Toulon, Quins, Clermont into European Cup quarters

French giants Toulon and Clermont, as well as English champions Harlequins, joined Ulster in the European Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

Toulon's Delon Armitage (R) vies with Cardiff's Rhys Patchell during their European Cup rugby union match on January 12, 2013 in Toulon. Toulon and English champions Harlequins joined Ulster in the quarter-finals of the European Cup after convincing wins over Cardiff Blues and Connacht.

Toulon routed Cardiff Blues 45-25 in Pool 6, Harlequins beat Irish province Connacht 47-8 in Pool 3 while Clermont topped Pool 5 with a 46-3 rout of Exeter.

That result meant that two-time defending champions Leinster, who collected a bonus-point 33-14 win over the Scarlets, were left hoping to secure a place in the last eight as one of two best runners-up when group games conclude next week.

Toulon manager Bernard Laporte congratulated his players on showing character in bouncing back from their home defeat in the Top 14 by Racing-Metro last week.

"We fulfilled our objective, which was to win and qualify for the quarter-finals," said the former France coach.

"The bonus point allows us to approach the final pool match in the best possible conditions to ensure we have a home quarter-final, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, nothing has been achieved yet."

Cardiff opened the scoring with a penalty from Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who was then on hand to round off a midfield move that saw Gavin Evans glide past a stationary Mathieu Bastareaud.

But Toulon fired back with quickfire tries from Kiwi winger Rudi Wulf and prop Xavier Chiocci, both converted by Jonny Wilkinson.

Hooker Jean-Charles Orioli was played in by Frederic Michalak and Chris Masoe for Toulon's third try just before half-time, France centre Maxime Mermoz and winger Alexis Palisson bagging a swift brace after the restart.

In London, Harlequins beat Irish province Connacht 47-8 in a six-try-to-one thrashing, ex-All Black fly-half Nick Evans chipping in with 15 points with the boot.

Saracens all but sealed their place in the last eight, prevailing against the odds with a 37-28 win over French opponents Racing-Metro in a thrilling Pool 1 clash.

The English side lead the pool by six points from Racing and will have their place confirmed in the quarter-finals if Munster lose to Edinburgh on Sunday.

Saracens won despite having at one point trailed 19-6 and at two stages of the game been reduced to 14 men for yellow cards to Will Fraser, for elbowing Juan-Martin Hernandez, and England wing Chris Ashton for slapping former France centre Fabrice Estebanez.

The hosts, who had chosen to play the game in Nantes, ran in three tries in the first-half, two to Argentinian wing Juan Jose Imhoff, but were never able to shake off the English side.

That was mainly thanks to a peerless kicking display by fly-half Owen Farrell, who kicked 11 from 11, 10 penalties and one conversion, for a total of 32 points.

Clermont reached the quarter-finals for the fifth time with their 46-3 win over Exeter.

The French side scored six tries through Jean-Marcellin Buttin (two), Wesley Fofana, Damien Chouly, David Skrela and Napolioni Nalaga.

Leinster ran in five tries to beat the Scarlets with Cian Healy, Shane Jennings, Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Ian Madigan all crossing.

But the Irish side, champions in 2009, 2011 and 2012, will need a bonus-point win at Exeter next weekend to keep their last-eight hopes alive.

Ulster, the runners-up in 2012, secured their quarter-final spot on Friday with a 23-6 win over Glasgow.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency