Racing 92 or Exeter Chiefs will be crowned champions of Europe for the first time after beating defending champions Saracens and Toulouse respectively on Saturday.

Juan Imhoff's brilliant late try secured a 19-15 victory for Racing in the first semi-final at La Defense Arena, ending Sarries' hopes of winning the Champions Cup for the fourth time in five seasons.

Five Alex Goode penalties gave Saracens – relegated from the Premiership for salary-cap breaches – a lead of six points with 13 minutes to go in Paris.

Maxime Machenaud struck Racing's fourth penalty of the game following three from Teddy Iribaren to reduce the deficit and Imhoff raced away to score four minutes from time after taking a pass from Virimi Vakatawa, who was picked out by a clever Finn Russell kick.

Machenaud converted and the 2016 and 2018 runners-up held on to dump out Sarries, who lost captain Brad Barritt to injury in the final quarter of a gripping contest.

Exeter will play Racing in their first Champions Cup final on October 17 at Ashton Gate, Bristol after defeating Toulouse 28-18.

The Chiefs kept their Premiership and Champions Cup double dreams alive with a powerful performance, Harry Williams scoring two of their four tries at Sandy Park.

Joe Simmonds scored a try and eight points from the tee, while his brother Sam also crossed to deny four-time European champions a place in an all-Top 14 showdown.

Alban Placines and Matthis Lebel scored Toulouse's tries, the latter coming when the damage had already been done.

Saracens were spurred on by the prospect of "another week together" after holding off a fightback from Leinster to reach the European Champions Cup semi-finals.

The star-studded squad Sarries have assembled will be hit by departures at the end of the campaign after they were administratively relegated from the Premiership for salary cap breaches.

However, the holders appear determined to go out on a high in European competition and a dominant first half was enough for them to defeat the Pro14 champions 25-17.

They led 22-3 at half-time, Alex Goode kicking three penalties and converting his own try while Elliot Daly added another pair of three-pointers.

Andrew Porter and Jordan Larmour crossed for Leinster in the second half to narrow the gap to five points, but Saracens held on and Goode's late penalty clinched victory.

Captain Brad Barritt - who will leave the club at the end of the season - said: "It was the prospect of having another week together.

"We know after this season there will be a slightly different-looking squad and we owed it to ourselves to have a big game. We showed a huge amount of character playing in games that don't mean anything.

"Today was about fighting for something tangible. We owed it to ourselves to represent the Saracens badge and I couldn't be more proud of my team."

Saturday's other quarter-final saw Racing 92 claim victory over Top 14 rivals Clermont Auvergne.

Racing led 24-8 at half-time, with six penalties from Teddy Iribaren and tries from Louis Dupichot and Francois Trinh-Duc key to the 36-27 success they claimed despite a spirited second-half showing from Clermont.

Racing 92 have announced the signings of Australia duo Kurtley Beale and Luke Jones

Utility back Beale will leave the Waratahs for a second spell in Europe, having played for Premiership side Wasps in the 2016-17 season.

Beale has won 92 caps for the Wallabies, so the 31-year-old will still be eligible to play for his country.

The playmaker has signed a two-year deal with Top 14 giants Racing and will move to Paris when the Super Rugby season, which has been suspended due to the coronavirus crisis, ends.

Waratahs captain Rob Simmons said of Beale's decision to move on: "That's huge news for us. We're going to miss him.

"A player like that, he's got great experience, he's done a lot for this club, he is the most capped Waratah in history, so to lose someone like that is huge and I suppose this next little bit in this competition, whatever does get off the ground, it will be a good chance for him to send us off."

Flanker Jones will also ply his trade in the French capital next year after spending the past two seasons with the Rebels.

The 29-year-old spent three years with Bordeaux Begles before returning to Melbourne last year.

Racing sporting director Yannick Nyanga said: "We've tried to mix youth and experience in positions where we haven't managed to pull through from our academy.

"We have two premium signings who will bring some experience and their ability."

The Premiership has been suspended for five weeks and the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Premiership Rugby's decision followed new guidance from the United Kingdom government on Monday.

British prime minister Boris Johnson encouraged people to avoid mass gatherings and all "non-essential" travel and contact with others.

"The safety of our fans, players and staff is our first priority, and we would like to wish all of those who are affected our heartfelt best wishes and a very speedy recovery," a Premiership Rugby statement read.

"We'll continue to work closely with DCMS [the Departure for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] and Public Health England, and to follow the advice of medical experts, and work with our clubs to help them to support their own wider communities at this time."

The decision to call off the European rugby season was taken during a conference call on Monday.

It means the matches in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup scheduled for April 3, 4 and 5 will not now go ahead as planned, although organisers hope to rearrange the fixtures for later dates.

