DUBLIN, IRL – And then there were four…
A full weekend of European Rugby Champions Cup quarterfinal action unfolded last weekend across Europe showcasing the continent’s best clubs in four hard-fought matchups.
Two days jampacked with top class rugby made for a spectacular weekend. In the fray of the action we witnessed spectacular tries, big tackles, a surprising amount of crap defense, and a cardinal-sin wasted try (oh Willie), all combining to create the excitement and spontaneity European rugby is all about.
The winners, Leinster, Munster, Saracens, and Clermont, Will now move on to the competition’s semifinals to be played on April 22 and 23rd in Dublin and Lyon, respectively.
Take a look back at the weekend’s four matches with our individual match reviews below…
Leinster 32 – 17 Wasps
The 50,000+ crowd at the Aviva in Dublin witnessed a mostly comprehensive victory over Aviva Premiership challengers, Wasps.
The first half was a Leinster clinic through and through. The home side was off to a 3-0 lead only six minutes in the match after Wasps were cut off side of the breakdown, Sexton easily hammering home the penalty.
The Blues’ pressure was relentless through the opening quarter, and their willingness to use wide ball paid off just 14 minutes into the match. Isa Nacewa found himself on the end of a pinpoint pass from surprise inclusion, Joey Carbery, using some space on the wing to score despite the efforts of Christian Wade.
Nine minutes later Wasps looked like they were going to pull the match tight again after fullback, Kurtley Beale, made a brilliant snipe through the defense and found Willie Le Roux who ran in for the score…or so he thought. Smarty-pants dropped the ball as he dove across the line, negating the comeback score.
Carbery was instrumental in Leinster’s second try too. A brilliant exchange of inside passing between Fergus McFadden and Carbery eventually made room for #8 Jack Conan to score, making it 15-3 just after half an hour.
The score eventually ended up 22-3 at the half thanks to a last-second try from Robbie Henshaw.
Wasps, however, didn’t give up the fight in the second half.
Christian Wade made up for his earlier defensive error by producing a brilliant solo effort from halfway, using his speed and footy skills for Wasps’ first try.
After a Sexton penalty goal, former Leinster man, Jimmy Gopperth, burst through some atrocious Leinster defense for the visitor’s Second try of the match, bringing the score within eight points.
The comeback was short-lived, however, as Fergus McFadden put his mark on the game with a 73rd minute try to seal the home side’s trip to the semis.
Munster 41 – 16 Toulouse
And immense performance in the second half saw Munster win by 25 points over French challengers, Toulouse.
The first half was a cagey, tense affair between the two sides. Munster’s John Ryan got the scoring on the way after just four minutes, barreling over the line for the score.
The conversion, and the rest of Munster’s points in the second half (two penalties), came from the boot of fly-half, Tyler Bleyendaal, Who went on to have a storm or of the match.
Toulouse countered the Home side’s possession and pressure with three first half penalties of their own, the boot of Jean-Marc Doussain keeping the visitors within four points reach at the half.
The second half was absolutely unrecognizable from the first.
Bleyendaal slotted a penalty after two minutes before the floodgates opened thanks to a roaring try from flanker, CJ Stander. From there, Munster were absolutely dominant minus a brief moment of possession for Toulouse that saw Paul Perez cost for the visitor’s only try of the match in the 54th minute.
Bleyendaal’s boot continued pushing the home side in front until winger Darren Sweetman broke the try deadlock with a brilliant 75th minute effort.
The Reds capped off a Beautiful second half with a 79th minute try courtesy of Andrew Conway, who squeezed down the touchline for the last-minute score.
The passion exuded by Munster in the second half was unlike anything else, and the 28 point second-half haul goes to show the power of the Munstermen’s belief.
Saracens 38-13 Glasgow
A strong, but slightly unconvincing victory for Saracens over Glasgow on Sunday has put the London-side into their fifth consecutive European Rugby Champions Cup semi final.
The match was arguably the most important in Glasgow’s history, and the 6000 traveling fans on hand made for a partial home atmosphere (Glasgow fans had more than a third of the entire stadium).
Saracens, the competition’s reigning champions, played to their strengths without too much opposition from the Glaswegians.
The boot of Saracens’ Owen Farrell put the Londoners in the driving seat early on, three penalties in the first 26 minutes giving the hosts a 9-3 lead.
The game opened up after some champagne rugby on the half hour mark saw Chris Ashton cross over on the wing.
The rest of the first half devolved into stalemate, sending the match into halftime with Saracens ahead 14-3.
The match was certainly more interesting in the second half.
The Warriors jumped back into the match thanks to a try from winger Lee Jones in the 47th minute, tightening the lead to just six points after Finn Russell failed to convert the score.
It took Saracens until the 58th minute to score their second try of the match, a score courtesy of Marcelo Bosch. Farrell converted to bring the score to 21-8.
Despite controlling most of the possession, handling errors and Glasgow counterattacks push Saracens’ third try of the match back until the 72nd minute, skipper Brad Barritt scoring his first to try and three matches to push the lead even further.
Ashton scored for the second time with three minutes left to play, tying the European championship record for most tries at 36.
A consolation try from Glasgow’s Ryan Wilson provided the last bright spot for the Warriors on their first quarter final adventure, a position they hope to build off of in the post-Gregor Townsend era.
Clermont 29 – 9 Toulon
Three-time champions, Toulon, have a lot to look over following humiliation at the hands of domestic arrivals, Clermont.
Clermont, roared on by a raucous crowd at home, put on a showstopping second-half performance to bury their French rivals and secure a spot in yet another semi final.
The first half was a kicking exhibition between Clermont’s Morgan Parra and Toulon’s Leigh Halfpenny, both scoring two penalties each to bring the halftime score to 6-6.
The home side stole the show in the second half, however.
The men in Black (usually yellow) enjoyed more than 70% of possession and found a breakthrough in the 60th minute thanks to a charging run from winger Noa Nakaitaci. Parra converted the extras to bring the score to 16-9 with 20 minutes left to play.
French international veteran, Camille Lopez, slotted a beautiful drop goal on the 70 minute mark to stretch the lead to 10 points before Parra drove through his fourth penalty of the match seven minutes later.
The deal was sealed for the Home side just before the final whistle thanks to substitute Damien Penaud, his 50 m run through open space gave Clermont easy, but tasty, icing on the cake.
Munster will call Dublin home for a day when they take on Saracens on April 22 at 3:15 PM local time while Clermont will play host to Leinster in Lyon on April 22 at 4 PM local time.
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