The curtain has fallen on the pool stages of the two major European club rugby competitions and there remains plenty of interest for Guinness PRO14 sides going forward.
Leinster, Munster and the Scarlets all remain in the hunt for glory in the Champions Cup whilst in the Challenge Cup, Connacht, Edinburgh Rugby and the Cardiff Blues all sealed their places in the quarter-finals.
LEINSTER AND MUNSTER SHINE
Irish faces were smiling at both Leinster and Munster as both swaggered into the Champions Cup quarter-finals.
Leinster ensured they finished as the only team in the competition with a 100 per cent record following the completion of the pool stage, Leo Cullen’s side signing off with back-to-back wins over the last two weekends.
First, they romped to a 55-19 triumph over Guinness PRO14 stablemates Glasgow Warriors, Isa Nacewa and Scott Fardy scoring a brace each in a seven-try success at the RDS Arena.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) January 21, 2018
Then, they secured top seeding – they will face English side Saracens in the quarter-finals – by recording their first win in France for three years, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw and Sean Cronin dotting down in a 23-14 victory over Montpellier.
There was also no raining on Munster’s parade, even if their game against Castres on Sunday was delayed by three hours due to the wet weather at Thomond Park.
After twiddling their thumbs, the Munstermen reached the quarter-finals for a record 17th time, running out 48-3 winners to set up a home tie against Toulon.
Keith Earls, who was last week named in Ireland’s Six Nations squad, was a standout performer for Munster, who bounced back from their 34-30 defeat at Racing 92 seven days previous.
SCARLETS’ FEVER PITCH
It’s a home @ChampionsCup 1/4 final! Date / KO will be confirmed this week. Opposition confirmed once all games have been played this afternoon.
Ticket details will follow this week. Huge thank you for your support so far! pic.twitter.com/NUJSXOnA5e
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) January 21, 2018
The Scarlets are proudly flying the flag for Wales after becoming the first Welsh team to qualify for the Champions Cup knockout stages in six years.
They topped Pool Five after first claiming a 35-17 bonus-point victory at Bath with a superb offensive display and then by upsetting three-time champions Toulon at Parc y Scarlets.
Tries from Tom Prydie, man of the match Hadleigh Parkes and Dan Jones inspired the Scarlets to a famous victory in front of a packed house in Llanelli, with Jones kicking a pair of penalties and Patchell also bisecting the posts.
Having lost their first two pool matches, this was a stirring turnaround from Wayne Pivac’s troops.
THE END OF THE ROAD
There wasn’t such good news for a clutch of other Guinness PRO14 sides, who all exited the competition after the round of action.
Ulster were narrowly pipped to the final quarter-final spot by Saracens, after losing 26-7 at the hands of fellow Premiership side Wasps.
Ospreys are also out after being beaten 24-7 at last year’s finalists Clermont Auvergne whilst Glasagow Warriors’ stirring 28-21 win over Exeter Chiefs did offer some late cheer for the Scoutstoun faithful.
— Stuart W Hogg (@StuartWHOGG_) January 20, 2018
Benetton Rugby were unable to find some respite as they signed off a 47-28 defeat to Bath.
CHALLENGE CUP ROUND-UP
Connacht have a home Challenge Cup quarter-final against last season’s finalists Gloucester to look forward to after they topped Pool Five with an unbeaten record.
They signed off with a romping 50-14 win over Oyonnax at the Sportsground, Niyi Adeolukun bagging a hat-trick.
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) January 20, 2018
Edinburgh Rugby and Cardiff Blues will meet in all-Guinness PRO14 showdown.
The former topped Pool Four suffered a narrow 17-10 loss in France but will he at home in the last eight.
Meanwhile the Blues went through as Pool Two winners after beating Lyon 21-18 on their travels but their 21 points meant they’ll travel to Scotland for their quarter-final.
The Dragons and Zebre were both knocked out but recorded victories over Bordeaux and Agen respectively.
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