In a statement, the board of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said: "While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, EPCR, in conjunction with the relevant leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to complete the 2019-20 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments at such a time as that aligns with preventative measures undertaken by an overwhelming majority of sport's governing bodies and tournament organisers in Europe.  

"EPCR's priority is the health and welfare of players and club staff, and an update regarding the knockout stages of the tournaments will be communicated to all stakeholders as soon as practicable."

Patricio Fernandez kicked 19 points as Lyon battled to a 29-20 victory over Racing 92 in the Top 14 on Sunday.

Second-place Lyon responded to losing a top-of-the-table clash to Bordeaux Begles last time out, with Fernandez chosen to play at fly-half in place of Jonathan Wisniewski in response to that defeat.

The number 10 slotted five penalties and added the extras to tries from Xavier Mignot and Baptiste Couilloud to justify that decision, with Lyon now four points behind Bordeaux.

Racing made life difficult for the hosts at the Stade de Gerland and took the lead when Yoan Tanga Mangene went over after 20 minutes, while Francois Trinh Duc's score set up a frantic finish before Fernandez's three-pointer four minutes from the end.

Last season's champions Toulouse outclassed Montpellier 25-7 at home in Sunday's other fixture.

Zack Holmes, Pierre Pages, Lucas Tauzin and Matthis Lebel all grabbed tries for the home side, with Nemani Nadolo responding for Montpellier.

Olivier Klemenczak's last-gasp try snatched a 30-27 victory over Toulouse to move Racing 92 up to third and Castres beat bottom side Agen in the Top 14 on Sunday.

Racing's winning run in the league looked set to end at four matches until Klemenczak nipped in on the blindside to touch down and deny Toulouse with the clock two minutes into the red at Paris La Defense Arena.

Toulouse were pegged back at 17-17 on the stroke of half-time after Dorian Laborde went over, with Fabien Sanconnie also crossing for the capital club either side of scores from Pita Ahki and Lucas Tauzin.

Maxime Machenaud's second penalty of the match put Racing in front, but Sofiane Guitoune finished to put Toulouse ahead again and Cheslin Kolbe took his tally from the tee to 10 points to give them a seven-point advantage.

Racing were not finished yet, though and Teddy Iribaren was on target with a penalty before Klemenczak settled it after Iosefa Tekori was sent to the sin bin with Toulouse under huge pressure right at the end. 

Castres are up to 10th after seeing off Agen 43-24, Martin Leveau scoring two of five tries for the 2018 champions.

Saracens have been fined €50,000 for fielding Titi Lamositele against Racing 92 without a valid work permit but the holders will remain in the European Champions Cup.

There were reports that Sarries could be thrown out of the competition after European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) brought a misconduct complaint against them.

The champions of Europe and England faced an independent disciplinary hearing in London on Friday as a result of Lamositele's appearance in a crunch Pool 4 clash with Racing last month, which took place a day after his documentation expired.

United States prop Lamositele came off the bench in a crucial 27-24 win at Allianz Park on January 19 but may have been ineligible due to what EPCR described as "an inadvertent administrative error on behalf of the club".

A tweet from the Champions Cup revealed that the London club have been fined €50,000, half of which is suspended until the end of the 2020/21 season.

Sarries will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of the season for breaching salary-cap regulations but could still retain the Champions Cup.

The victory over Racing saw them through to the quarter-finals, with a showdown against Leinster to come on April 4 in a repeat of last season's final.

Saracens could face more punishment after Titi Lamositele played in a crucial European Champions Cup victory over Racing 92 last month a day after his work permit expired.

The European and English champions are already facing relegation from the Premiership at the end of the season for breaching salary-cap regulations.

Sarries will face an independent disciplinary committee on Friday after European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) brought a misconduct complaint against them.

Lamositele came off the bench in a 27-24 win over Racing on January 19, but may have been ineligible due to what EPCR described as "an inadvertent administrative error on behalf of the club".

An independent disciplinary committee consisting of Roger Morris, Pamela Woodman and Jean-Noel Couraud will hear the misconduct complaint in London.

The London club face Leinster in the quarter-finals at the Aviva Stadium on April 4 in a repeat of last season's final.

Lyon quickly put their European Champions Cup disappointment behind them to return to the Top 14 summit with a comfortable home victory over Toulon on Saturday.

The domestic league leaders failed to advance through their European pool after losing to Leinster and Northampton Saints across the previous two weekends.

But a Top 14 title charge is very much on thanks to their 11th win of the campaign, a 27-12 success as Toulon were held try-less.

