Harlequins steamed into the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup with their fifth bonus-point victory in as many games this season, but did not have it all their own way as they beat Cardiff Blues 34-26 at Twickenham Stoop.
Rob Buchanan’s try was the start of a first-half onslaught from the Aviva Premiership Rugby side, as Marland Yarde, Jack Clifford and Ross Chisholm also went over to wrap up a try-bonus before the interval.
Quins were cruising but Blues hit back after half-time, Dan Fish rumbling over twice to add to tries from Wales stars Cory Allen and Lloyd Williams as the Welsh side came back to within a score.
But Conor O’Shea’s side closed it out and a last-minute Ben Botica penalty denied their guests a second bonus point – leaving Nick Evans to admit it was a bittersweet victory.
"It was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde performance from us, the first-half was very good, we played some really nice rugby, bullied them and stayed in the right areas of the field," he said.
"But on the flip-side, the second-half performance wasn't good enough. We're a lot better than that, there were probably some tired legs out there after the Saracens performance.
"We showed great character to get the win and home quarter-final which was what we wanted to do. We took our foot off the gas but it's good to come away with the win and we can look forward to a home quarter-final."
On Saturday reigning champions Gloucester maintained their 100 per cent record in Pool 4 to see off a resilient La Rochelle side.
Rob Cook and Billy Twlevetrees put the hosts in the ascendancy at half-time, but the Cherry & Whites had to withstand a second-half barrage from the French side to come out 20-10 winners.
Gloucester also secured the signing of Scotland centre Matt Scott earlier in the day, and David Humphreys reflected on a job well done in the aftermath.
“The big thing was getting the win and remaining unbeaten with five wins out of five and securing a home quarter–final, and we've done that,” he said.
“The first half was pretty good. Going in at 17-3 was a good spot to be in but we knew La Rochelle would come out very physically in the second half, and we knew had to defend well.
“They had a big pack and we tried to move them around and create mis-matches individually but we didn't manage to take any other opportunities.
“Thoroughout the pool we've only secured one bonus point so far; that's a disappointment because at this stage every point matters. We'll now prepare well (for the last game) and pick a team to go to Zebre and win.”
But the other Aviva Premiership Rugby sides did not fare so well with Newcastle Falcons becoming Enisei-STM’s latest scalps in Pool 1.
The Falcons came up against a rugged and determined Enisei pack that was backed up by some tough tackling backs, with Georgian international David Kacharava starring with a try double in Russia that saw the hosts win 24-7.
Both Worcester Warriors and London Irish slipped to home defeats, losing 15-22 to Zebre and 18-28 to Grenoble respectively, but on Friday evening Sale Sharks kept their hopes of advancing alive with a win at Pau.
Andrei Ostrikov surged over to start a fine European Rugby Challenge Cup night in France for Sale, and wingers Nev Edwards and Will Addison followed in the first half.
Pau dug in after the interval and it was not until the 79th minute that their resistance was finally broken down as Johnny Leota crossed for the bonus-point try, leaving Sale two points behind Pool 2 leaders Newport Gwent Dragons – with the Welsh side heading to the North West next week.
"It was a really good first half, with three really well taken tries, and in the second half, Pau came out with a different mentality, but we stuck to it," said director of rugby Steve Diamond
"We talked about being patient at half-time, we just had to keep the pressure on and eventually we'll get the just rewards and we did and I'm really pleased.”
Harlequins 34 – 26 Cardiff Blues
Tries: Buchanan, Clifford, Yarde, Chisholm
Penalties: Evans, Botica
Conversions: Evans 4
Tries: Allen, Fish 2, L WIlliams
Conversions: Patchell 3
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Enisei-STM 24 – 7 Newcastle Falcons
Tries: Simplikevich, Kacharava 2
Conversions: Kushnarev 3
Referee: Tual Trainini (France)
Gloucester Rugby 20 – 10 La Rochelle
Tries: Cook, Twelvetrees
Conversions: Laidlaw 2
Penalties: Laidlaw 2
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Worcester Warriors 15 – 22 Zebre Rugby
Tries: Baldwin, Hammond
Tries: Van Zyl
Penalties: Beyers, Haimona, Padovani 3
Referee: Thomas Charabas (France)
London Irish 18 – 28 Grenoble
Tries: Waldouck, Lewington
Penalties: Geraghty 2
Tries: Batlle, Hunt, McLeod
Conversions: Wisniewski 2
Penalties: Wisniewski 3
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Pau 3 Sale Sharks 27
Tries: Ostrikov, Edwards, Addison, Leota
Conversions: Cipriani 2
Referee: Gary Conway (Ireland)