Heineken Cup
Cross-Channel conflict
Tom Hamilton
April 3, 2013
Northampton Saints and Toulouse players come to blows, Toulouse v Northampton Saints, Heineken Cup, Stade Toulousain, Toulouse, France, April 12, 2003
Northampton Saints and Toulouse players come to blows © Getty Images

There have been some belting Anglo-French encounters in the Heineken Cup knockout stages and this weekend's clash between Top 14 leaders Toulon and in-form Leicester at the Stade Felix-Mayol looks set to be another. With this in mind, this week's Scrum Sevens looks back at some quarter-final clashes between the cross-Channel rivals.

Toulouse 51-10 Harlequins

November 8, 1997

Toulouse, the first ever champions of Europe, had their dreams of back-to-back success ended by Leicester at the semi-final stage of the 1996-97 Heineken Cup and this clearly irked Guy Noves' men. When they were drawn against Harlequins in the quarter-finals of the competition the following season, they had the perfect opportunity to achieve some revenge over an Anglo foe. The French giants ran in six tries in total with Pierre Bondouy grabbing a brace.

Harlequins could only muster 10 points - all from French fly-half Thierry Lacroix - as they crashed to a heavy 51-10 loss in Stade Muncipal. And Wasps and Leicester probably empathised with their Premiership rivals. Elsewhere in the competition that weekend Wasps lost to Brive at Loftus Road 25-18 while Leicester shipped a host of points against Pau in Stade Muncipal Hameau eventually losing 35-18.

Toulouse 32-16 Northampton Saints

April 12, 2003

Northampton's East Midlands rivals Leicester scooped the 2001 and 2002 Heineken Cup titles and both teams did enough to make the knockout stages of the European competition in 2003. But the Premiership clubs failed to progress with Leicester falling to Munster 20-7 and the Saints running into a rouge et noir brick wall at the Stade Muncipal.

The first-half was a scrappy affair with Toulouse ruining any hope of first-phase ball at the breakdown. The Saints barely managed to get out of their half - their coach Wayne Smith labelled it "dire stuff, perhaps the worst 40 minutes of rugby I've been involved in".

Toulouse transferred territorial domination into points with Christian Labit crossing for a first-half try, while Ben Cohen was sin-binned, to put them 19-6 in the ascendancy at the break. Cedric Heymans' second-half score put the game beyond Northampton's reach with Yann Delaigue shining from the kicking tee and contributing 16 points. Jon Sleightholme crossed late for the Saints but it proved to be nothing more than a consolation as Toulouse progressed and went on to lift the 2003 trophy.

Biarritz celebrate their win over Sale © Getty Images

Biarritz 11-6 Sale Sharks

April 2, 2006

The 2005-06 campaign was to be a memorable one for those of Sale Sharks persuasion as they ended the season with Premiership silverware to their name. But they crashed out of Europe in the last eight against Basque side Biarritz who would go on to knock out Bath in the next round but fall to Munster in the final.

Sale travelled to San Sebastian for their Heineken Cup quarter-final in what was labelled the biggest game in their history. But despite having the likes of Jason Robinson and Mark Cueto in their side, they failed to break through the resolute Biarritz defence. Instead, it was Dimitri Yachvili's boot along with Sireli Bobo's try that put the French side through.

Northampton's Robbie Kydd is congratulated on his match-winning score, Biarritz v Northampton Saints, Heineken Cup, San Sebastian, Spain, April 1, 2007
The Saints mob Robbie Kydd on his match-winning score © Getty Images

Sale were coached by now French boss Philippe Saint-Andre back in 2006 and he suggested that Biarritz's home advantage proved to be the difference. "We've come a long way in the last 18 months - the last time we came to Biarritz we brought four supporters with us, this time there were many more. Biarritz were extremely well organised in defence and didn't give us any room. But home advantage won them the game. I think we would have won at Edgeley Park."