Xavier Mignot crossed for Lyon's opener after eight minutes, but Anthony Belleau kicked four first-half penalties to keep Toulon in the match with a narrow half-time lead.

But after Rudi Wulf and then Toby Arnold added further Lyon tries, victory never looked in serious doubt.

Meanwhile, La Rochelle defeated Montpellier 35-30 thanks to a hat-trick from Arthur Retiere in a 15-minute spell either side of half-time.

Retiere crossed in the 32nd, 36th and 46th minutes to put La Rochelle in complete control, their lead 32-11 inside the final half-hour.

But they had to withstand a tense finish after Johan Goosen, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and Nemani Nadolo all crossed while Geoffrey Doumayrou was sent off.

Racing 92 had no difficulties as they crushed Castres on the road, Marc-Antoine Rallier's 48th-minute dismissal ending all hopes of a home fightback in a 27-0 reverse.

Brive defeated Pau 33-26 in far more dramatic circumstances, though, as Thomas Laranjeira produced a stunning match-winning turn.

The full-back scored 28 of his side's 33 points, including two tries in the closing stages to down shell-shocked Pau, who had led from the 26th minute until the 77th.

In Saturday's late game, Stade Francais made a strong start but succumbed to a 29-19 loss at Clermont Auvergne.

Bordeaux-Begles have the chance to move back above Lyon and return to the top of the standings when they play away to holders Toulouse on Sunday.

Finn Russell will not feature in Scotland's Six Nations opener against Ireland after being sent home for disciplinary reasons.

Scottish Rugby announced on Thursday that Racing 92 fly-half Russell has been released from Gregor Townsend's squad for a breach of team protocol.

Scotland will have to do without Russell at the Aviva Stadium a week on Saturday and it remains to be seen if he will play any part in the tournament.

A Scotland team spokesperson said: “Stand-off Finn Russell will play no further part in preparations for Scotland's Six Nations opener against Ireland, having been disciplined for a breach of team protocol during the week's camp in Edinburgh.

"He has returned to his club."

Russell last year revealed he had a disagreement with head coach Townsend after a dramatic 38-38 draw with England at Twickenham.

"I actually had an argument with Gregor [at half-time]," Russell told ITV after the game.

"I said to him, 'You're telling us to kick and when we kick, they just run it back and cut us open, and when we run it, they're just hitting us behind the gain line and winning the ball back'.

"Second half, we just came out with nothing to lose, played our rugby, kicked out of our half and scored some great tries. We played good Scottish rugby."

The 27-year-old played at Glasgow Warriors from 2012 to 2018 before landing his move to France.

Will Skelton has been banned for four weeks for a dangerous late tackle on Brice Dulin in beleaguered Saracens' crucial European Champions Cup win over Racing 92 on Sunday.

Skelton was shown a red card just before half-time at Allianz Park after his shoulder struck full-back Dulin's head.

Sarries went on to win 27-24, setting up a quarter-final at Leinster, a day after their relegation to the Championship at the end of the season was confirmed due to salary-cap breaches.

Skelton attended an independent disciplinary hearing in London on Tuesday and the Australian is set to miss the European champions' Premiership clash with Harlequins, two encounters with Sale Sharks – in the league and Premiership Rugby Cup – and a top-flight game at Wasps.

The towering 27-year-old's guilty plea, good disciplinary record and expression of remorse were taken into account when his sanction was handed out.

Skelton will be available to return against Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens on February 29.

Sarries travel to Dublin to face Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in a repeat of last year's final in the first week of April.

 

 

Leinster maintained their 100 per cent European Champions Cup record with a 42-14 thrashing of Lyon, while Racing 92 left it late to beat Munster and reach the quarter-finals on Sunday.

Last year's runners-up Leinster cemented their spot at the top of Pool 1 with a bonus-point triumph on a day which saw second-placed Northampton Saints produce a comeback to beat Benetton Treviso.

Leinster struggled to shake off Lyon in the first half and only led by seven points at the break, but the Pro14 champions scored 21 points without reply in the second half at the RDS Arena.

Dave Kearney touched down twice, with Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan, Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter getting in on the act in a six-try hammering from Leo Cullen's men.

Leinster have now won nine consecutive pool games for the first time in the competition.

Saints made far harder work of a vital 33-20 bonus-point victory over Treviso, the Premiership side having fallen 17-12 behind heading into the final 25 minutes.

The returning Harry Mallinder, back after more than a year out with a knee injury, got the home side up and running with a try inside five minutes.

However, the rest of the first half belonged to the Italians, who were ahead courtesy of Tommaso Benvenuti's smart score following an interception.

Needing a win to keep their visitors at bay in the race for second spot, Northampton finally sprung to life after the interval as Henry Taylor, Francois van Wyk, Fraser Dingwall and Andy Symons all crossed.

