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Guinness PRO12 in Europe: Quarter-finals on the horizon after bumper weekend

It was another memorable weekend for the Guinness PRO12 sides in Europe as they made their case for a place in the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup.

From dramatic kicks, to record victories via a couple of brilliant home performances, here are some of the storylines of the weekend.

  • Leinster romp to record victory over Saints
  • Carty holds his nerve for Connacht while Munster are denied at the death
  • Scarlets hang on to down Toulon
  • Russell on fire against Carter and Racing
  • Ulster comeback attempt falls short

Leinster dominate Northampton in Dublin

Northampton came to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin with a revenge mission, but another dominant Leinster performance in their second home ensured the Saints would return to England with their tails between their legs.

For the second time in two weeks the boys in blue were unstoppable in the Champions Cup, running in nine tries in total under the lights on Saturday in a 60-13 success.

The four-time Guinness PRO12 champions took the lead early on through youngster Adam Byrne – who scored his first try in Europe after four minutes – and while Saints threatened briefly with an intercept try from Ken Pisi, the floodgates opened before half-time.

Byrne completed his double in between Luke McGrath and Sean O’Brien scores, and after the interval Tadhg Furlong, Sean Cronin, Rory O’Loughlin, and Isa Nacewa (twice) crossed the whitewash.

Hooker Cronin was named man of the match for a monumental performance all over the park, and the No.2 believes the strength in depth in Leinster’s ranks at the moment is what is driving the side on to new heights.

“We are very happy to get all the points on offer, and it was brilliant to see the tenacity and the will to keep them out at the end despite being so far ahead,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of guys coming through; older guys and younger guys – who are putting pressure on everyone else in the squad.

“We’ve got a massive game now against Munster at Thomond Park and then Ulster at home, so we won’t be getting too carried away with ourselves.”

A tale of two kickers

Rugby on the biggest stage so often comes down to the swing of a boot, and two Guinness PRO12 teams experienced different fortunes as their Champions Cup clashes came down to the wire.

First Connacht sparked wild celebrations in Galway as they ended Wasps’ unbeaten start to the competition thanks to Jack Carty’s last-gasp conversion.

Joe Simpson and Josh Bassett got tries for Wasps, but Naulia Dawai scored at the death to level the scores and No.10 Carty made no error from the tee.

But Owen Williams broke Munster hearts and ensured English side Leicester Tigers got some revenge for a record defeat at the hands of Rassie Erasmus’ side last weekend.

Niall Scannell had crossed for the game’s only try to put Munster into the lead just minutes from time, but Williams landed the whopping do-or-die penalty from 52 metres out – reminiscent of a certain Ronan O’Gara ten years earlier.

Scarlets historic success

The Scarlets left Toulon a week ago thinking what might have been, missing out on a try with half an hour remaining that might have got them right back into the clash on the south coast of France.

Understandably they had some unfinished business on Sunday and they made that frustration felt from the off with a blistering first-half display.

Leading 16-9 at the break thanks to a Scott Williams try, the Scarlets could easily have been further clear but for the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.

In the second half Toulon’s power looked to have turned the tide, but the Scarlets showed the grit to hang on, with Williams again crucial with one late rip of the ball from Samu Manoa.

They still have it all to do to reach the quarter-finals, with two clashes against English opposition to come, but the Scarlets showed that their seven-game winning streak in the Guinness PRO12 was no fluke.

Russell outshines Carter

Dan Carter has won two World Cups, scored more international points than any other player in history, and is widely regarded as one of the best players to have played the game.

But on Friday night he was treated to a masterclass from opposite number Finn Russell as Glasgow Warriors completed a famous double over Top 14 champions Racing 92.

The Warriors are now top of Pool 1 after three wins from four games, with their only loss so far to Guinness PRO12 rivals Munster – who they will face in the middle of January in Round 5.

And it was Russell who stole the show on Friday night, making four clean breaks, beating ten defenders and setting up arguably the try of the game for Josh Strauss.

That was enough to earn him some Lions backing and on this form he will certainly be in contention.

Ulster comeback falls short in France

Ulster threatened to pull of one of the comebacks of the season at the home of Clermont Auvergne, but the raucous Stade Marcel Michelin crowd ultimately went home happy.

The hosts had led 28-0 after Isaia Toeava’s first-minute score, a first-half double from Nick Abendanon, and Camille Lopez’ bonus-point try – and all looked lost for Les Kiss’ out-of-sorts side.

But Tommy Bowe crossed twice in quick succession, and added to Franco van der Merwe’s drive over score, the Guinness PRO12 side were back within nine points and hunting an unlikely bonus point at the least.

Clermont then found their feet however, and after putting Ulster under pressure in the corner, Paddy Jackson was sin-binned for a deliberate knock on and the hosts were awarded a penalty try to kill off the match.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final