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European round-up: Champions Cup hat-trick for Aviva Premiership Rugby

Three Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs will feature in the last four of the European Champions Cup for the first time since 2007 – and an all-English final in Lyon is a real possibility come May 14.

All the thrills and spills we’ve come to expect in Aviva Premiership Rugby were transferred into Europe this weekend, not least in the drama that was to play out at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.

Wasps looked dead and buried at one stage after a Thomas Waldrom-inspired Exeter Chiefs carried a two-score lead in the second half.

Frank Halai then crashed over before Charles Piutau completed his try-double at the death – though there was to be one last kick to complete.

That was when ice-cool fly-half Jimmy Gopperth stepped up, and he punched the air in delight as he watched his conversion float over to hand Wasps a stunning 25-24 victory and a semi-final date with Saracens.

"I suppose as a goalkicker those are the moments you practice night and day for," said Gopperth, whose side will meet Saracens at the Madejski Stadium on April 23.

"As soon as the try was scored I excused myself from everyone to try to not get too hyped up. I was just concentrating on what I was supposed to be doing.

"Some of the boys told me they couldn't watch at all, and some even went into the tunnel. I suppose those are the moments. Now we have got one foot in the door, and we are in the semi-final.”

As for Saracens, the typically metronomic boot of Owen Farrell owed much to their 29-20 win over a Northampton Saints side hit with a multitude of injuries.

Saints made life difficult for Saracens at the Allianz Park and back-rower Teimana Harrison, who Jim Mallinder believes deserves an England call-up for the summer, was a particular standout.

But in the end, Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Saracens showed exactly what champions are made of – and director of rugby Mark McCall is demanding that his players drive up their performances for the semis.

"In the first half we didn't play anywhere near to the level that we can," he said.

"Maybe we played not to lose a bit and we were lucky to be only four points down at half-time.

"These games are different, there's a lot at stake. This was the first game of the season where it's on the line and if you lose you're out of the competition.”

Rounding out English representation in the Champions Cup semi-finals are Leicester Tigers, who swept aside Stade Français 41-13 and will now face Dan Carter’s Racing 92 at the City Ground in Nottingham.

In truth, there only ever looked like one winner by the time Manu Tuilagi had put Leicester on the board with 90 seconds gone – Niki Goneva (2), Freddie Burns, Mike Fitzgerald and Telusa Veainu all following the England man.

And though Richard Cockerill admits it was not the perfect performance, he fancies his side’s chances of making the Lyon final.

"We know we can (beat Racing) if we get it right,” he said. “And if we get to a final that's a one-off game and we can back ourselves against anyone.

"When we get it right we know we can beat anybody, so we've just got to get it right as often as we can.”

In the Challenge Cup, Harlequins will fly the Aviva Premiership Rugby flag after they got the better of London Irish 38-30 in a helter-skelter match at the Stoop.

The Exiles were in control for much of the match, but Harlequins roared back and scored 20 unanswered points to take the tie – Danny Care with a hat-trick and Luke Wallace with a try-double.

It was another game that Irish were left to rue but head coach Tom Coventry insists the manner in which his side played will serve well for their pivotal game against Newcastle Falcons in Aviva Premiership Rugby next weekend.

"We are reasonably happy and we'll take it forward into our big game next week,” said Coventry.

"It was a big night for us and a quarter-final appearance deserved a big performance. We did a marvellous job and we nearly achieved the win we wanted.”

It was not quite the perfect weekend for Aviva Premiership Rugby however, as Gloucester Rugby were edged out in an ultra-tense clash with Newport Gwent Dragons.

And Sale Sharks lost their proud unbeaten home record this season, but not before putting up a huge fight against in-form Top 14 contenders Montpellier.

Leicester Tigers 41 Stade Francais 13
Tries: Tuilagi, Goneva 2, Burns, Fitzgerald, Veainu
Conversions: Burns 4
Penalties: Burns

Stade Francais
Tries: Dupuy
Conversions: Stein
Penalties: Steyn 2

Referee: Nigel Owens
Attendance: 20,866

Saracens 29 Northampton Saints 20

Tries: Ashton, Wyles
Conversions: Farrell 2
Penalties: Farrell 5

Northampton Saints:
Tries: Pisi, Lawes
Conversions: Myler 2
Penalties: Myler

Referee: Jerome Garces
Attendance: 8,050

Wasps 25 Exeter Chiefs 24

Tries: C Piutau 2, Halai
Conversions: Gopperth 2
Penalties: Gopperth 2

Exeter Chiefs
Tries: Waldrom 2, Williams
Conversions: Steenson 3
Penalties: Steenson

Referee: Romain Poite (Fra)
Attendance: 23,866



Harlequins 38 London Irish 30

Tries: Wallace 2, Care 3
Conversions: Botica 2
Penalties: 3

London Irish
Tries: Mulchrone, McKibbin, Maitland
Conversions: Geraghty 3
Penalties: Geraghty 3

Attendance: 9,851
Referee: Marius Mitrea 

Gloucester Rugby 21 Newport Gwent Dragons 23

Tries: Morgan, McColl
Conversion: Laidlaw
Penalties: Laidlaw 3

Try: Davies
Penalties: Jones 5, Meyer

Referee: Pascal Gauzere
Attendance: 10,501


Sale Sharks 19 Montpellier 25

Sale Sharks
Tries: Brady, James
Penalties: Cipriani 3

Tries: Willemse
Conversion: Paillaugue
Penalties: Paillaugue 6

Referee: John Lacey
Attendance: 4,557


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