Sky Sports experts review Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup quarter-finals
Last Updated: 10/04/13 9:11am
It was an epic weekend of European rugby on Sky Sports.
With semi-final spots in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup up for grabs there was no place for the faint-hearted, so who better to guide you through the action than our expert panel of pundits?
Saracens are through to the last four of the Heineken Cup for only the second time in their history after beating Ulster at Twickenham, with Will Fraser and Chris Ashton crossing the line and Owen Farrell kicking 17 points in a 27-16 win over Ulster. Read our report here.
Will Greenwood, Dean Ryan and Tyrone Howe, who played 28 Heineken Cup games for Ulster, agreed that Sarries thoroughly deserved their Twickenham triumph...
WILL: "Saracens did their homework - their lineout was such a weapon for them, both with the ball and without. They scored the seven-pointer that put Ulster into 'chase the game' mode, which they couldn't do with the Saracens press. When Ulster had the ball in the lineout too often when they needed big calls, when they needed to secure that possession so they could try and launch that multi-phase play that Rory Best was hoping they would test Saracens with, they just couldn't secure the ball. When the touchline is not your friend in knockout rugby, life becomes very, very difficult."
DEAN: "That wasn't the Ulster of the beginning of the season. It wasn't the Ulster of last year's final. It was a tired Ulster, it was an Ulster where they'd rushed a few people back in. They had no cohesion, no threat, they didn't deal with the drift or understand it - they still tried to play wide and they lost the lineout situation in a quarter-final. Saracens didn't have to add anything to their game. They just needed to tick the boxes, go through their normal marginal games and it was easily enough. Ulster fans will remember that because it was a huge drop-off from the standards that Ulster have set this season and where they are aspiring to be."
TYRONE: "I think they will be far more disappointed about that performance than they were about last year's performance in the final because they didn't really turn up. They did not bring the sort of game they needed - they didn't look like Ulster. There were too many issues with their own play, so credit to Saracens because they put Ulster under a huge amount of pressure. It wasn't a great spectacle but that is also down to the sort of rugby that Saracens produced. It was very much a kick-chase, pressure, defensive game. Against a team that is not firing on all cylinders it is good enough to win. Against a team like Clermont, it's not even close to be good enough to win."
Few who saw Clermont Auvergne run in five tries to beat Montpellier 36-14 and extend their unbeaten run to 59 matches could surely disagree with Tyrone... and that includes Dean! Read our report here...
DEAN: "Clermont were just so impressive. It's like pushing really hard on a dam and you get a little bit of a crack - then they work and work and work and bang, suddenly the whole thing goes over. Gerhard Vosloo really led the pack - he was the main driver of getting on the front foot - and then it's about the class, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Wesley Fofana. Montpellier competed really well but they had no answer across the team. They have a powerful pack but when you know that Sivivatu can turn up on the edge of a ruck and just open somebody up completely they just don't have an answer. They clearly are a talented side for the future and this will hurt because the scoreline is not reflective but it will stand them in good stead for future European campaigns."
WILL: "Clermont weren't perfect - their set-piece wobbled early on and the scrum wobbled a little bit and there was no Damien Chouly at No 8. But Vosloo turned it up with a tap penalty at 9-3 when he saw that their set-piece wasn't working. The charge came from there and then the brilliance of the Clermont backs was so good. They only need three or four chances and they take three or four chances."
TYRONE: "Clermont's form is ominous for the rest of the competition. This match reminded me of the one in the Aviva where they clinically dismantled Leinster. They were cool, they were controlled as they went about their business. They can power through the forwards but if they are not getting the upper hand there, they've got utter class in the backs. Fofana, in particular, has shown how you play against that Blitz defence with great balance, great footwork and then excellent off-loading to Sivivatu, the ultimate finisher. Plus they have great strength on the bench - so they have strength and absolute quality from one to 22."
And so to the Twickenham Stoop where Munster turned in a power-packed display of precision and passion to come from behind and topple the English champions 18-12 in an absolute stormer. No wonder Alan Quinlan, who won the Heineken Cup in 2006 and 2008 with Munster, was smiling... Read our report here.
ALAN: "I must say I'm proud of them - it was just magnificent. Paul O'Connell epitomises everything that is good about Munster. They've had a lot of critics this season - I've been one of them - but we knew coming into the game that we needed a reaction. Even if they didn't win the game they needed to put some pride, honesty and integrity back into the jersey and they did that in abundance. To a man they were magnificent. They deserved the win."
WILL: "They just wouldn't let Quins settle - they couldn't let Quins settle. Even when Quins got a foothold in the game, they wrestled it right back. Their lineout was superb but it was just the physicality of the defence. The midfield of James Downey and Casey Laulala smashed everything. Downey's second half effort on Mike Brown was one of the top 100 all-time tackles!"
SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: "It was a privilege to be here. Rugby is the ultimate team game. If you get 15 people with the right attitude, anything can happen. Munster have just smashed the Harlequins team. A big bubble has been burst in Quins today. Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter were so disappointing - we didn't see them the whole game. The Munster pack absolutely obliterated that team."
The weekend's final Heineken Cup quarter-final action saw Jonny Wilkinson kick Toulon into the final four at the expense of Leicester. The former England ace scored all of the French side's points in their 21-15 win, securing their passage to the semis with a trademark drop goal. Read our report here.
Will was full of praise for his former team-mate and Wilkinson's battling Toulon colleagues.
WILL: They were under pressure at half-time and went in behind. Leicester's set piece was outstanding. Hypothesising about the impact of Croft doesn't mean a great deal now but it seemed to really hurt Toulon's ability to put on pressure and squeeze the line out. But Wilkinson, how many times do we have to say great things about this man? Six out of six from the floor, drop goal, kicks to the corner, kick-chase, tackles, passing... it was another outstanding performance. It was nervy for Toulon but they've got a semi-final place.
SIR CLIVE: You know how hard he practises his goal-kicking. We've seen him training at seven, eight in the morning, it's legendary what he does, and left-foot, right-foot he keeps on putting them over. But I was watching his defence and it was just awesome; he doesn't just tackle people, he knocks them back. He will keep Toulon's superstars in check because he sets an amazing standard on the field and off the field.
Amlin Challenge Cup
Bath's five-year wait for a trophy goes on, after a 20-36 home defeat by Stade Francais in the quarter-final of the Amlin Challenge Cup. Read our report here...
The game was marred by an allegation of spitting, Stade scrum-half Jerome Fillol appearing to spit in the face of opposite number Peter Stringer ahead of a first-half scrum.
Click on the video to the right to find out what Dewi Morris made of the match...