Champions Cup quarter-finals: Who plays who?
By Graeme Peacock
Last Updated: 22/01/18 10:28am
A thrilling weekend of action came to a close with Saracens securing a mouth-watering quarter-final tie away to Leinster while La Rochelle qualify for the knockout stages at the first attempt
Reigning champions Saracens qualified after a 62-14 demolition of Northampton and will play top seeds Leinster after Wasps thrashed Ulster in Coventry 26-7 on Sunday.
Munster, and French sides La Rochelle and Racing 92, also progressed with wins against Castres, Harlequins and Leicester respectively, in an action-packed Sunday that had threatened to be thrown into chaos by a flooded pitch in Thomond Park and a snow-covered surface in Welford Road.
Ulster came into the weekend as one of three Irish sides topping their groups before a crushing defeat to a fluent Wasps side. This saw Ulster drop to third in Pool 1 and with it went their qualifying chances.
Harlequins succumbed to La Rochelle 16-7 which saw the French debutants top their group and despite moving up to second with that bonus-point win over Ulster, Wasps missed out on the knock-out stages.
Saracens had been struggling after back-to-back Pool 2 defeats to Clermont and a 15-15 draw at Ospreys. However, Sarries hammered Northampton 62-14 on Saturday and that was enough to see them squeak into the knock-out stages.
There, they will face a daunting trip to an impressive Leinster side.
The Irish outfit completed a perfect pool stage campaign with a 23-14 victory at Montpellier on Saturday, but despite finishing with the best record they won't be relishing the prospect of a last-eight clash with the champions.
This is definitely the pick of the quarter-finals although there are some extremely exciting match-ups elsewhere.
Ulster had looked on course for a quarter-final berth but ran into an inspired Wasps side at the Ricoh Arena, who claimed a bonus-point thanks to tries from Guy Thompson, Tom Cruse, Springbok full-back Willie Le Roux and Jake Cooper-Woolley.
Ulster's reply from Sean Reidy was scant consolation for the team from Ravenhill.
Had Ulster won, no English side would have made it into the quarter-finals, just two years after five Premiership sides made it into the last eight.
In a rain-delayed fixture, two-time winners Munster needed to beat Castres to ensure they would top Pool 4 and the result was never in doubt. They racked up a 48-3 thumping in Limerick to qualify as third seeds.
They now prepare for a titanic clash when they host three-time winners Toulon.
Man of the match Keith Earls, Rhys Marshall, Simon Zebo, Alex Wootton and James Cronin crossed the whitewash while Munster also scored a penalty-try as they recorded a 60th win in 64 European games at Thomond Park and a record 17th qualification for the quarter-finals.
La Rochelle scored tries through Pierre Aguillon and Kini Murimurivalu in the first half to take control against Harlequins, who ruined Wasps' hopes with a last-gasp winning try last week.
Playing in the Champions Cup for the first time, La Rochelle now face a trip to Pool 5 winners Scarlets, the first Welsh side in six years to reach the knock-out stage after a thrilling 30-27 win over Toulon.
Finalists two years ago, Racing 92 earned their berth by hanging on to beat Leicester 23-20 at a snowy Welford Road.
The Parisians scored two tries in the first 12 minutes against a team who were already eliminated. Leicester responded to early scores by Henry Chavancy and Maxime Machenaud, and the Tigers pushed Racing until the final minute.
George Ford kicked three penalties before Brendon O'Connor scored a try early in the second half. Twice in the last 15 minutes, Ford converted penalties to level the scores, but Machenaud restored the French sides lead both times.
"We knew it was on the line," Racing's Irish lock forward Donnacha Ryan said. "We showed great determination in the end."
Racing 92 will play away to French champions and last season's finalists Clermont in the quarter-final.