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Saracens seal home quarter-final, Cardiff down Lyon


Saracens sealed top spot in Champions Cup Pool Three by beating Glasgow Warriors 38-19 in an entertaining clash at Allianz Park.

The English side led 24-19 at half-time after 40 minutes of rugby filled with twists and turns. In a quieter second-half, they eventually wore Dave Rennie’s spirited Scottish outfit down by attrition to clinch a bonus-point win and a home quarter-final.

Saracens started off on the front foot and led 10-0 inside eight minutes, with all their early points having come through Ben Spencer.

The scrum-half first nailed a penalty kick — awarded due to a Chris Fusaro high tackle — then scored and converted the first try of the game after being set up by David Strettle’s inside pass.

The hosts looked in cruise control until the 11th minute, when Tommy Seymour pulled a try back in Glasgow’s right corner. Sam Johnson’s floated pass out to Stuart Hogg allowed the full-back to feed the winger, setting him up to go over unchallenged.

The Warriors smelled blood and momentum shifted. Spencer’s box-kick was charged down by Rob Harley, allowing Ali Price to collect the ball. The scrum-half, a persistent thorn in Sarries’ side, burst through the defence to score in the 14th minute.

Although Saracens were not always at their best throughout the game, one area in which they remained as menacing as ever was their line-out. In the 18th minute, this led to a Vincent Koch try off a driving maul.

However, the Warriors fought on and regained the lead in the 21st minute, when Ryan Wilson crashed through Schalk Burger and Liam Williams to score.

George Kruis was denied a magnificent solo try just before the half-hour mark when Adam Hastings dislodged the ball from his grasp just as he was crossing the try-line. However, from the ensuing five-metre scrum, Billy Vunipola powered over for the last try of the first half.

Saracens frustrated Glasgow early on in the second-half, particularly at the breakdown. The visitors refused to throw in the towel, however, and the score remained unchanged heading into the final quarter.

Alex Lozowski had an opportunity to extend Sarries’ lead beyond a converted try shortly after the hour-mark, but his long-range shot at posts failed to hit the target.

In the 70th minute, the hosts finally wrapped up the bonus point. A magnificent series of passes culminated in Will Skelton offloading to Man of the Match Maro Itoje, who added a try to an already exceptional performance and all but sealed top spot in the pool.

Skelton then added the cherry on top in the final play of the game, powering through several bodies for the hosts’ fifth and final try.

Nevertheless, Glasgow live to fight another day, as their place in the quarter-finals was booked by Edinburgh‘s victory over Montpellier on Friday.

The other Pool Three fixture saw Cardiff Blues claim their second victory of the tournament, downing winless Lyon 33-14.

Aled Summerhill scored a first-half brace for the Welsh side after a penalty try had been awarded to their visitors early on. Although Lyon hit back through Xavier Mignot to lead 14-12 at the break, the second-half saw tries from Owen Lane, Tomos Williams and Lewis Jones seal a home victory.

The post Saracens seal home quarter-final, Cardiff down Lyon appeared first on Planet Rugby.

VIDEO: Champions Cup highlights, Round 6


Watch the highlights from Round 6 of the Champions Cup, starting at Murrayfield.

The post VIDEO: Champions Cup highlights, Round 6 appeared first on Planet Rugby.

Ulster through to quarters, but Racing 92 top pool


Ulster qualified for the Champions Cup quarter-finals with a dramatic 14-13 comeback win over Leicester Tigers on Saturday.

The hosts went into half-time 10-0 up at Welford Road, with the visitors’ hopes hanging by a thread, but Ulster showed their class in the final quarter of the game to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

The game got off to a physical, cagey start, with Leicester playing the better rugby, but failing to capitalise on their chances. That was until the 32nd minute, when the deadlock was finally broken by a George Ford penalty.

Ulster looked to hit back, but costly errors pinned them on the back foot. On the stroke of half-time, they were truly made to pay, as Ford’s grubber sent Matt Toomua in behind the defence and the centre dotted down to score the game’s first try.

Life didn’t get any easier for Ulster after the break, as Leicester continued to frustrate them. 10 minutes into the second-half, Ford extended the Tigers’ lead with a penalty.

The visitors were not without their opportunities, but a combination of Leicester’s brilliant defence and their own sloppy mistakes kept them on the back foot. However, they finally crossed the try-line in the 59th minute when Marty Moore dived over off a line-out maul, putting them back within touching distance.

