportunity to make the quarter-finals, Harlequins dispatched the disappointing French side in a tight contest. The ‘Quins quality was more than a match for Biarritz’s desperation… Meanwhile Connacht continued their climb to respectability, fighting off a feisty Zebre, who returned to Italy with no wins in the competition. The boys from Galway finished 3-3, which is something to build on.
On Saturday, Ulster slugged it in France with Castres. The Frenchmen gave their fans a great effort, but a couple of controversial calls – according to Pyk O’Kallapfer – saw Ulster escape with the win. But it wasn’t enough to secure a match at Ravenhill… Glasgow shocked everybody, and likely themselves, as they bested Northampton and dashed any hopes the Saints had of a quarter-final draw… The Clermont juggernaut kept rolling, blasting unimpeded through Llanelli… Sale finished their European campaign winless, as they were bested by the in-form Cardiff Blues. It could have been the last bit of European rugby for some of the Sale lads; they are expected to get relegated…
The big two matches that had quarter-final implications were worth the wait… Leinster took on an Exeter side that refused to lie down and give the Leinster boys the 5 tries and bonus point they needed. Leinster got the victory and bonus point but Exeter played hard and showed some real professionalism. They don’t quit out there in the West Country… Meanwhile, Montpellier ran roughshod over a Toulon side that had no answer to the “Montepol” direct attack. In addition to the stakes, Montepol played with a heavy heart as co-coach Eric Bechu finally lost his fight against cancer earlier in the week… Click this for a cool look at the day.
On Sunday, Benneton Treviso sneaked a victory from an Ospreys side that was still hurting from being statistically eliminated last week. Hats off to the Italians… Saracens did no sneaking as they trounced a very poor Edinburgh team…
The two matches that would decide everything were well worth the wait. Munster played against a 14-man Racing Metro 92 side for 75 minutes after an early red card. The numerical advantage helped Irish squad score the bonus point victory with just enough tries to leapfrog neighbors Leinster for the final spot… Meanwhile Leicester and Toulouse were in a winner-take-all match in the snow of English midlands. The home side proved that Tigers Like Playing In Snow, doing just enough to see of the French visitors and earning a place in the quarter-finals. You should enlarge the picture to the right. Naysayers be damned, we loved watching the Snow Bowl.
Here are the quater-final match-ups with home teams first:
Clermont v Montpellier
Harlequins v Munster
Saracens v Ulster
Toulon v Leicester
And the scores:
Biarritz 9 – 16 Harlequins
Connacht 25 – 20 Zebre
Castres 8 – 9 Ulster
Glasgow 27 – 20 Northampton
Scarlets 0 – 29 Clermont Auvergne
Exeter 20 – 29 Leinster
Cardiff Blues 26 – 14 Sale
Montpellier 23 – 3 Toulon
Saracens 40 – 7 Edinburgh
Munster 29 – 6 Racing Metro 92
Benetton Treviso 17 – 14 Ospreys
Leicester 9 – 5 Toulouse
Now for the Heineken’s little brother…
Amlin Cup: The Amlin quarter-finals are not the 5 pool winners and 3 best runner-ups. Instead, the ERC (European Rugby Commission) uses the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) model in that the best pool teams not to make the quarterfinals in Heineken Cup premiere competition are entered into the quarterfinals of the second-tier Amlin. This means that Leinster, Biarritz and Toulouse still get to play for hardware – just not the hardware they wanted. Unfortunately for us excitement-seekers, this meant that essentially every match this weekend was a dead rubber match, since all but one pool was already decided. The four pool winners that qualified previously were Gloucester, London Wasps, Stade Francias and Bath. Only in Pool 2, where Perpignan and Worcester were even on points, was there still uncertainty. With both teams needing to win – and win big against an inferior foe – Perpignan did enough to qualify on a point differential and grabbed the final playoff spot.
Here are the quarter-final match-ups, again with home teams first:
Bath v Stade Francais Paris
Gloucester v Biarritz
London Wasps v Leinster
Perpignan v Toulouse
And the scores:
Perpignan 40 – 22 Rovigo
Newport Gwent D’gons 19 – 20 London Wasps
Agen 19 – 9 Calvisano
London Irish 17 – 7 Bordeaux-Begles
Gloucester 36 – 16 Mont de Marsan
Worcester 71 – 19 Bizkaia Gernika RT
Mogliano Rugby 0 – 54 Bayonne
Bath 53 – 8 Bucuresti
Cavalieri Prato 0 – 47 Grenoble
Stade Francais 39 – 17 London Welsh
JWB will be along tomorrow to give you the results of our Heineken Cup Expert Panel. Also, check out the new videos and look for the piece on Emil Signes and Atlantis.
That is it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @RugbyWrapUp, @JunoirBlaber, @Declan Yeats, @Mathew Drew Turner and @Ebstide52, respectively. And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.