Leicester edged to a 9-5 victory over Toulouse at a wintery Welford Road, where the snowy conditions caused a potential thriller to turn into an error-strewn match, with both sides understandably frightened of making a crucial mistake. In a must-win game, Leicester were fortunate that Toby Flood found his range in testing conditions as he kicked all three of his penalties. In contrast, the Toulouse kickers misfired all afternoon as Lionel Beauxis and Luke McAllister both wasted two kicks each and their errors consigned the four-time champions to elimination from the competition at the group stage for the first time since 2002. Toulouse were in the ascendancy in the second half and profited from a mistake by Leicester full-back Matt Tait under a high ball as Yoann Huget scrambled over. They repeatedly laid siege to the Leicester line and attempted several catch-and-drives, only to be thwarted by Leicester locks Geoff Parling and Louis Deacon, who were inspired in the lineout. While Leicester haven’t set the world alight this season, they have the ability to grind out results and can beat anyone on their day so remain a threat in the latter stages of the competition.
Munster booked a quarter-final spot with a 29-6 victory over Racing Metro in Pool 1 at the expense of fierce domestic rivals and defending champions Leinster. Munster knew a bonus-point victory would secure one of the two best runners-up spots, and they duly delivered with Simon Zebo further outlining his Ireland and Lions aspirations. Zebo scored three of Munster’s five tries in a game that was marred by the early dismissal of Racing’s flanker, Antoine Battut, who saw red for an alleged knee to the head inside five minutes. The victory meant that Leinster’s title defence came to a premature end and rendered their 26-20 victory over Exeter Chiefs on Saturday as meaningless. Despite the win, they only finished second in Pool 5 behind Clermont and their inconsistency in Europe came back to haunt them. They were denied the services of key men such as Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney for large parts of their European campaign and missing such quality players hampered their chances of progression and they will be severely disappointed to bow out at this stage.
Harlequins survived a tough encounter against Biarritz in France on Friday night, securing a 16-9 win to qualify as top seeds in the quarter finals. It has been a very impressive Heineken Cup campaign so far, with Quins in imperious form prior to Friday evening. With an average of 45 points in the five preceding games, they visited Biarritz full of confidence. However, the conditions were appalling with heavy rain turning the pitch into a bog which negated the English side’s attacking intent. While Biarritz are no longer the force they once were, they still represent formidable opposition and provide a stern examination of any of the top European contenders. Quins were able to draw on other facets of their game as their pack dominated both in the set-piece and the loose. They were marshalled excellently by Kiwi fly half Nick Evans whose boot punished any indiscretion created by his forwards, and it was their superiority that set the platform for the games only try. Danny Care’s kick to the corner resulted in Quins winning the line-out and a drive towards the line allowed Tom Guest to dive over at near range. Biarritz’s Dimitri Yachvili missed two of his five kicks but Quins had enough about them to secure a home quarter final and highlight their potential in Europe this season.
Saracens signed off in style at their last-ever game at Vicarage Road as they thrashed Edinburgh 40-7 to book a quarter-final spot. They ran in five tries to secure a bonus point and leapfrog Ulster into the top four seeds and a home quarter final. Chris Ashton was in fine form scoring two tries as he begins to return to his predatory best before the Six Nations in February. Domestically, Sarries aren’t renowned for their try-scoring ability, but in Europe, they seem to play with a greater sense of freedom and having scored 10 tries in their previous Heineken Cup outings – and five against Edinburgh in the earlier fixture. So understandably, they would have fancied their chances on Sunday. Fly-half Owen Farrell continued his good form with the boot, building on his recent success and initially extending his streak to 27 out of 27 before seeing a conversion attempt hit the post. Coupling their attacking adventure and defensive resilience, Saracens represent a formidable threat at home and with a new stadium at Allianz Park, they will hope to write a new chapter in their history come the quarter-final stage.
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