France’s Guinness Six Nations stars made their presence felt in European action this weekend as Toulouse and La Rochelle booked their place at Twickenham in the Heineken Champions Cup final.
Grégory Alldritt’s second-half try put La Rochelle on course for their first-ever Champions Cup final, helping the side from the Atlantic Coast get the better of Leinster.
That came a day after Antoine Dupont’s try had sealed Toulouse’s victory in an all-French clash with Bordeaux-Bègles.
La Rochelle’s win at the Stade Marcel Deflandre was a terrific effort, seeing off four-time champions Leinster 32-23 in their first semi-final at this level.
Pierre Bourgarit, who featured in wins over Italy and Ireland in the Guinness Six Nations, was named Player of the Match, but it was a complete effort from the home pack to get the better of their opponents.
Uini Atonio shone in the scrum, and made plenty of ground in the loose as well, while Alldritt was tireless as he finished as the game’s top carrier.
And while Leinster, who had scored first through Ireland tighthead Tadhg Furlong, looked the stronger in the opening 40 minutes, La Rochelle were able to come back.
They led 18-16 when Alldritt powered over for the first try of the game, with Will Skelton adding a second seven minutes from time to effectively seal the contest.
Despite Ross Byrne’s late effort, Leinster had left themselves too much to do.
La Rochelle will take on Toulouse in the final, after the four-time champions got the better of Bordeaux-Bègles in damp conditions, 21-9.
In a battle between France’s top two fly-halves, Romain Ntamack and Matthieu Jalibert, the latter more than held his own. But in the big moments, Toulouse had the edge that comes from experience of winning this competition four times.
Matthis Lebel finished impressively to give the hosts an early lead, helped by a lovely batted pass by experienced full-back Maxime Médard.
Jalibert’s boot did get Bordeaux in front, but a penalty just before half-time from Ntamack gave Toulouse an 8-6 half-time lead.
They extended that to 14-9 and with ten minutes to go, Dupont, as he does so often, popped up at the right moment to seal victory.
In the European Challenge Cup, Ellis Genge and George Ford played their part as Leicester Tigers came from behind to see off Ulster 33-24, the prop grabbing one of three Tigers tries, while Ford contributed 18 points from the kicking tee.
Iain Henderson and Billy Burns both crossed for Ulster, but they allowed Leicester to come back, having led 17-6 at one point.
Leicester will play Montpellier in the final at Twickenham, with the French side getting the better of Bath 19-10.
France flanker Yacouba Camara scored the visitors’ only try at the Rec, responding to Tom Dunn’s early score for Bath.
And thereafter it was their defence, spearheaded by France lock Paul Willemse, which was able to suffocate Bath and earn victory.
Finally in the Top 14 Teddy Thomas helped himself to a double in a losing cause for Racing 92, beaten 35-29 in their derby clash with Stade Français, while Louis Carbonel inspired Toulon to victory over Agen and former France scrum-half Morgan Parra kicked 17 points in Clermont’s win over Brive.