It was crunch time for five Guinness PRO14 sides as they returned to continental action on Saturday.
And there was plenty of drama in the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup including a battling victory for Ulster, a fine kicking display from Dan Biggar and a dramatic draw for Connacht.
Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle
Ulster kept themselves on course to finish top of pool one in the European Champions Cup with a hard-fought victory over La Rochelle.
Les Kiss’ side sat behind their French opponents heading into the contest at the Kingspan but tries from Rory Best, Jack Stockdale and Nick Timoney helped Ulster move into a commanding position.
After Paul Jordaan was sent to the sin-bin in the 23rd minute, Ulster made their numerical advantage count as Best forced his way over before Jacob Stockdale did the same to help the hosts into a 10-6 half-time lead.
A happy changing room tonight for @CLealiifano ‘s final game for @ulsterrugby @kingspanstadium – a big thank you Christian for all your efforts wearing the Ulster jersey in Belfast – now for one last game next week #SUFTUM pic.twitter.com/VCso8FBYXC
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) January 13, 2018
Alexi Bales notched up all of the French side’s points and his try at the start of the second half gave La Rochelle the lead.
But Timoney was able to power his way over before a John Cooney penalty ensured Ulster head into their final pool match against Wasps in first place.
Ospreys 15-15 Saracens
A late Dan Biggar penalty helped salvage a vital draw for the Welsh outfit over defending champions Saracens at the Liberty Stadium.
The Welsh international traded points with his opposite number Owen Farrell in a cagey affair in south Wales.
78′ Ospreys win the penalty at the scrum and Biggar will opt for the posts.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) January 13, 2018
Farrell looked to have outscored his rival as he landed a penalty with five minutes to play but in the final minute Biggar showed his class as he stroked between the uprights.
It means that a victory for Ospreys over Clermont in France next week will all but put them into the quarterfinals.
Bordeaux Begles 36-28 Dragons
The Dragons’ chances of making the quarterfinals are now hanging by a thread as they let a half-time lead slip against Bordeaux Begles in the European Challenge Cup.
Bernard Jackman’s side held a 23-15 lead at the Stade Chaban-Delmas thanks to tries from flanker James Benjamin and scrum-half Sarel Pretorius.
Full Time: Bordeaux-Begles 36 Dragons 28
— Dragons Rugby (@dragonsrugby) January 13, 2018
But the Top 14 outfit overpowered the Welsh side as the hefty pack got on top and muscled their way to a bonus-point victory.
It means only a heavy Dragons win at Rodney Parade next week over the same opposition will give the Welsh side any chance of qualification to the last eight of the competition.
Worcester Warriors 24-24 Connacht
Connacht battled back from 10 points down at half time to clinch a crucial draw which earns them qualification to the Challenge Cup quarterfinals.
John Muldoon and Niyi Adeolokun fired the Irish province into an early lead but the Warriors gained control before the break thanks to two tries from Perry Humphreys.
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) January 13, 2018
Dot downs from Sam Lewis and Josh Adams had the Warriors on the brink of victory at Sixways but back came Connacht with a score from full-back Tiernan O’Halloran and a penalty from Craig Ronaldson drawing Kieran Keane’s side level.
The result means the Irish province have won pool five ahead of their final group game against Oyonnax.
Pau 42-14 Zebre
Zebre remained fourth in pool three as they were undone by a clinical Pau side at the Stade Du Hameau.
Tries from Jale Vatabua, Laurent Bouchet, Masalosalo Tutaia, Peter Saili, Frank Halai as well as a penalty score saw the hosts cruise to the Pool 3 summit.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 13, 2018
Giovanni Licata was a shining light for Zebre as he crossed twice for the Italian’s only two tries of the afternoon.
Zebre face French side Agen in their final pool game as they go in search of their first Challenge Cup victory of the campaign.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie