The final round of European pool stage action always brings with it plenty of drama and that was certainly the case this weekend in the European Rugby Champions Cup.
While Aviva Premiership Rugby sides have not had the easiest of campaigns, the final weekend saw four English sides still in with a chance of a quarter-final spot.
SARACENS SNEAK THROUGH
Back-to-back losses to Clermont, followed by a draw with the Ospreys left the two-time champions Saracens with their destiny in other people’s hands going into the final weekend.
It was a nail-biting weekend for Saracens supporters, with Mark McCall’s team doing what they needed to by beating Northampton Saints 62-14 in a seven-try outing.
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) January 20, 2018
That put them provisionally into the top three runners-up spot, but it was not until the penultimate game of the weekend that they secured their place in the last eight.
Needing Wasps to beat Ulster, they got a helping hand from Dai Young’s side and sneak into the quarter-finals as the eighth seeds.
As a result, they will travel to Leinster as they look to keep their bid for a third straight European crown alive.
WASPS FINISH ON A HIGH
Wasps’ hopes of reaching the knockout stages were dealt a big blow by defeat away to Aviva Premiership rivals Harlequins last weekend.
It was a case of get a bonus-point win and hope for other results, and they fulfilled their part of the bargain against Ulster.
Guy Thompson got them on the board in the first half, but it was Tom Cruse’s score before half-time that really caught the eye.
“Hookers have got no right to score from there!”
Tom Cruse with a flying finish out of nowhere 😱
What. A. Try. pic.twitter.com/oCT8sepNl8
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 21, 2018
Cruse might be a hooker, but he looked more like a winger as he got onto the end of Danny Cipriani’s clever kick.
That set them on course for a 26-7 win, and although that was not enough for a quarter-final spot, it was an impressive display.
BATH’S ITALIAN HOLIDAY
Bath Rugby travelled to Treviso needing five points at the Stadio Monigo, as well as a favourable result at Parc y Scarlets where Scarlets hosted Toulon.
They did what they needed scoring seven tries in a 47-28 success with Anthony Watson crossing for the bonus-point score before half-time.
— Bath Rugby (@bathrugby) January 20, 2018
At one point that looked like it may be enough, with the Scarlets more than seven points clear of Toulon, but the three-time European champions fought back, and their losing bonus point in a 30-27 loss meant that both teams went through.
AROUND THE GROUNDS
Harlequins gave a number of young players an opportunity to stake a claim for more first-team rugby away in France, and they impressed before going down 16-7 to La Rochelle.
Despite finding themselves 13-0 down early on, Harlequins fought back with a Danny Care try, while the likes of James Lang impressed when given the chance.
Leicester Tigers recalled some of the internationals including Ben Youngs and George Ford, and it was almost enough to see off Racing 92. Brendon O’Connor scored a try and was a menace on the ground, but the French side had just enough to claim a 23-20 success.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) January 20, 2018
Finally Exeter Chiefs went into the final weekend knowing that a bonus-point success would likely see them through, but they came up against an inspired Glasgow Warriors side, losing 28-21 despite an outstanding display from Sam Simmonds.