Toulon and Quins join Ulster in quarters
French giants Toulon and English champions Harlequins joined Ulster in the quarter-finals of the European Cup after convincing wins over Cardiff Blues and Connacht on Saturday.
Toulon routed the Welsh region 45-25, three late tries from the Blues giving the scoreline a much more flattering hue than it merited.
Toulon manager Bernard Laporte congratulated his players on showing character in bouncing back from their home defeat in the Top 14 by Racing-Metro last week.
“We fulfilled our objective which was to win and qualify for the quarter-finals,” said the former France coach.
“The bonus point allows us to approach the final pool match in the best possible conditions to ensure we have a home quarter-final, but lets not get ahead of ourselves, nothing has been achieved yet.”
Cardiff opened the scoring with a penalty from Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who was then on hand to round off a midfield move that saw Gavin Evans glide past a stationary Mathieu Bastareaud.
But Toulon fired back with quickfire tries from Kiwi winger Rudi Wulf and prop Xavier Chiocci, both converted by Jonny Wilkinson.
Hooker Jean-Charles Orioli was played in by Frederic Michalak and Chris Masoe for Toulon’s third try just before half-time, France centre Maxime Mermoz and winger Alexis Palisson bagging a swift brace after the restart to put the game out of the Blues’ reach.
In London, Harlequins beat Irish province Connacht 47-8 in a six-try-to-one thrashing, ex-All Black fly-half Nick Evans chipping in with 15 points with the boot.
Saracens all but sealed their place in the last eight, prevailing against the odds with a 37-28 win over French opponents Racing-Metro in a thrilling Pool 1 clash.
The English side lead the pool by six points from Racing and will have their place confirmed in the quarter-finals if Munster lose to Edinburgh on Sunday.
Saracens host Edinburgh in the final round of pool matches next weekend.
Saracens won despite having at one point trailed 19-6 and at two stages of the game been reduced to 14 men for yellow cards to Will Fraser, for elbowing Juan-Martin Hernandez, and England wing Chris Ashton for slapping former France centre Fabrice Estebanez.
They had also lost another England wing David Strettle to a nasty looking head injury in the fourth minute.
The hosts, who had chosen to play the game in Nantes, not renowned for being a rugby hotbed, ran in three tries in the first-half, two to Argentinian wing Juan Jose Imhoff, but were never able to shake off the English side.
That was mainly thanks to a peerless kicking display by fly-half Owen Farrell, who kicked 11 from 11, 10 penalties and one conversion, for a total of 32 points as the French team imploded.