Biarritz 6-7 Northampton Saints

April 1, 2007

Northampton showed Sale, who fell the previous year to Biarritz, how to win a Heineken Cup quarter-final against the Basque side albeit by the narrowest of margins.It was a match that Biarritz dominated but going into the closing stages of the game, they only had six points to their name with Dimitri Yachvili slotting two penalties. Step forward Robbie Kydd - his intercept try in the 68th minute, coupled with Carlos Spencer's match-winning conversion proved to be enough to secure their path into the semi-finals.

It was the unlikeliest of results with Biarritz Patrice Lagisquet saying after the game that he never saw "this team beating us". For Paul Grayson's Saints team it proved to be a rare ray of sunlight in a season that ended with relegation and he was equally shocked. "Getting a win couldn't have been in our thought processes. We could have been on the end of an old-fashioned walloping. Incredible is a good world for it. It proves on any given day sport can turn up bizarre results."

Leicester celebrate their win over Stade Francais © PA Photos

Leicester Tigers 21-20 Stade Francais

April 1, 2007

In a pulsating game at Welford Road, Leicester and Stade Francais took part in a match that showcased everything that was brilliant about northern hemisphere rugby. It was a brutal spectacle littered with moments of individual brilliance. Saru Rabeni got the scoreboard ticking over for Leicester as he walked in a try following good work from Geordan Murphy. But while Alesana Tuilagi had the Crumbie Stand on its feet with some barnstorming early hits, even the partisan Leicester crowd had to applaud Juan Martin Hernandez's try which saw the two teams go into the break locked at 11 apiece.

Come the second 40 and it was a tale of two boots with Andy Goode facing off against David Skrela - the Frenchman profited more than his English counterpart and with the clock ticking into the final 10 minutes, Leicester were 20-14 down. But that master finisher Tom Varndell went over under the posts and coupled with Goode's conversion and some committed defence, the Tigers had their 21-20 win.

Their triumph meant that three English teams went into the final four of the competition. Their neighbours Northampton went on to fall to Wasps while Leicester beat the Llanelli Scarlets to book their place in a final - a game that the Londoners won.

London Irish 20-9 Perpignan

April 5, 2008

It was billed as a match of contrast - London Irish's pace and attacking philosophy was to come up against Perpignan's gnarly pack of forwards and attritional style. And that was the tale of the game with Irish proving to be too much for Perpignan as they progressed to the final four of the Heineken Cup for the first time.

Club stalwart Declan Danaher scored the sole try of the match while Peter Hewat kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Exiles with 15 points from the boot. South African World Cup-winner Percy Montgomery contributed three penalties, but it was Brian Smith's London Irish who emerged 20-9 to the good. Perpignan's frustration eventually boiled over when Viliami Vaki was sent-off for punching Steffon Armitage, but the Exiles cared not a jot.

Saracens' Rhys Gill and Clermont's David Zirakashvili get to know each other, Saracens v Clermont Auvergne, Heineken Cup, Vicarage Road, London, April 8, 2012
Clermont's David Zirakashvili does his best to contain Saracens' Rhys Gill © Getty Images

Saracens 3-22 Clermont Auvergne

April 8, 2012

Despite claiming all season that "something special" was happening at Saracens, the Aviva Premiership champions came crashing back to earth against Clermont Auvergne at their rickety old ground Vicarage Road. Clermont, perhaps the best team never to have won a Heineken Cup, crashed out of the competition to Leinster in the next round, but they looked red hot favourites for the title following their mauling of Saracens.

Lee Byrne scored the only try of the game but they were playing a brand of clinical rugby which meant Sarries were never really at the races. Brock James knocked over 17 points for Clermont, exercising the demons from the previous year where his kicking horror show against Leinster contributed to his team's exit from the competition. Aurelien Rougerie and Julian Bonnaire also put in huge showings for Les Jaunards with their physicality prominent throughout. Sarries' defeat meant that for just the third time in the competition's history, England did not have a representative in the semi-finals.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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