All of a sudden, Ulster had come to life. It was only a matter of minutes before Billy Burns unlocked the home defence with a moment of magic, chipping over the top for Robert Baloucoune to gather and finish. The conversion from John Cooney put Dan McFarland’s outfit in front.

Although Ulster clinched their quarter-final spot, their efforts were not enough to top Pool 4, as Racing 92 wrapped first place up with a high-scoring 46-33 victory over Scarlets.

The Welsh side led 16-15 at half-time, but were overrun in the closing stages of the game. Simon Zebo scored two of Racing’s six tries, with the others coming through Juan Imhoff, Henry Chavancy, Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Iribaren.

Meanwhile, Scarlets narrowly missed a four-try bonus point despite a brace from Johnny McNicholl and a Steff Evans try.

The post Ulster through to quarters, but Racing 92 top pool appeared first on Planet Rugby.

Munster knock out Exeter, Castres pip Gloucester


Munster wrapped up top spot in Pool 2 of the Champions Cup after they edged Exeter 9-7 at Thomond Park, dumping the Chiefs out of Europe.

One try was scored in a gritty contest and it went the way of Exeter back-row Don Armand, but it was in a losing cause for Rob Baxter’s side.

They may well kick themselves at not taking points on offer off the tee in Limerick with Munster making no such error as they sealed victory.

Joey Carbery claimed all his side’s points via three penalties as they finish on the summit, but they are set to be on the road in the quarters. The only way Munster can seal a home tie is if Leinster and Toulouse suffer shock results against Wasps and Bath respectively on Sunday.

Wherever Munster go they will be feared in the knockout stage and this will be a record 18th time they have progressed out of the pools.

Johann van Graan’s men were trailing 7-6 at the half-time break as Exeter started well, with Armand’s score from close range classic Chiefs. However, as mentioned, they did snub kickable points as they instead went for maximum returns in their quest to win by more than seven.

After the break it backfired as in an absorbing game that was full of big collisions, Exeter could not extend their buffer as time ticked on.

Munster made no such mistake and when Carbery landed a long-range kick in the 73rd minute, they went in front and held on for victory.

In the other pool fixture, Castres came from behind to edge Gloucester 24-22 at Stade Pierre Fabre thanks to Maama Vaipulu’s late score. Castres’ other crossings came via Florian Vialelle (2) and Armand Batlle while Henry Trinder, Ben Vellacott and Owen Williams responded.

Castres finish in third spot in Pool 2 on 14 points, level with second-placed Exeter Chiefs, while Gloucester are the basement side on nine.

The post Munster knock out Exeter, Castres pip Gloucester appeared first on Planet Rugby.

‘Sexton has the bat phone to the referee’ – Eddie Jones


England head coach Eddie Jones has suggested Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton has a “bat phone” to referees in the lead-up to the teams’ fixture.

The two nations clash in their opening Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and Jones could not resist stoking the pre-game fire.

“Sexton has the bat phone to the referee. When he talks, the referee listens,” he told BBC Sport as he looks to kick-off with an away victory.

“That is because of his status in the game – you earn that, like Richie McCaw did.”

Jones is currently sweating over the fitness of captain Owen Farrell, who has had surgery on an injured thumb but should return in 10 days.

Should he not recover in time it is expected that George Ford will come into the starting fly-half jersey but the captaincy is up for grabs.

Jones was also questioned on the recent hot topic in football regarding spying and while he admits he used to do similar, he’s now stopped.

“15 years ago we used to send people out in costumes to watch training,” he revealed.

“I can remember sending a coach who is now in a very senior position now in a costume to go and watch one team play and he got chased out of there. He was dressed up like a swagman, wearing one of those hats with corks.

“I can say with a hand on my heart we don’t do it any more. We just don’t see the value of it because we can glean most of the stuff from the games.”

The post ‘Sexton has the bat phone to the referee’ – Eddie Jones appeared first on Planet Rugby.

Leinster seal top spot, Toulouse head to Racing 92


Leinster secured themselves a home quarter-final against Ulster in the Champions Cup after they eased past Wasps, winning 37-19 on Sunday. 

Tries from centre Garry Ringrose, hooker Sean Cronin (2) and replacement Noel Reid saw them to victory as they beat Toulouse to top spot.

Wasps’ try-scorers were number eight Nathan Hughes, scrum-half Dan Robson and replacement Marcus Watson as their European campaign ended.

Leinster knew what was required to finish ahead of Toulouse and thus seal a home game in March and they went about their task admirably. They dominated from the outset and led 20-0 at the break as Wasps looked distinctly second best on home soil with the province running in two tries.

