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European round-up: Exeter Chiefs and London Irish beat the odds

Exeter Chiefs pulled off arguably the greatest escape act Europe has ever seen to qualify for the last eight of the European Rugby Champions Cup, bringing the Aviva Premiership Rugby contingent to a record five teams.

Heading into the final round of matches Chiefs needed a bonus-point win and for Clermont to lose their game at home to Bordeaux-Bègles.

That looked unlikely when last year’s runners-up raced into a 14-0 lead at home, but as Chiefs did the business at Sandy Park with a thrilling 33-17 win over the Ospreys, Bordeaux produced a stunning comeback to win at the Stade Marcel Michelin.

In the end it came down to Clermont’s decision to take a quick tap penalty in the closing stages rather than taking the shot at goal which would have put them through.

Instead it’s Exeter who will go through to a quarter-final against Wasps, who had booked their own place in the last eight on Saturday with a thumping win over Leinster.

Head coach Rob Baxter admitted it had been a whirlwind afternoon but couldn’t hide his delight at seeing Chiefs into the knockout stages for the first time.

He said: "I am obviously delighted, but delighted more for the players than anything else. Qualifying out of this pool was very unlikely. Anyone who laid a bet on it has probably made a fortune!

"We talked about the character we wanted to show and what we wanted to take out of the game. We didn't expect to be winning the pool, but the players put in a fantastic shift and got a tangible reward for it.

"We knew the score was staying pretty close between Clermont and Bordeaux, and it all started getting really confusing. We didn't know if we needed to kick the ball off the pitch at the end or score another try.

"It has been an incredible finale to the weekend. It is always nice when hard work gets rewarded, and I think that is what we have seen."

Elsewhere Northampton Saints booked their place in the last eight with victory over the Scarlets in Wales, collecting a best second place spot, with their reward a trip to top seeds Saracens.

Mark McCall’s men made it six out of six with victory over Toulouse away in France, and with the winners of that quarter-final set to take on the winners of the clash between Wasps and Exeter, there will definitely be an Aviva Premiership Rugby side in the final.

On the other side of the draw, Leicester Tigers were beaten at Stade Français, but will get an immediate chance for revenge in the last eight, this time on home soil.

Meanwhile in the Challenge Cup there was an equally improbable qualification for London Irish, who snuck through in second place in their pool at the expense of Edinburgh.

They managed the necessary bonus point win away to Agen but knew that they would only get through if Edinburgh failed to pick up anything away at Grenoble.

For 78 minutes that didn’t appear to be on the cards but Gio Aplon’s last-gasp try helped Grenoble to a 34-23 win and denied Edinburgh the crucial losing bonus point.

As a result Irish are through, and will face rivals Harlequins in the last eight, which features four Aviva Premiership Rugby sides.

Reigning champions Gloucester Rugby continued their remarkable winning streak with victory at Zebre, and will host Newport Gwent Dragons in the last eight.

Meanwhile Sale Sharks cruised to victory over the very same Dragons on Thursday, with their reward a home tie against Montpellier in the quarter-finals.

European Rugby Champions Cup
 
SUNDAY
 
Stade Francais 36 Leicester Tigers 21
 
Stade Francais
Tries: Plisson, Waisea, Slimani, Lakafia, Doumayru
Conversions: Plisson 4
Penalties: Plisson
 
Leicester Tigers
Tries: Tuilagi, Barrow, Thacker
Conversions: Burns, Bell 2
 
Referee: George Clancy (Ire)
Attendance: 12,073
 
Exeter Chiefs 33 Ospreys 17
 
Exeter Chiefs
Tries: Horstmann, Waldrom 2, Short 2
Conversions: Steenson 3, Hooley
 
Ospreys
Tries: Dirksen, Penalty
Conversions: Biggar 2
Penalties: Biggar
 
Referee: Jerome Garces (Fra)
Attendance: 11,415
 
SATURDAY
 
Toulouse 17 Saracens 28
 
Toulouse
Tries: McAlister 2, Medard
Conversions: Flood
 
Saracens
Tries: Spencer
Conversions: Farrell
Penalties: Hodgson 2, Farrell 4
Drop Goals: Hodgson
 
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wal)
Attendance: 12,498
 
Bath Rugby 14 Toulon 19
 
Bath Rugby
Tries: Watson
Penalties: Ford 3
 
Toulon
Tries: S Armitage, Habana
Penalties: O'Connor
 
Referee: John Lacey (Ire)
Attendance: 13,285
 
Wasps 51 Leinster 10
 
Wasps
Tries: Gopperth, Launchbury, Daly, Penalty, Halai, Piutau, Johnson
Conversions: Gopperth 4, Jackson
Penalties: Gopperth 2
 
Leinster
Tries: Kirchner, Reddan
 
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (Fra)
Attendance: 16,519
 
Scarlets 10 Northampton Saints 22
 
Scarlets
Tries: R Jones
Conversions: A Thomas
Penalties: A Thomas
 
Northampton Saints
Tries: Mallinder, G Pisi, Dickinson, North
Conversions: Myler
 
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (Fra)
Attendance: 6,823
 
 
European Rugby Challenge Cup
 
SATURDAY
 
Newcastle Falcons 27 Brive 23
 
Newcastle Falcons
Tries: Hammersley 2, Tait, Young
Conversions: Willis 2
Penalties: Willis
 
Brive
Tries: Bezy, Luafutu
Conversions: Laranjeira 2
Penalties: Laranjeira 3
 
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wal)
Attendance: 3,803
 
Zebre 11 Gloucester Rugby 14
 
Zebre
Tries: van Schalkwyk
Penalties: Padovani 2
 
Gloucester Rugby
Tries: Atkinson
Penalties: Burns 3
 
Referee: Gary Conway (Ire)
Attendance: 2,413
 
Agen 17 London Irish 31
 
Agen
Tries: Nakosi, Narjissi
Conversions: Bouvier 2
Penalties: Bouvier
 
London Irish
Tries: Narraway, Fowlie, Smallbone, Mulchrone, Penalty
Conversions: Geraghty 3
 
Referee: Lloyd Linton (Sco)
Attendance: 3,712
 
FRIDAY
 
Montpellier 42 Harlequins 9
 
Montpellier
Tries: Mogg, Liebenberg, White, Reilhac, Geli
Conversions: Catrakilis 2, Trinh-Duc 2
Penalties: Catrakilis 3
 
Harlequins
Penalties: Botica 3
 
Referee: Ben Whitehouse
Attendance: 7,500
 
La Rochelle 35 Worcester Warriors 11
 
La Rochelle
Tries: Graham, Lapeyre, Murimurivalu, Nailiko
Conversions: Audy, Barraque 2
Penalties: Holmes 2, Audy
 
Worcester Warriors
Tries: Baldwin
Penalties: Symons 2
 
Referee: Elia Rizzo
Attendance: 8,500
 
THURSDAY
 
Sale Sharks 38 Newport Gwent Dragons 5
 
Sale Sharks
Tries: Mujati, Penalty, Beaumont, Edwards, Haley
Conversions: Cipriani 4, Ford
Penalties: Cipriani
 
Newport Gwent Dragons
Tries: Hewitt
 
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ire)
Attendance: 4,015
 

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