Two-time defending champions Leinster defeated Exeter 29-20 on Saturday to stay alive in the European Cup, but faced a nailbiting wait yesterday to see whether they would get a chance to win a fourth title in five years.
The Irish side finished second in Pool 5 behind runaway leaders Clermont and could only make the quarter-finals by claiming the remaining best runners-up spot after Montpellier booked their last-eight place earlier in the day.
Leinster had trailed Exeter 17-12 at the interval after converted tries from Neil Clark and a penalty try helped edge the visitors’ scores from Gordon D’Arcy and Rob Kearney. Brian O’Driscoll then brought Leinster level before Jamie Heaslip’s try earned a bonus point victory.
Leinster finished their group campaign with 20 points, but Irish rivals Munster could deny them a quarter-final spot if they scored four tries and beat Racing Metro yesterday in Pool 1 where Saracens were also expected to qualify by beating Edinburgh.
“We can’t control anything else that happens. There certainly won’t be any celebrating from us because we know that Munster have a real target,” Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt said.
“That is one of the advantages of playing on the Sunday as they know clearly what they have to chase. They’ll clearly work really hard and make sure that they get as close to that as possible against Racing,” he said.
Clermont had already made sure of their quarter-final place and Saturday’s 29-0 win over the Scarlets gave them 28 points from six wins and a home clash in the next round against Montpellier.
Montpellier defeated Toulon 23-3 in an emotionally draining clash to reach the quarter-finals.
Montpellier, playing just days after the death of forwards coach Eric Bechu, finished their Pool 6 campaign on 22 points, enough to take one of the two best runners-up spots.
Despite the defeat, Toulon had already made the last eight as pool winners.
Toulon, who finished on 23 points, missed out on a bonus point that could have guaranteed a home quarter-final.
In the day’s other Pool 6 game, Cardiff Blues saw off Sale 26-14.
Last season’s beaten finalists Ulster rounded off their pool campaign by beating Castres 9-8, but they were unable to get the bonus point that would have strengthened their chances of a home quarter-final.
The 1999 European Cup winners, who topped Pool 4 with 23 points, had to wait until yesterday to see if they would entertain their quarter-final opponents in Belfast.
In the pool’s other match, Glasgow beat English giants Northampton 27-20.