The business end of the domestic season is upon us and it’s fair to say that a blockbuster weekend of fixtures did not disappoint.
It was semi-finals time in the Gallagher Premiership as well as the United Rugby Championship, with a strong Guinness Six Nations cohort starring across both competitions this weekend.
Likewise in France, where the penultimate weekend of the Top 14 delivered a few more upsets to round off a spell-binding couple of days across the continent.
Munster stun rivals to reach final
Munster advanced to the URC final at the expense of fierce rivals Leinster after a stunning last-gasp Jack Crowley drop-goal.
The dramatic 16-15 victory in the derby has given Graham Rowntree’s men a chance to end a 12-year wait for a trophy.
Leinster did rest a number of key players ahead of their Heineken Champions Cup final against La Rochelle next weekend but still fielded a formidable looking side which included Ireland regulars Jack Conan, Ronan Kelleher and Robbie Henshaw.
After a tense start to proceedings at Aviva Stadium, Jason Jenkins’ converted try on the stroke of half time gave the hosts a 10-6 lead at the break.
Tadhg Beirne drove over for Munster’s sole try early in the second half before Joe McCarthy responded for Leinster.
Ciaran Frawley was unable to add the extras however, leaving Crowley with a chance to steal victory two minutes from time and send Munster to a final in Cape Town against the Stormers.
The South African side held off Connacht to win their home semi-final 43-25.
Mack Hansen was among the scorers for the Galway club but they were unable to contend with a Manie Libbok-inspired Stormers side in what was director of rugby Andy Friend’s final game in charge.
Saracens and Sale Sharks to meet in Twickenham showpiece
Saracens and Sale Sharks will go head-to-head at Twickenham in two weekends time as the top two in the regular season secured safe passage to the grand final.
Sarries advanced to their seventh Premiership final in 10 years with a five-try 38-15 win over Northampton Saints at StoneX Stadium.
Scotland’s Sean Maitland crossed twice, while England flyer Max Malins was also a try-scorer as Owen Farrell looked back to his best from tee, adding 11 points to the North London club’s total.
Saints, who were searching for a first win at the StoneX since 2016, were punished for a slow start as Sarries ran in three tries in the opening half hour to hold a 21-3 lead at the interval.
Scrum-half Alex Mitchell and James Ramm offered the visitors hope but a penalty try and a Malins score on his final home appearance for Sarries ended any lingering hope of an upset.
They will play Sale in the final after Alex Sanderson’s men edged past holders Leicester Tigers 21-13 at AJ Bell Stadium.
Captain Ben Curry left proceedings early on with what looked a season ending injury but the hosts responded well, with George Ford delivering a virtuoso performance.
He kicked 11 points to steer Sale into the final at the expense of his former club and they are now just 80 minutes away from becoming champions of England once again after a 17-year wait.
Top two toppled in France
League leaders Toulouse and second-place La Rochelle both suffered surprise away defeats in the Top 14 on Saturday.
Victory for Toulouse would have assured them of top spot ahead of the post-season play offs but they were beaten 26-21 by second-bottom Perpignan.
An early Perpignan onslaught put Le Stade on the back foot before Matthis Lebel and Thomas Ramos crossed in the space of five minutes to leave just two points in it at half time.
Tristan Tedder then added three second-half penalties in a try-less second half to steer Perpignan to a shock victory which pulled them further clear of rock-bottom Brive.
La Rochelle were unable to capitalise and with one eye on their final in Dublin next Saturday, were beaten 42-31 in a thrilling game against holders Montpellier.
Elsewhere, Damian Penaud was on the scoresheet as Clermont lost to Bayonne, while Saracens-bound and England hopeful Tom Willis scored as Bordeaux-Begles put Pau to the sword in a convincing 28-0 triumph.