England will meet France in the Champions Cup final next month with Exeter Chiefs and Racing 92 set to do battle just a week before the 2020 Guinness Six Nations re-starts.
Racing 92 dumped out defending champions Saracens in a thrilling encounter in Paris, with Scotland’s Finn Russell and France’s Virimi Vakatawa combining beautifully to set up the winning try.
Exeter then overpowered Toulouse in the later game, with England back-row Sam Simmonds scoring a try in a man-of-the-match performance.
Russell the genius
The day’s action started in Paris, where Racing 92 powered to a late 19-15 victory against defending champions Saracens.
The hosts led 9-6 at the end of a tight first half thanks to three penalties from scrum-half Teddy Iribaren but the visitors surged back after the break, with England’s Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola particularly impressive.
Vunipola is yet to feature in the 2020 Championship due to injuries but he appeared back to his best in Paris, making more carries than any of his teammates and hounding the Racing 92 players in defence.
Saracens created three penalty chances for Alex Goode and he took advantage, sending all of them through the posts to put Saracens ahead.
However, Racing roared back late on as France’s Maxime Machenaud cut the deficit from the tee before Scotland’s Russell produced a moment of magic.
The fly-half is one of the most creative half-backs in Europe and he dinked a deft chip over the Saracens defence for Vakatawa to latch onto.
He surged into space upfield and passed to Juan Imhoff, who sprinted clear to score the decisive try.
Exeter stand between Racing 92 and a first Champions Cup title after they saw off Toulouse to reach their first European final.
Prop Harry Williams did his hopes of an England recall no harms at all, with two tries in the 28-18 success.
The tighthead missed out on England’s initial Guinness Six Nations squad but he was in brilliant form along with Simmonds – who has not played for England since the 2018 Championship, with a serious knee injury derailing his international career.
He scored the Chiefs’ second try to edge them 14-11 ahead at half-time, with Alban Placines responding for a Toulouse side containing France half-backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.
Exeter hit the gas again in the second half, with Williams crossing for his second and Joe Simmonds finishing it off at the death.