Super-sub Dan Carter played a game-changing cameo as Racing 92 beat Top 14 rivals Clermont 28-17 on Sunday to set up a European Champions Cup semi-final against Munster.
In the weekend’s fourth and final quarter-final, an impressive-looking Leinster overcame two-time defending champions Saracens 30-19. They will play Scarlets in the last-four, the Welsh region having beaten La Rochelle 29-17 on Friday.
All Black great Carter may be in his French swansong before a move to Japan ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup, but he has lost none of his guile.
The 36-year-old replaced Virimi Vakatawa on the hour mark with strict instructions to speed the game up with ball in hand against a tiring Clermont side.
He did exactly that, the fly-half producing a defence-busting jink and pass to Marc Andreu that saw the winger in for a decisive try.
“Coming to play in France, Europe was on my priority list,” said Carter, who amassed a world record 1,598 points in 112 Tests for New Zealand.
“Clermont is a tough place to come and play and even tougher to win.”
Carter dubbed Munster, who edged three-time champions Toulon 20-19 on Saturday, the “form side in Europe”.
“They’re a class side, well drilled, so we’re going to have pull something special out to get to the final.”
Clermont, who were hammered 49-0 by Toulon in the Top 14 last week, took an early lead through three Morgan Parra penalties.
Racing’s Fijian lock Leone Nakarawa scored the first try of a fiercely-contested game at a packed-out Marcel-Michelin stadium.
Andreu ducked a tackle and weaved his way upfield before offloading to versatile hooker Camille Chat. The ball was quickly recycled to Nakawara, who saw a gaping hole open up in front of him for a jaunt in to the side of the posts.
Clermont responded immediately through Peter Betham, the Australian winger taking a long Parra pass and fending off Louis Dupichot for a try in the corner.
Maxime Machenaud kicked a penalty to drag Racing to within a point of the home team to leave the game finely poised at half-time.
The France scrum-half briefly took Racing into the lead with another penalty early in the second period before Parra restored Clermont’s hold.
– ‘Shocking’ decisions –
Everything then changed in the space of a couple of minutes after the introduction of super-sub Carter.
First, Carter left the vocal ‘yellow army’ of home fans raging after he got away with a marginally forward flat pass that saw Andreu into space and over for Racing’s second try.
Clermont coach Franck Azema said Carter’s pass was a metre forward, one of what he called some “shocking” refereeing decisions.
And then, breaks by Carter and Teddy Thomas left Clermont’s defence split, Boris Palu taking a long pass and riding Nick Abendanon’s tackle for a five-pointer to bury Clermont’s hopes.
Things were all a little more clear-cut in Dublin, albeit with a similar 11-point winning deficit.
Leinster, with flanker Dan Leavy to the fore, were masterful at the breakdown and won the battle of collisions, showing all the hallmarks of a team boasting a raft of recalled internationals fresh from helping Ireland to a Six Nations Grand Slam.
An electrifying start saw James Lowe skin Liam Williams down his wing and offload to Isa Nacewa, the Irish province’s skipper drawing his man to hand centre Garry Ringrose an easy run-in for the opening try.
Owen Farrell and Marcelo Bosch responded with four penalties for Saracens either side of a conversion and two penalties from Jonathan Sexton.
But Leinster opened the second period with serious intent, Leavy finding Maro Itoje napping at a ruck and sprinting clear for a try, Lowe soon after driven over for the team’s third.
Blair Cowan grabbed a consolation for Saracens, but by then the game was long gone. It will be the first time since 2012 that there’s no English club in the semi-finals.
“We’re delighted to get through to a semi-final,” said Sexton. “It’s great to get a win against them.
“All these big games come down to small moments. But Scarlets will have no fear, they beat us here in the league semi last year. It’ll be a tough game again.”
© Agence France-Presse