Saracens’ impressive Champions Cup run continued on Saturday as they wrapped up a home quarter-final after another superb bonus-point victory over Ulster.
After stunning the Irish province 27-9 away from home, tries from Billy Vunipola, Duncan Taylor, Maro Itoje and Schalk Brits sealed the 33-17 win in the return fixture and gives Mark McCall’s side – who also sit top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby standings – an unassailable lead at the top of Pool 1.
Another fine display from No.10 Owen Farrell, who added 13 points off the tee, meant after a tricky start to the contest they never really looked like losing, and McCall insists the 24-year-old is ready to be the main man for England once again.
“Ulster had probably the best defence we've come up against all season. It took everything we had to break them down,” he said.
“To score four tries against them was a big achievement. It was a good win for us.
“I thought Owen was brilliant, he was outstanding. When he missed kicks he just puts it behind him and then gets the next one over.
“He usually gets the really important ones over. He had a great game.
“The speculation seems to be that he will play 12 for England at Murrayfield. Clearly he has the skill set to do it if you want that kind of 12 there. He's a brilliant rugby player.”
Leicester Tigers also recorded an impressive win over Italian side Benetton Treviso, winning 47-7 to also book their quarter-final spot with five wins from five so far.
After Stade Francais' 26-13 defeat in Munster earlier in the day, Richard Cockerill’s side were rampant and thanks to scores from Mike Fitzgerald, Vereniki Goneva, and Adam Thompstone as well as a penalty try, they had the bonus point before the interval.
Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns then got in on the act in the second half, but Richard Cockerill reserved his plaudits for the returning Manu Tuilagi – who made his first start after a 15-month injury layoff.
“He will stay with us and won't be going to England’s camp, and he won't play in the first three games,” Cockerill said. “In that second fallow week we will have a discussion.
“If he is going well and playing well enough and his body can cope he may be involved with England for the last two games if selected.
“If he is not right he won't be going. We will make sure that this injury doesn't come back. You don't want him in a Test scenario if he is not right.
“There were some glimpses of the old Manu out there and as he gets fitter and sharper he will get better.”
Exeter Chiefs just missed out in France as a late Marco Tauleigne score gave Bordeaux-Begles a crucial 34-27 victory.
Dave Lewis, Max Bodilly, and Byron McGuigan had all crossed to bring Chiefs level at 27-27, but the final result means all four sides in Pool 2 are still alive in the competition heading into round six.
Bath were also on the wrong end of their clash away at Leinster, with Ian Madigan kicking 20 points to hand the Irish province a 25-11 victory.
In the Challenge Cup, 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.
And both Worcester Warriors and London Irish slipped to home defeats, losing 15-22 to Zebre and 18-28 to Grenoble respectively.
Bordeaux-Begles 34 – 27 Exeter Chiefs
Tries: Ashley-Cooper, Connor, Madaule, Auzqui, Tauleigne
Conversions: Bernard, Beauxis 2
Tries: Lewis, McGuigan, Bodilly
Conversions: Hooley 3
Penalties: Hooley 2
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Saracens 33 – 17 Ulster Rugby
Tries: B.Vunipola, Taylor, Itoje, Brits
Conversions: Farrell 2
Penalties: Farrell 3
Tries: L Marshall, Humphreys
Conversions: Jackson, Humphreys
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Leinster Rugby 25 – 11 Bath Rugby
Penalties: Madigan 6
Penalties: Ford, Preistland
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Leicester Tigers 47 – 7 Benetton Treviso
Tries: Fitzgerald, penalty, Goneva, Thompstone, B Youngs, Burns, Pearce
Conversions: Burns 5, Bell
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
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)