Perfect Saracens into quarter-finals

Schalk Brits (Getty Images)
Schalk Brits (Getty Images)

Paris - Saracens became the first team to reach the European Champions Cup on Saturday with a 33-17 victory over Ulster with two-time winners Leicester poised to join their English rivals in the last-eight.

Irish centre Luke Marshall gave Ulster an early lead in the Pool 1 game but a try from Billy Vunipola helped the English Premiership leaders into a 13-7 advantage at the interval.

Duncan Taylor, Maro Itoje and Schalk Brits added further scores for Saracens in the second half which gave them a bonus point victory and a fifth win in five games.

It also allowed them to secure a home tie in the quarter-finals with the win helping to ease the disappointment of losing their unbeaten record in the Premiership at the hands of Harlequins last week.

Saracens, the runners-up to Toulon in 2014, have 24 points while 1999 champions Ulster stay in second place in the pool on 13 points, still with a chance of making the knockout rounds as one of the three best runners-up.

"This competition is massive - it's the best of the best," said Saracens' England fly-half Owen Farrell, who was named man of the match for his inspirational playmaking and his 13 points.

"We don't pick and choose when to turn up in matches, because we want to win every game, but we have been up there in the Champions Cup in the last few years.

Farrell, watched by England coach Eddie Jones, added: "We've been working hard this season to get off to a kind of start we've had, but now we've got to make sure it stays that way."

Four-time champions Toulouse slumped to the foot of the table after a 32-14 loss at French rivals Oyannax.

In Pool 4, Irish province Munster severely dented the hopes of Stade Francais of reaching the quarter-finals with a 26-13 home win over the French champions.

The bonus point win was just their second success of the pool stages and leaves them in third place with 10 points.

Stade were left stranded on 14 points, four behind Leicester who were expected to pick up maximum points later Saturday at home to Treviso and clinch qualification for the next round.

The French side would then have to defeat Leicester in Paris in the final pool game to have any chance of advancing as one of the best runner-up teams.

Munster had the best of a physical first half at Thomond Park, scoring two tries to nil as Stade Francais struggled to compete.

The first came after 32 minutes when hooker Mike Sherry powered over after an impressive driving line-out, while the second was a solo effort from centre Keith Earls on the stroke of half-time, bursting through a gap in the Stade ranks from the halfway line and sliding in under a late tackle.

The French had only two Morne Steyn penalties to show for their efforts as Munster turned with a 12-6 lead and things went from bad to worse for the visitors one minute into the second half.

Fly-half Ian Keatley was the architect sending through an inch-perfect chip for winger Simon Zebo to collect and score between the posts.

Stade were guilty of squandering several good scoring opportunities due to turnovers, but they got themselves back into the game with 17 minutes to go.

There looked to be little danger to the home side before an overthrown line-out in their own half was gobbled up by flanker Jonjo Jones who thundered in under the posts from 25 yards out.

The door was briefly open for Stade but three minutes later it shut again as the Munster pack bossed their way forward and South African flanker and club skipper CJ Stander muscled his way over after Connor Murray took a quick tap.

The French side went out in search of a second try that would have given them a defensive bonus point but they came up short.

In Saturday's other early game Bordeaux edged Exeter 34-27 in a Pool 2 thriller.

Welsh side Ospreys still lead the group after a superb 21-13 win over last year's runner-up Clermont and remains two points clear.

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England 219
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England 219
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