While the Cell C Sharks have qualified as they can’t be overtaken by the ninth placed team in Pool A, and the DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls just need either a bonus point or not to lose by a big score in their remaining pool fixture, the supporters of Ulster and the Ospreys experienced diametrically different emotions.
The Ospreys completed the double over Montpellier in an exciting nip and tuck game in Swansea to move to the brink of what will be their first qualification for the Round of 16 in some time.
However Ulster, needing to beat champions Stade Rochelais in France, suffered the agony of seeing a heroic defensive effort cancelled out off the last move of the game.
Nathan Doak gave Ulster hope when he kicked a 63rd minute penalty goal as his team adjusted better to the driving wind and rain at the Stade Marcel Deflandre in a low scoring game. Ulster, so desperate to win to keep their hopes of qualification alive after a disastrous first two rounds in the competition, defended tenaciously and also had two first half tries disallowed.
But just when it appeared their bravery would be repaid with a seismic victory away from home in one of the most difficult venues to visit, Stade Rochelais showed why they are champions by doing what they did to Leinster in last year’s final in Marseille by scoring a try to replacement prop Joel Sclavi off the last move of the game.
With the bun fight to avoid relegation in the Top 14 perhaps impacting on the performances in Europe of some of the French teams, with many of them surprisingly close to the bottom of the log, you couldn’t fault the commitment of Racing 92, who joined Stade Rochelais and Toulouse in the winning circle by kicking a last gasp penalty to beat Harlequins.
However, Montpellier’s drive to avenge their shock first round defeat to Ospreys, who a few weeks ago weren’t rated in either the Heineken Champions Cup or the Vodacom URC (where they are currently in 13th place on the log), was thwarted by an epic effort from the hosts.
The two teams produced a nine try thriller that was a great advertisement for both the sport and the competition, with Montpellier crossing five time to Osprey’s four but the Welsh side punishing the visitors for missing kicking opportunities.
Ospreys coach Toby Booth described the game as “a magnificent spectacle” and said that it was a reminder that rugby players were in the entertainment business.
“After the game over there, we knew they would come over with a point to prove, but we just found a way to win,” said Booth.
“Cai (Evans) has grabbed his opportunity as it’s been a difficult journey for him with injuries, but now he’s really thriving and fulfilling the talent he’s got.”
Evans proved to be the difference between the team as he was successful with six out of seven shots at goal.
“After beating them down there, we knew they would come flying out the blocks, but in the end, we managed to win,” Evans said.
“Neither side could get a substantial lead, and the game went down to the wire, so I’m pleased we came out on the right side of the result.”
Another Vodacom URC team that is styling at the moment is Edinburgh, who scored a great win away from home against the French team, Castres, while Leinster continued their apparently inexorable march to the play-offs with a big away win over Gloucester.
Weekend Heineken Champions Cup results
Clermont Auvergne 29 Leicester Tigers 44
Gloucester 14 Leinster 49
Munster 27 Northampton Saints 24
Cell C Sharks 32 Bordeaux Begles 3
Stade Rochelais 7 Ulster 3
Sale Sharks 5 Toulouse 27
Vodacom Bulls 39 Exeter Chiefs 28
Ospreys 35 Montpellier 29
Saracens 48 Lyon 28
Castres 21 Edinburgh 34
London Irish 14 DHL Stormers 28
Racing 92 30 Harlequins 29