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Champions Cup

Ulster reach Champions Cup quarter finals

Featuring James Nesbitt.

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

A strong second half showing saw Ulster reach their first European quarter final since 2014, beating Leicester 14-13 this afternoon

It was a scrappy opening half at Welford Road, both sides getting turned over multiple times, and handling errors and misplaced passes the order of the day. Both sides had 5 handling errors after half an hour. Ulster struggles out of touch, several lineout throws going amiss for Rory Best.

Leicester came close to the Ulster line after around 25 minutes, after a rare break from Dan Cole, but a dropped ball saw to that chance. First points of the game went to Leicester, George Ford slotted a penalty kick after 31 minutes.

Ulster had their first sniff of the Leicester 22 shortly before half time. Stuart McCloskey smashed through the Leicester defensive line, but nobody was there to support Dave Shanahan after he took the offload, and the chance was lost, much to the dismay of some of the famous faces in the crowd.

The games first try came with the clock in the red. Quick ball from the Leicester forwards fed George Ford, who stuck a nicely weighted grubber kick through the Ulster defence, for Matt Toomua to touch down. There was a hint of Toomua being in front of the kicker but the ref awarded the try without consulting the TMO. Ford converted from the right hand touch line to make it 10-0 at half time.

The second half started with more of the same. Ulster again letting themselves down with the basics, leaving the ball unprotected at the breakdown a number of times. Leicester went 13-0 ahead after 50 mins, another kick from George Ford.

Ulster squandered a great chance not long later. A penalty well in kicking distance was put in the corner, and Ulster lost the ball in the resulting maul. Nothing was going the way of the men from the North. A pinpoint Billy Burns crosskick landed in the arms of Nick Timoney, who offloaded to Sean Reidy, but some brilliant defensive work from George Ford forced the knock on.

The introduction of John Cooney made a huge difference, his direction finally allowed Ulster to string a few phases together in attack, and look threatening. A strong lineout maul saw Marty Moore finally get some points on the board for Ulster, after 58 minutes. Cooney nailed the kick to make it 13-7.

The try put the wind in Ulster’s sails, and they began playing with real confidence. A beautiful chip from Billy Burns bounced into the hands of Robert Baloucoune who touched down under the sticks to put Ulster in front.

While Ulster got the job done today, there is cause for concern. No points until the 55th minute, and 4 lineouts lost on their own throw, they will have much to work on between now and the end of March, when they will have an away quarter final against Pool toppers Racing 92, Leinster, Saracens or Edinburgh.

Challenge Cup

Champions Cup And Challenge Cup Finals Moved From Marseille

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(Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Due to the many uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been decided that the 2020 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals will not now be held in Marseille as planned and the matches will be played at a new venue or venues.

With tens of thousands of fans scheduled to travel to the south of France, the Board of EPCR and the local organising committee have agreed that insufficient safeguards are currently in place during the public health crisis to stage two high-profile matches at the 67,000-capacity Stade Vélodrome.

As a consequence, EPCR is currently working with its shareholder leagues and unions to secure an alternative venue or venues for the two finals which will be played on the weekend of 16/17/18 October, and details will be announced as soon as practicable.

As part of this adjustment to its future planning, EPCR is pleased to announce that Marseille will now host the 2021 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals at the Stade Vélodrome on the weekend of 21/22 May, and that the matches at the 62,000-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London will be rescheduled for 2022.

Tickets for this season’s finals will be valid for the 2021 weekend with no change to category or seating, and all ticket holders will be contacted by email within the next 48 hours with details of how to avail of a full refund if required.

As previously communicated, the quarter-finals of both tournaments will be played on the weekend of 18/19/20 September with the semi-finals scheduled for the weekend of 25/26/27 September. Exact dates, venues, kick-off times and TV coverage will be announced as soon as possible.

As is now customary during the pandemic, the matches will be subject to government guidelines with the health and welfare of players, club staff, match officials, supporters and the wider rugby community to the fore.

2020 EPCR dates:

  • Quarter-finals: weekend of 18/19/20 September
  • Semi-finals: weekend of 25/26/27 September
  • Heineken Champions Cup final: weekend of 16/17/18 October (venue TBC)
  • Challenge Cup final: weekend of 16/17/18 October (venue TBC)
  • Start of 2020/21 season: weekend of 11/12/13 December.

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Champions Cup

Exeter Ace Signs Contract Extension

Following the news that England star Harry Williams has agreed a new deal with Exeter Chiefs another star player has committed his future to the Premiership giants

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

England prop Ben Moon has put pen to paper on a new deal with Premiership side the Exeter Chiefs.

The eight-cap England international has agreed a new “long-term” deal that will see him remain at Sandy Park for the foreseeable future and he is delighted to be staying at his hometown club. 

“Obviously, I’m delighted. To be at one club your whole career is pretty rare these days. The fact it’s my hometown club as well, it’s brilliant, and I feel very privileged to be part of the Chiefs. Luckily for me, I’ve been part of a brilliant journey – one which I know has plenty of miles still to go. What we have achieved as a club, as a team, and as individuals, it’s taken a huge amount of work and effort, but everyone has seen the result,” he said to the club’s website. 

Moon has been with the Chiefs since his time in the academy and has managed to pick up an incredible 259 appearances for the club, notching 11 tries in that time. 

He has been part of the team since their time in the English second-tier and has helped them rise up the ranks, culminating in a Premiership crown in 2017. 

It is further good news for the current Premiership league leaders after fellow England international Harry Williams signed a contract extension with the club over the weekend as the Chiefs build toward the future.

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Challenge Cup

EPCR Confirm European Competition Postponements

European Rugby have announced that the latter stages of the Champions and Challenge Cups will be pushed back due to coronavirus

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(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

EPCR have released a statement to confirm that the semi-final and final stages of this year’s Champions and Challenge Cup will be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week it was announced that the quarter-final stage set to take place across the first weekend of April would be suspended and now the final stages have followed suit as expected the ECPR have confirmed. 

“Following a conference call on Monday, the EPCR board can reconfirm the suspension of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments and has furthermore decided to postpone the semi-final matches, as well as the 2020 Marseille finals, which were due to be played on the weekends of 1/2/3 May and 22/23 May respectively. In making the decision, the board is abiding by the official directives and recommendations of the relevant authorities in its territories to restrict the Covid-19 pandemic. In light of the earlier postponement of its quarter-final matches and with fixtures in Europe’s professional league competitions currently suspended due to the public health crisis, EPCR believes it necessary to provide as much clarity as possible to all stakeholders regarding the knockout stages of its tournaments. To that end, EPCR is working with the leagues and unions to restructure a conclusion to its season as part of a wider rescheduling of the remainder of the season in Europe, with all contingencies underpinned by the requirement to protect the health and welfare of players, club staff, match officials, supporters and the wider rugby community.  EPCR remains committed to completing the 2019/20 Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup season, and it is planned to reschedule the quarter-final and semi-final matches, as well as the Marseille finals, in line with fixtures in the professional league competitions, subject to advice from government and local authorities,” the statement read. 

The final weekend was set to take place in Marseille and reports last weekend had claimed that officials were still hopeful of finishing there on the chosen date. 

However, even with this announcement it is hard to see when they will conclude the European season as all domestic leagues have been suspended until further notice and the clock is ticking toward the start of next season as it appears unlikely that any rugby will be played in the foreseeable future.

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