By Jack Vavasour
Last weekend European rugby returned to our screens and we were not disappointed. The resulting fixtures were some of the most exciting that have been seen in years, with three of the four matches being decided by less than 5 points.
The opening fixture took supporters to Edinburgh as they faced Munster. Both sides had points to prove, Edinburgh as underdogs and Munster looking to return to dominating the most prestigious European cup. Keith Earls took a wonderfully opportunistic tap penalty to sneak over the line to put his side ahead early on and later ended the game by scoring one of the tries of the tournament. In between Edinburgh showed splashes of excellence, including a well taken Chris Dean try. Munster played fantastically and fully deserve their place in the semi-finals, Richard Cockerill will once again look to improve his side despite proving he can still perform at the highest level.
Next came Saracens who took on Glasgow at the Allianz. This fixture had already been competed twice previously in this competition as the two sides were in the same group. Saracens had been victors twice, nothing changed in the knockout rounds. Even without talisman Owen Farrell, Saracens cruised to victory without even breaking a sweat. Saracens were clinical and effective, Glasgow stood no chance. Saracens look well poised to mount a serious challenge this season
The final match on Saturday saw an Irish rivalry renewed, as Ulster challenged champions Leinster. Once again this was a tussle that spoiled fans. Ulster led at half time through Kieran Treadwell as he forced himself onto the ball after Rory Best charged down a dreadful kick by Gary Ringrose. Ross Byrne, deputising for the injured Jonny Sexton, then crossed the whitewash from close quarters for Leinster as he powered his way over. Jack Conan then spotted a weakness in Ulster’s defence off the back of a ruck and darted a quarter of the pitch before passing to Adam Byrne, who made no mistake with his try. Luke Marshall then scored, before a Byrne penalty ultimately saw Leinster to victory.
Racing 92 then hosted European sleeping giant Toulouse. In form scrum-half, Antoine Dupont, took only 6 and a half minutes to ease his way over the line to break the deadlock. The wonderful Finn Russell then read the Toulouse play to intercept and grubber through for Teddy Thomas to dot down. Toulouse refused to give-up, and Lucas Tauzin gave an outrageous no-look-out-the-back-whilst-being-tackled offload for Soafiane Guitoune to weasel his way through the defence before passing to Maxime Medard who manged to get the ball down for Toulouse’s second try. Dupont then darted and dodged tackles to give Toulouse a third try before the break. Late-on, an opportunistic Camille Chat reclaimed a lost lineout before powering himself over for what could have been a match winning try, yet the conversion was missed, gifting Toulouse victory.
Munster now travel to Saracens, a difficult away day, on the 20th April.
Leinster host fellow European powerhouse Toulouse on 21st April.
All four sides have rich history in this competition and this should lead to yet another round of unpredictable fixtures.