Best Of The Weekend: Sarries Ensure English Presence In Quarters

Mako

Mako Vunipola

Saracens qualify, whilst other English teams fall agonisingly short

It could have been worse for English clubs in Europe this season. There was a very real possibility that none would be in the knock-out stages, yet one remains. Reigning champions Saracens may have qualified as the third best runner-up, but they have saved the blushes of the Premiership and will find themselves battling for the trophy once again. They stormed to a 62-14 win over Northampton (a third trouncing in three meetings this season) to finish second in the pool behind Clermont, who had knocked out Ospreys with a 24-7 win.

The Londoners will go on to meet Leinster, who made sure of their number one status and favourites tag as they went 100% in the pool stages with a 23-14 victory in the south of France against Montpellier. Whilst Sarries are up against it, they will be relishing a contest against such opposition in what is sure to be the pick of the quarters. In the same pool as the boys in blue, Exeter had a great chance of progression, but failed to get the required win over a Glasgow side that were, until then, yet to win in the competition this season. The Scots welcomed back Stuart Hogg, who inspired them to a 28-21 triumph.

In Pool 5, Bath needed a few things to go their way and most things did. They registered a seven try, 47-28 success in Treviso, they finished with enough points to beat most other second placed teams. They just needed Scarlets to beat Toulon and not concede a bonus point. Unfortunately, the Welsh side failed to win comfortably enough (30-27) for Bath to climb above Toulon into second in the pool. Scarlets do become the first Welsh side in six years to reach the knockouts an, with their brand of rugby, will be confident of troubling La Rochelle when they host the French in the quarters.

It was also a case of what-could-have-been for Wasps. They did all that they could this weekend by beating Ulster and leapfrogging them into second in the pool. Four tries and a 26-7 win was not enough and they will surely be rueing their inability to see off Quins last week. The Londoners lost this week to La Rochelle 16-7 despite putting in a resilient performance.

Two sides managed to progress from the already-eliminated Leicester’s pool. The East Midlanders 23-20 loss to Racing also contributed to Wasps’ elimination as the French side finished 2 points higher and meet Clermont in the knockouts. Meanwhile, Munster ensured a home quarter against Toulon having beaten Castres 48-3.

Falcons among favourites for Challenge Cup

Newcastle will be seeded second for the quarters of the Challenge Cup, where they will face Brive, after stretching their perfect record in Russia, beating Enisei 33-19. Neither Dragons nor Bordeaux managed to escape the group in second place as the Welsh won 33-17.

Cardiff won their group as they triumphed 21-18 at Lyon, but they must travel to Edinburgh for the next round. Sale slipped 28-21 in Toulouse and consequentially were eliminated.

For Gloucester, it was a failed mission to top the pool and secure a home quarter final. They lost to Pau at home 34-24. The French are top seeds and host Stade Francais, whilst the cherry and whites have to travel to Connacht. In the same group, Zebre were 38-30 victors over Agen.

Stade had snuck through after their vital 17-10 win over Edinburgh, stealing second place from London Irish, whose 24-17 edging of Krasny Yar was not enough.

Connacht’s 50-14 hiding of Oyonnax made sure of hosting a knock-out game, whilst Worcester couldn’t progress due to their 33-7 defeat at Brive.

Villain of the week

The weather had a horrible effect on some of the games, with kick offs being moved and venues even having to be changed. It meant teams like Castres already knew they were out when they took to the field and Worcester had to deal with even more travelling for a must-win game.

Hero of the week

I know we have become English focussed on the blog, but I’m going to give it to the collective effort of Leinster, who made it through one of the trickiest pools with a 100% record. With their home quarter already in the bag, they could have rested a few players for their journey to Montpellier, but it was a mark of their quality that they came through with yet another win. Their matchup against Saracens is mouth-watering.

Try of the week

Kini Murimurivalu’s effort for La Rochelle was a masterclass in how to exploit gaps in tight spaces. They spread the ball wide, found the smallest of gaps, used brute force and timed their hands to perfection for a well worked team try.

Discussion points

Which players stood out in the group stages?

Who is most likely to claim a rare away win in a quarter final?

What does this European situation mean for the Six Nations? Are England going to struggle? Will the Irish be favourites?

by Joe Large

10 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: Sarries Ensure English Presence In Quarters

  1. As a Sarries fan I must say a big thank you to Wasps and their fans for beating Ulster.

    Players that stood out for Sarries on Saturday were mostly the usual suspects. All of the forwards were on top form but Mako was outstanding!! Itoje seemed determined to wind up Hartley for no other reason than he was enjoying it. Burger steered the scrum well form 8 and played the best he has this season. His replacement, new signing Silone Vailanu, was impressive off the bench on his debut bulldozing his way over the try line on his second touch of the ball.

    Wiggy, Farrell and Goode were impressive throughout controlling the ball and field position brilliantly. The guy in the backs that really stood out for me was Nathan Earle. Obviously trying to prove himself to Eddie Jones and doing a fine job. Solid in defence, lethal in attack and hands soft enough to be in a fairy liquid ad, this kid has it all…….makes me wonder why we would let him go!?!?!?




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  2. What does the European situation mean for the Six Nations?- Having just read Brian Moores article in the Telegraph I agree with his assertion that very little can be divined. Those who believe that there is a correlation between Champions Cup and International Rugby are as deluded as those who think that that Eddie Jones should have his England selection influenced by Gatlands Lions selection.
    Test Matches are a totally different beast-much more high pressure and much more likely to be determined by a few key moments.
    Supporters of the underdog nations always tend to think more with their hearts than with their heads and Celtic supporters have good reason to think their teams will do well. Whether they will beat England is a different matter entirely-Those who”s thinking is always done with head(The Bookmakers) don’t seem to think so
    One major imponderable is the weather-We have been lucky in recent years that very few games have been played in truly horrible conditions.The better the weather the more England will like it-As everyone knows the one thing you cant defend against is pace!.




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    1. Bang on – I don’t think they are much related. France have 4 teams left out of 8 but I don’t think anyone has the French national side down as favourites for the 6 nations.

      I would say though, you could argue that Irelands test players look in slightly better form than some of Englands. It can all change in the test arena though.




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      1. Agree re the Irish. Fewer domestic teams also means that many of the players in the Ireland squad also train and play club rugby together much more frequently than the England players; this will likely translate to better chemistry when coming together to form the national team.




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        1. Interesting point on the Irish set up. Does that idea ever materialise though? Ireland have always have just 4 teams, and I can’t think of anyone outside of Sexton in the last decade that have played regularly for Ireland without being at one of the provinces? Not exactly results in continued dominance at 6 nations level even when Leinster were going back to back.




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    2. As a rare ‘Celt’ here (Welsh), I have to say I am really looking forward to this year’s 6N, despite all the injuries affecting most teams. I am convinced there could be some serious upsets, and those writing off Wales, despite all the new or newish caps, do so at their peril!




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  3. Getting one team through to the QF’s isnt ideal but in reality I dont think many were predicting more than two from the outset.
    Some of our teams have been pitiful. A couple have come close but failed when it really mattered. One has squeaked through thanks to results elsewhere going their way.
    Formwise its a mixed picture. A few players have definitely impressed, while others have struggled.
    Come the 6N’s i dont think what has gone on in the European competitions matters a great deal beyond form players being a touch more upbeat, and those not at their best needing some encouragement.
    England know who they have at their disposal. Despite missing a few and some being overlooked, we look in fairly good order. We will be very competitive and hard to beat.




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  4. On balance I would not argue that Exeter deserved to win this weekend, but I am persistently bemused as to why Roman Poite is allowed anywhere near first class rugby. A nonsense yellow card, two forward passes in the second Glasgow try and one in the third, constantly allowing players of both sides to wander offside, go off their feet and come in at the side. He should go to a couple of compulsory JP Doyle masterclasses to learn how to let a game flow without making a mockery of the laws. All credit to Quins and Leicester for giving it everything even with nothing to play for.
    Re England, it really concerns me that Ben Youngs doesn´t look in any sort of form at all and it has begun to affect George Ford. I would have Care at 9 and Farrell at 10 unless EJ is prepared to take a real punt against Italy and give Alex Smith a go. On current evidence I think Ireland and France will both give the England front row a very torrid time, but with so many injuries around it is hard to tell which teams will be worst affected.




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      1. Sorry Leon, complete brain fade. Had just been writing an e-mail to a friend called Alex, (who I don´t think is any relation).




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