Quins keep hopes alive
A review of the weekend's action in the Heineken Cup.
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Harlequins continued to snap at the heels of Clermont Auvergne as they kept alive their hopes of reaching the Heineken Cup quarter-finals by grinding Racing Metro into submission 17-3.
Twickenham Stoop hosted a poor spectacle and Quins will be disappointed to have finished a match they dominated without going close to posting a try-scoring bonus point.
But a second win in Pool Four leaves them only four points below leaders Clermont with the French giants having to visit London in January.
Nick Evans, instrumental to last weekend's 32-8 victory in Nantes, was equally influential in the home leg of the double-header as Quins established a 14-0 half-time lead.
The 33-year-old kicked three penalties and laid the groundwork for Racing's defeat until a shoulder injury forced his exit at half-time.
Wing Charlie Walker crossed just seconds before the break, but that was the only time Racing's whitewash was breached with Quins guilty at times of trying to play too much rugby in wet conditions.
Leicester left it very late to beat Montpellier as they snatched a vital 15-14 win at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir.
After the eight-try thriller between the two sides the previous week the return match was scoreless for 50 minutes until Tom Youngs crossed for the visitors.
Two tries in 10 minutes from outside half Enzo Selponi and wing Lucas Dupont looked to have secured Montpellier the win before the late drama.
A converted try from Leicester centre Vereniki Goneva 45 seconds from time kept them in touch with Pool 5 leaders Ulster, with a nerveless Ryan Lamb kicking the match-winning conversion.
Gloucester's Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes were left hanging by a thread after underdogs Edinburgh stunned them 16-10 at Kingsholm.
Edinburgh had lost nine of their previous 10 games in Europe, but centre Ben Atiga's second-half try and 11 points from the boot of full-back Jack Cuthbert left Gloucester reeling.
It means the west country club are five points behind Pool Four leaders Munster before they host the Irish heavyweights next month, with Edinburgh and Perpignan likely to be scrapping for minor placings.
Champions Toulon regained their place at the top of Pool Two as two tries from wing Dave Smith set them on their way to a bonus point 32-20 win over Exeter Chiefs.
The Chiefs had got close to capturing their biggest ever scalp in the first of the back-to-back pool matches at Sandy Park last weekend, eventually going down 14-9, and they battled long and hard to stay in the fight in the south of France.
But at a ground where Toulon had won 41 of their last 42 games and had never been beaten before in the Heineken Cup, the visitors were still within sight at half-time.
The Chiefs stayed within five points of the champions until two tries in the space of five minutes changed things.
Leinster surrendered their unbeaten record in this season's competition as Northampton Saints won a low-scoring but absorbing contest 18-9 at the Aviva Stadium.
Tries from George North and Jamie Elliott bookended this fifth round clash, as Jim Mallinder's men recovered resoundingly from last week's 40-point hammering from the Irish province.
England fly-half Owen Farrell inspired Saracens to keep up the pressure at the top of Pool Three, inspiring his side to a 64-3 mauling of basement-boys Zebre.
Mark McCall's men scored nine tries - Duncan Taylor touching down twice - as Saracens ensured qualification will go down to the wire after Christmas by taking maximum points.
Maxime Medard's two first-half tries set Toulouse on the way to a 37-9 victory and a bonus point from their clash with Connacht at the Sportsground.
Guy Noves' star-studded side avenged last Sunday's shock reversal at home against the same opponents, with Medard, Christopher Tolofua, man of the match Louis Picamoles and replacement Gael Fickou all crossing the whitewash in Galway.
A last-gasp try from JJ Hanrahan put Munster in pole position in Pool Six after yet another thrilling finish against Perpignan in an 18-17 success.
With the clock already in the red at the Stade Aime Giral, Hanrahan produced a stunning sidestep 25 metres out and touched down out wide to hand the 2006 and 2008 champions a third win in four pool games.
Italian international Tommaso Benvenuti looked to have dealt Munster's hopes of a third crown a heavy blow when he crossed with less than two minutes remaining but Rob Penney's men kept the ball alive from the restart, with Denis Hurley and Tommy O'Donnell setting up Hanrahan's heroics
French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne tightened their grip on Pool Four after completing a quickfire double against the Scarlets - who are now facing a pool stage exit for the sixth successive European campaign.
Clermont, bonus point victors over the Welsh team last weekend, repeated that feat after refusing to be blown off a quarter-final course in wet and windy Llanelli as wing Napolioni Nalaga's double and Fritz Lee's touchdown complemented a 60th-minute penalty try.
Mike Delany kicked a penalty and conversion, while Brock James added three conversions for a 31-13 success.
Ulster surged further ahead at the top of Pool Five after they secured maximum points from a 35-3 victory over Benetton Treviso at the Stadio di Monigo on Saturday afternoon.
The 1999 Heineken Cup winners scored four tries to claim a bonus point against the Italians for the second week running following the 48-0 thrashing in Belfast seven days ago.
Second-half scores from Craig Gilroy, Robbie Diack and Jared Payne accompanied a late first-half effort from Luke Marshall as Ulster made it four wins from four games following earlier successes against Leicester Tigers and Montpellier.
Cardiff moved back top of Pool Two with a 9-7 victory over a profligate Glasgow side to put the Scottish club on the verge of exit.
A long-range penalty from Rhys Patchell and two more from Leigh Halfpenny gave the Blues a cushion which they ultimately needed when Ryan Grant crossed in the 71st minute.
In the night's other game, fly-half Dan Biggar kicked Ospreys to their first Heineken Cup win of the season with seven penalties out of seven in the 21-12 victory against Castres.
Amazingly, Biggar has claimed all Ospreys' 55 points in the competition this year.
For Castres, who failed to get a losing bonus point, scrum-half Rory Kockott kicked all the points with four penalties.