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European takeaways: Round Five

Rich Dore

15 Jan 2018

As the European pool stages draw to a close the tension is mounting, but it’s been another fantastic weekend for the Guinness PRO14 clubs with many of them furthering their causes ahead of Round Six.

There were big wins for Ulster and Leinster, whilst Scarlets got back to their best against Bath – here’s our summary of the Round Five action.

ULSTER HAVE IT IN THEIR HANDS

What a turnaround there has been in Pool One of the Champions Cup! After the first three rounds, French flyers La Rochelle looked to be running away with it with three wins from three.

But defeat to Wasps followed in Round Four and on Saturday Ulster delivered a magnificent performance against the Top 14 side to prevail 20-13.

La Rochelle started in domineering fashion at the Kingspan Stadium but the Irish province fired up and tries for Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale and Nick Timoney saw them claim a crucial win.

Ulster now sit atop the pool with 17 points, ahead of La Rochelle with 16 and Wasps on 12. Les Kiss’s men head to Coventry to take on Wasps next week knowing that a win will see them through, whilst the English side need a five-point victory to stand any chance.

OSPREYS HOPES ARE ALIVE

Steve Tandy’s Ospreys gave their hopes of progression to the quarter-finals a shot in the arm on Saturday with an attritional draw against current European champions Saracens.

The classy English side have been in excellent form in recent weeks and came into the match at the Liberty Stadium as favourites, but were repelled time after time as the two sides settled to a 15-15 scoreline.

No tries were scored, leaving the 30 points to be shared between Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell, with the Welsh fly-half’s final penalty coming dramatically in the 80th minute.

Despite their second position in Pool Two, Ospreys must now beat Clermont in France next week to have any chance of progressing – no mean feat but entirely possible for a side that have performed exceptionally well in Europe this year.

LEINSTER AND MUNSTER SITTING PRETTY

Round Five was also a good one for both Leinster and Munster, with both provinces finishing the weekend top of their pools.

Leinster in particular will have a spring in their step after they turned in an excellent performance to down Glasgow Warriors 55-19 and secure their place at the top of Pool Three.

With the men from Dublin having accrued 23 points already a home quarter-final is guaranteed, something Munster will fight for in Round Six when they host Castres at Thomond Park.

The Munstermen’s Round Five match was a real cracker – they may have lost 34-30 to Racing 92 but registered three tries themselves and crucially, a losing bonus-point.

SCARLETS TURN ON THE STYLE

Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets have also enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in their European fortunes after they delivered a stunning 35-17 win in Bath on Friday night.

The west Walians had lost the reverse fixture at Parc y Scarlets back in Round Two, also losing to Toulon in Round One, but now have control of their destiny and face the French giants in Wales next week for a shot at glory.

The Welsh region were irresistible against the English side, playing free-flowing rugby and offloading at will to secure the bonus-point win.

CHALLENGE CUP ROUND-UP

It was also a fantastic weekend for the Guinness PRO14 sides in the Challenge Cup, with Edinburgh and Connacht both now having secured their positions as pool winners.

The Irish province were held to a 24-24 draw against Worcester in England, but did all they needed to do to hit 21 points and an unassailable lead at the top of Pool Five.

Remarkably, Worcester struck four first-half tries but were left scoreless in the second half as Tiernan O’Halloran added to tries from John Muldoon and Niyi Adeolokun.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh have been absolutely flying in this competition and continued that form on Friday night with a breathless 34-33 victory over Stade Francais.

Tries came from Hamish Watson, Jaco Van Der Walt and Junior Rasolea – meaning Richard Cockerill’s side finish top of Pool Four with 24 points accrued so far.

Elsewhere, Zebre lost out 42-14 to Pau. The Italian outfit are out of the competition but Pau and Gloucester are both through.

The Dragons hopes are hanging by a thread after they succumbed to a Bordeaux-Begles comeback in France, going down 36-28.

Bernard Jackman’s men would need a bonus-point win over the same opposition next week, and for other results to go their way to stand a chance of progression.

There was good news also for Cardiff Blues fans, with their side sealing a nervy 18-13 win at home to Toulouse to stay at the top of Pool Two.

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