Ross Byrne got the scoreboard ticking with a penalty in the ninth minute before Leinster went for the jugular, with more pressure in Wasps’ 22 leading to Ringrose crossing after a nice step inside Hughes. With the simple extras the reigning champions moved into a 10-point lead.

Wasps were struggling for ball and when it eventually did come they lacked patience and a handling error ultimately cost them, with Byrne, who continues to start in the absence of Ireland international fly-half Jonathan Sexton, soon firing over his second penalty on 29 minutes.

Leinster weren’t done and their line-out drive then came to the fore as the free-scoring Cronin burrowed over to make it a 20-point advantage.

Wasps did begin the second 40 in impressive style and were unfortunate not to make a period of sustained pressure in the Leinster 22 count. Hughes managed to change that though on 53 minutes when he crashed over under the posts, after Michele Campagnaro’s carry.

Their joy was shortlived however as, following a Jake Cooper-Woolley offence at the ruck, Leinster went to the corner before Cronin got his brace.

Robson did respond with an opportunistic score around the fringe of a ruck 20 metres out, which made it 27-14, but Leinster once again hit back as replacement fly-half Reid crossed with 10 minutes remaining for a converted score that pushed Leo Cullen’s team into a 34-14 lead.

Watson would grab a late consolation try for Wasps but they finish bottom of this pool with a record of no wins and one draw from six games.

In the pool’s other game, Toulouse held on for a 20-17 victory over a brave Bath side, who were playing for little else but pride in France.

Joe Tekori and Antoine Dupont crossed in the first-half before Semesa Rokoduguni and Zach Mercer went over in the second for Bath as they launched a fightback. However, they could not complete the job as they finish third in the pool while Toulouse now face a trip to Racing 92.

The post Leinster seal top spot, Toulouse head to Racing 92 appeared first on Planet Rugby.

Champions Leinster to host Ulster in Cup quarters


Champions Cup holders Leinster will take on Ulster at home in the quarter-finals of the 2018/19 competition after impressively defeating Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.

Leo Cullen’s men overcame the English outfit 37-19 to confirm top spot in Pool 1 and third seed overall, meaning that they will face their fellow Irish province in the last eight.

Elsewhere, Saracens finished as top seed after six successive victories in the group stages and they will have a rematch with Glasgow Warriors as a result.

The final two games see Racing 92 host Toulouse in an all-French affair while Munster travel to Scotland and go head-to-head with Edinburgh, who qualified following a superb triumph against Montpellier.

The ties will be played over the weekend of the 29/30/31 March, with dates and kick-off times to be confirmed.

Meanwhile, in the Challenge Cup, three of the encounters will see rematches of the group stages. Clermont Auvergne face Northampton Saints, following on from that thrilling contest in Round 5, while Sale host Connacht and La Rochelle take on Bristol.

In the other game, two English teams go head-to-head as Harlequins head to Sixways to play Alan Solomons’ Worcester Warriors.

Champions Cup quarter-finals

Saracens v Glasgow Warriors
Racing 92 v Toulouse
Leinster v Ulster
Edinburgh v Munster

Challenge Cup quarter-finals

Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints
La Rochelle v Bristol
Sale Sharks v Connacht
Worcester v Harlequins

The post Champions Leinster to host Ulster in Cup quarters appeared first on Planet Rugby.

Francois Hougaard – An Explosive Talent


Francois Hougaard is one of those players who should have played 100 tests for the Springboks. He burst onto the scene in 2009 and scored some brilliant tries for the Bulls and the Boks. Unfortunately he was behind Fourie du Preez in the pecking order which meant he was often deployed on the wing, because he was too good to leave out of the side.

What a player…

Cabous van der Westhuizen – Breaking The Mould


Cabous van der Westhuizen was a great winger. There, we said it! He wasn’t that popular up north, but that had more to do with his appearance than his ability.

The laid back surfer was a potent finisher and he was one of those players for whom the ball always seemed to bounce right. In our opinion, he was unlucky to never get a test cap, but he did tour with the Springboks in 1994 to New Zealand.

Cabous scored some brilliant tries during his career and will be remembered as a legend of Natal rugby.

Helgard Muller – Underrated Class


Helgard Muller could have and should have played 50 tests for South Africa, unfortunately for him, he was in his peak during isolation and he had to play second fiddle to one Danie Gerber… But there is a reason he had such a long and distinguished career – he was good, bloody good. He had deceptive pace, was a strong defender, could fill in at flyhalf and was great on attack. Helgard, you will forever be a legend in our eyes, we salute you!

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