Toulon, Clermont heading to quarters with Munster

AFP, PARIS and Suva

Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - Page 19

Defending champions Toulon, French rivals Clermont and former winners Munster all secured places in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup on Saturday.

The day’s results also ensured that Ulster and Leicester advance into the last eight.

A Jonny Wilkinson-skippered Toulon side had too much power for the Cardiff Blues in Pool 2, running out 43-20 winners thanks largely to a dominant scrum.

A bonus point for a fourth try at the death set Toulon atop their pool on 20 points, with the Blues in second on 13.

“We had a big point to prove after last week,” Toulon No 8 Steffon Armitage said, in reference to last week’s 22-21 Top 14 loss to Grenoble, which incensed coach Bernard Laporte.

Winger David Smith scored Toulon’s other try, with Wilkinson booting four penalties and conversions.

The Blues scored tries through Filo Paulo and Sam Hobbs, with British Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny hitting two penalties and two conversions, but they paid for four yellow cards.

Clermont overcame a 10-point half-time deficit to claim a slim 16-13 away victory over Harlequins.

The win meant that the French giants will top Pool 4, having amassed 19 points from their five games, seven ahead of second-placed Quins with a game in hand.

Clermont came out firing and a frantic start saw fly-half Brock James notching up his first penalty in the third minute.

After No. 8 Fritz Lee broke away, James landed a crosskick, but Fiji winger Napolioni Nalaga could not hold it with the line begging and Lee putting down a try-scoring pass from the resulting line-out.

A piece of individual brilliance from Quins’ England scrum-half Danny Care then lit up the Stoop.

Care latched on to an unlikely chip ahead from skipper Chris Robshaw, but found himself bound for touch at a lick. Carefully avoiding the whitewash, Care threw a blind one-handed pass behind him, which Matt Hooper caught for a clear run-in.

The momentum swung the way of the London club, Evans booting a penalty after his own slick break, with Clermont left to rue their missed chances.

Munster booked their 15th appearance in the last eight as Pool 6 winners after an impressive 20-7 win at Gloucester.

In Pool 5, two-time Cup winners Leicester withstood an early onslaught from Italian outfit Treviso to run out 34-19 bonus-point winners.

The day’s results mean Pool 5 leaders Ulster and Leicester qualify as both are assured of at least finishing as best runners-up.

In other rugby news, Fiji’s cash-strapped rugby union yesterday pledged to be back on side with the International Rugby Board (IRB) in four months after its World Cup plans were dashed when all financial aid was cut.

The IRB on Saturday said it had axed all direct financial support because Fiji rugby bosses had failed to implement recommended measures to address “significant concerns regarding the administration and governance of the union.”

The Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) responded that it was dealing with the issues and would still go to the IRB for money if it needed to.

“Please note that all these issues were inherited by this current FRU board and the board expects to clear up all these issues by end of May 2014,” the FRU said.

The FRU said it had so far used £200,000 (US$329,000) of a £250,000 grant toward its 2015 World Cup campaign.

“The FRU Board will only ask for the further funding from IRB only if absolutely necessary or not at all, and reserve this funding for our World Cup preparations,” it added in a statement.

Although £50,000 remained in the World Cup kitty, Fiji coach Inoke Male said that “more funds from the IRB would have to be good for Fiji.”

The IRB said it committed “£1.1 million in direct funding to the FRU in 2013 and significant additional financial assistance to participate in international tournaments in 2013,” adding that it had expressed concerns that the “financial position of the [Fiji] union is unsustainable.”