Steffon Armitage stars as Toulon first into European Champions Cup quarter-finals
Steffon Armitage scored a hat-trick as Toulon turned on the power and style in becoming the first side to reach the European Champions Cup quarter-finals following Saturday`s 60-22 win over Ulster.
Paris: Steffon Armitage scored a hat-trick as Toulon turned on the power and style in becoming the first side to reach the European Champions Cup quarter-finals following Saturday`s 60-22 win over Ulster.
The reigning champions earnt a bonus point after running in eight tries through Nicolas Sanchez, Bryan Habana, Mathieu Bastareaud, Martin Castrogiovanni, Armitage`s treble and Mamuka Gorgodze.
Leigh Halfpenny kicked 20 points for the hosts while Ulster curiously managed an attacking bonus point with four tries of their own from Paddy Jackson, Mike McComish, Jared Payne and Lewis Stevenson.
The try-fest -- 12 in total -- gave Toulon a five-point lead over Leicester, who got a bonus point in a 40-23 thrashing of Scarlets on Friday night, at the top of Pool 3.
As Toulon took five competition points compared to Leicester`s four in the two games between the sides, the French champions cannot now be overtaken by the Tigers.
Leicester will need to win away to Ulster in their final group match next weekend, and probably with a bonus point too, if they are to join Toulon in the last eight.
Ulster came into the match knowing that only an unlikely upset would keep their faint hopes alive and for the first half hour, they remained in contention.
Toulon had raced into a 10-0 lead after Sanchez found a gap in the away defence to touch down under the posts, with Halfpenny converting and adding a penalty.
But a pair of tries from Jackson and McComish, either side of another penalty from British and Irish Lions star Halfpenny, left the score at 13-10 on the half hour mark.
But South Africa wing Habana finished off a sweeping backs move and burly centre Bastareaud burst through the defence before completing two full rolls to get over the tryline as Toulon turned the screw.
Halfpenny converted both and the champions led 27-10 at the break.
The bonus point try arrived on 49 minutes as Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni finished off a set five-metre line-out move down the blindside.
Toulon turned on the style and stretched Ulster all over the pitch before Armitage scored in the right corner from Sebastien Tillous-Borde`s long pass that bypassed all covering defenders.
The swashbuckling French side then ran the ball through the hands from inside their own half -- with all three front-rowers getting involved -- before replacement flanker Gorgodze touched down.
Armitage scored his second with a simple catch-and-drive from a close range line-out to bring up the half century as Halfpenny continued his immaculate kicking with a ninth successful goal.
Ulster may have been outclassed but Payene collected Ian Humphreys`s grubber kick to finish off an excellent move, before Stevenson was driven over from a driving maul.
But Armitage had the last word with his hat-trick after a quickly taken tap penalty.In London Saracens were desperate to get a bonus point to boost their quarter-final chances -- particularly given their final Pool A match is away to Clermont.
But they came up just short despite eliminating Munster with a 33-10 win at the Allianz Park.
Although Owen Farrell kicked three first half penalties for the hosts, some of Sarries` decision-making clearly showed they were concerned with notching the extra point.
They had the game as good as won by the break leading 23-3 after wings Chris Wyles and Chris Ashton both dotted down.
Munster resorted to infringing at the breakdown in the second half as Sarries continued to go in search of the tries they needed.
It resulted in prop James Cronin being sent to the sin bin but that roused the visitors who crossed the whitewash through centre Denis Hurley.
Saracens did make the extra man count with seven minutes left as Ashton crossed for his second try but they will now probably need at least a losing bonus at Clermont to stay in this competition.