This weekend delivered one of the greatest rounds of the competition. Not sure about you but I was gripped from Friday night onwards and let’s just say the dog didn’t get to stretch his legs as much.
There were only two teams who fielded significantly weakened sides. Leicester sent such a weakened side over to Castre the result was a foregone conclusion and Glasgow who were away to Leinster without the likes of Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Grey. I know there was controversy over the change in the European Cup format but it has been a long time since we were heading into the final round with only one guaranteed quarter final place sorted. That has got to be good for the competition, fans, players and broadcasters. What is not so good has been the English Premiership sides’ performances.. Should Exeter fail to win next week we could see no English teams in the quarter finals. Hard to say why but one theory is the Aviva Premiership is so tight now that you need to field strong teams every ngweek. Although the French Top 14 is a tough old competition they get to rotate and we all know how they feel about away games!
Probably no doubt about the game of the weekend if you were a neutral. Take a bow Scarlets. The game on Friday night was scintillating . Not sure I would want to play in a game like that but brilliant to watch the skill on display. Bath played their part – maybe a bit too much as both sides really decided to chuck it about and Scarlets were just better at it. Bath are clinging on there but need other results to go their way. Who would bet against the Scarlets running Toulon ragged back at the Parc y Scarlets next week and topping the pool to grap a home quarter.
Northampton Saints dip in form appears to be coming to an end with an outstanding win at home to European Cup royalty Clermont. Already out of Europe following four straight defeats Saints were freed up and produced some great rugby running in five tries and denying Clermont the bonus point.
The flag bearers and probably the only club with a very realistic chance of qualifying as a runner up is Exeter. What a long way this club has come and if they can go further in the competition who knows what they could do, In their pool Leinster having already secured the home quarter It comes down to Exeter nailing an away win up in Glasgow. I would suspect Glasgow may take this game more seriously and will not want to lay down and help an English side progress in the competition so a challenge for Rob Baxter and his men that I would back them to pull through.
Not sure what to say about Wasps defeat to Harlequins. Dai Young must be despairing. To throw away such a comfortable lead in a crunch game was head scratching to say the least. It was the defence that crumbled and Harlequins punished them with touch downs from Danny Care, Elia Elia and James Chisholm. Quins were not full strength and already out of Europe but it was a cracking performance from them and they fought to the very end and got their just reward. A clumsy high tackle on Jamie Roberts resulted in a red card for James Haskell which did not help but the card came in the last minute and Wasps need to learn how to defend with 14 men. I did love the social media exchange between the two players with Jamie Roberts telling Hask to try to ‘ bend his arthritic knees next time’.
I think now Wasps are probably out as they need Quins to do them a favour and send a strong team over to La Rochelle and beat them plus they will need to not only beat a fired up Ulster but deny a bonus point to them.
There was more than one casualty at the Liberty Stadium as the Double European Champions qualifying hopes were delivered a real blow with a draw against the Ospreys and Billy Vunipola went off a half time with a broken arm. Big concerns for both Saracens and Billy on both counts. In the pool an unlikely win for Ospreys would see them through and with the way the competition is going it might even happen. Clermont are decimated with injuries so the opportunity is there for the Ospreys to make an unbelievable turn around from their terrible Pro 14 form.
Looking at the Challenge Cup it looks good for Gloucester with the visit of Pau next weekend. Win this and the Cherry & Whites nail that valuable home quarter final,