Clermont, Toulouse, Exeter qualify for Champions Cup last eight
Clermont, Toulouse and Exeter Chiefs joined Leinster in the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup on Saturday while title holders Saracens kept their hopes of qualifying alive with a 22-15 win over Ospreys.
Trailing 10-9 at half-time Clermont dominated the second half against Ulster and tries from Alivereti Raka and George Moala secured a 29-13 win and ensured the Top 14 powerhouses go top of Pool 3.
"It was our hardest game this season," Clermont full-back Nick Abendanon told BT Sport.
"Ulster are a fantastic outfit, they were pretty up for this match."
A thrilling game in Glasgow saw Exeter number eight Matt Kvesic scoring two tries, the second of which was the bonus-pont fourth try that guaranteed they would top Pool 2.
It did not all go the Chiefs' way though as Glasgow bounced to tie the game 31-31.
Four-time champions Toulouse also eased their way into the quarter-finals with a 21-7 win against Connacht in Galway.
- Clinical Clermont -
Ulster dominated the first half at the Stade Marcel Michelin in terms of territory and possession but led Clermont by just a point at half-time.
In-form Ulster scrum-half John Cooney and Clermont stand-off Camille Lopez traded early penalties before props Jack McGrath and Marty Moore combined to send Cooney through for a try under the posts.
Ulster right wing Robert Baloucoune had to make a crunching tackle to deny full-back Isaia Toeava but the pressure paid off after 48 minutes when Raka - left out of Fabien Galthie's first France squad - reached out for the line.
The video replay suggested ball had just brushed the white paint of the tryline and the try was awarded.
With Ulster chasing the game, Moala crashed over for Clermont's second try which sealed the win.
"In the second half the hard work paid off, the forwards got on top and that gave us a stranglehold that they couldn't live with," said Abendanon.
Ulster can still qualify if they beat Bath in Belfast next weekend.
- Exeter, Toulouse sweat -
The Chiefs needed just a point at Scotstoun to qualify but had to work hard for their draw.
Three tries each in a pulsating first half sent the teams in at 24-24. Exeter then set up camp on the Warriors' line and were duly rewarded when Kvesic touched down to secure the bonus point.
Glasgow hit back with a try from Fiji's Niko Matawalu to tie up the scores. Exeter almost snatched it at the death but Stuart Hogg's 60-metre penalty bounced back off the bar.
"We came up here and knew we had a job to do. We will take the draw and we're through," said Kvesic.
Glasgow have 12 points and are now unlikely to make it through.
"We've drawn a game we should have won," said Warriors' fly-half Adam Hastings.
"In patches we are as good as any team out there but we let them off. You just can't do that against a team like Exeter."
Toulouse also had a tougher ride than they may have expected with Irish province Connacht holding them 7-7 at half-time.
Second half tries from hooker Julien Marchand and centre Pita Ahki, who pounced on a charge down from close range, gave them some breathing space.
They were made to sweat at the end when they were down to 13 men with Yoann Huget (yellow) and Zach Holmes (red) both off for dangerous tackles but held on for their fifth win of the pool stages.
- Saracens prevail -
Saracens rested their England players and struggled to overcome an Ospreys side which was already out of the running with just one point from their previous four matches.
Sarries' Welsh international prop Rhys Carre was sent off after just four minutes for a 'no arms' tackle but the 14 who remained were more than a match for the side without a win since October 12.
Manu Vunipola, the 19-year-old cousin of England internationals Billy and Mako, kicked four penalties and converted Alex Lewington's try in the 51st minute.
© 2020 AFP