Toulon advance to Euro semis

2015-04-05 18:43
Mathieu Bastareaud (AFP)

Paris - Defending two-time champions Toulon and last season's beaten finalists Saracens advanced to the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup after beating Wasps and Racing-Metro in Sunday's quarters.

The April 18-19 semi-finals will see Toulon play three-time champions Leinster, who beat Bath 18-15 on Saturday, in Marseille's Stade Velodrome, while Saracens will travel to St Etienne's Geoffroy Guichard stadium to play Clermont, who put Northampton to the sword 37-5.

Toulon never looked overly troubled in their home 32-18 victory over Wasps, having built up a 22-6 half-time lead thanks to a barrelling Mathieu Bastareaud try converted by Frederic Michalak, who ended up with a personal haul of 22 points.

In Paris, however, there was a dramatic end to a game that promised much but served up little.

Racing-Metro scrum-half Maxime Machenaud seemed to have wrapped up the game with two late penalties, but a ruck infringement handed Saracens a penalty opportunity and Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch stepped up to kick the last-gasp 43-metre penalty to hand the London side a 12-11 victory.

"We'll have to be better against Clermont," warned Saracens coach Mark McCall, whose side handed Clermont a 46-6 hammering in last year's semi-final. "But sometimes matches are like that and you mustn't over-analyse it."

In a sun-kissed Stade Mayol in Toulon, the home side let Wasps back into the game to give the crowd some jitters.

Alex Lozowski had hit two first-half penalties but gave way for Andy Goode early in the second period and the experienced ex-Leicester, Worcester and Brive playmaker made his presence felt almost immediately with a midfield mismove.

Aided by a slip by Toulon winger Josua Tuisova, Eliot Daly played in winger Will Helu in the corner for a try Goode converted.

Michalak kicked a sixth penalty but after another sustained passage of play from Wasps - with scrum-half Joe Simpson to the fore, Helu crossed for his second, though Goode missed the conversion.

Ex-All Black lock Ali Williams, outstanding throughout, was played into the corner for a 76th-minute try, converted by Michalak, to calm Toulon nerves.

In the French capital, Charlie Hodgson opened the scoring for Saracens with a sixth-minute penalty, with very little difference between two sides well drilled in defence in the opening exchanges.

Home worries were eased when Saracens' Scotland international lock Jim Hamilton was yellow-carded for cynically failing to release the ball close to the line.

Racing's Irish fly-half Jonathan Sexton, who had never lost an European knockout match having guided Leinster to the title three times, kicked for the corner.

From the resulting line-out the powerful Racing pack rolled into midfield, Machenaud peeling off to crash over for a try from short range.

Sexton's conversion came back off the post and Hodgson then missed two kickable penalties as the kickers struggled with a downfield wind at the Yves-du-Manoir stadium.

Hodgson nailed a second penalty on the stroke of half-time after Antonie Claassen's indiscretion at a ruck to leave it 6-5 to the visitors at the interval.

Alex Goode took over the kicking duties from Hodgson and made no mistake with his first effort.

Machenaud then kicked two penalties to put Racing into a one-point lead, but there was one ruck too many for Racing, Bosch holding his nerve to put Saracens into the last four.

The Argentinian revealed that his Saracens kicking coach had told him to "think I am on the beach" when kicking.

"I think it worked. I knew I had the wind in my face and I would not force the kick and just kept as relaxed as possible," he told BT Sport.


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