Teddy Iribaren's inventive long-range pass to set up a try for Teddy Thomas was an eye-catching highlight from Racing's dramatic 39-22 Pool 4 home win against Munster.

A second try for recalled France wing Thomas late on was followed by scores from the brilliant Virimi Vakatawa and Juan Imhoff, seeing Racing through and putting Munster down to third with a decisive clash against Saracens to come in the final round of pool matches.

Lyon were grateful to Xavier Chiocci for a late try as they scraped past Agen, avoiding an upset in Top 14 action on Saturday.

Visitors Lyon are second in the table, with Agen second from bottom, but failed to score in the first half, trailing 12-0 at the break.

Jonathan Pelissie was sent to the sin bin as he conceded an early penalty try, before Andres Zafra Tarazona crossed, and Lyon ended the half with Liam Gill having also seen yellow.

The high-flying away team were still behind heading into the closing stages, despite a pair of Jonathan Wisniewski penalties.

But Chiocci went over in the 75th minute, and Wisniewski kept his nerve with the conversion to seal a tense 13-12 victory.

Lyon still trail Bordeaux Begles, though, after the Top 14 leaders brushed aside Bayonne 22-3.

Bordeaux were in control from the first minute when Jean-Baptiste Dubie scored, and tries followed from Kane Douglas and Remi Lamerat before a scoreless second half.

Jules Plisson had a try, four conversions and three penalties for third-placed La Rochelle in a 44-13 success at Pau.

Racing 92 are back in fourth and beat Clermont Auvergne 27-19, as Teddy Iribaren similarly starred with a try, three conversions and a pair of penalties.

Elsewhere, Thomas Darmon's 75th-minute try meant a late Brive response mattered little, Montpellier winning 29-26.

Leone Nakarawa has agreed to rejoin Glasgow Warriors after he was sacked by Top 14 giants Racing 92.

Fiji forward Nakarawa had his contract terminated with Paris club Racing in December following his late return from the Rugby World Cup.

The 31-year-old, who moved to the French capital from Glasgow in 2016, is set to return to Scotstoun on a deal until the end of the season, subject to being granted a visa and passing a medical.

Nakarawa told the club's official website: "I've remained close with my ex-team-mates during my time in Paris and they played a big role in my decision to come back.

"I'm really looking forward to working with Dave Rennie and the coaching staff. Glasgow Warriors play an attacking style, which suits the way I like to play.

"The pitch may be different but I can't wait to see some familiar faces in the crowd when I run out at Scotstoun."

Warriors head coach Rennie said: "We're rapt to welcome Leone back to Glasgow.

"Everyone knows how dangerous he is with ball in hand and Glasgow supporters have fond memories of his previous exploits in a Warriors jersey.

"Since his move Leone has continued to develop as a player and was named the European Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season. He is close with a lot of the players and we're looking forward to welcoming him back into the squad this week."

Lyon bounced back from a miserable run of form to thump Bayonne 52-9 and move into first place in the Top 14 table.

Last season's semi-finalists had lost five of their last six games in all competitions, including a dire defeat away to Castres last weekend.

But Lyon rebounded with style on Saturday, scoring an unanswered 35 points in the second half as they ran in seven tries in a one-sided match.

Hendrik Roodt dotted down twice, with Pierre-Louis Barassi, Dylan Cretin and Jean-Marcellin Buttin also going over in a dominant second-half display.

Lyon had earlier raced into a 17-0 lead inside 12 minutes with Patrick Sobela and Charlie Ngatai crossing, the hosts keeping their opponents at bay during two periods down with 14 men after yellow cards for Killian Geraci and Rudi Wulf.

Bayonne, who had Mariano Galarza in the sin bin when Cretin and Buttin scored late on, only had three Romain Barthelemy penalties to show for their efforts.

The bonus-point win moved Lyon two clear of Bordeaux-Begles, who have the chance to return to top spot when they play Pau on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Racing 92 made it four straight wins and jumped up from 10th to fifth with an entertaining 44-20 win at Brive.

Finn Russell scored the first of four first-half tries for Racing, who led by 16 at the interval - Camille Chat claiming a double.

They extended their advantage with two more scores in the second half, Teddy Thomas and Brice Dulin going over.

Bottom-of-the-table Stade Francais followed up their win over Pau last time out with a battling 20-20 draw at Montpellier.

Handre Pollard looked like he had given hosts Montpellier victory with a 68th-minute try, which he converted himself, just after Stade's Sekou Macalou had been sent to the sin bin.

But Joris Segonds was on target with a late penalty for the visitors, who are now just a point behind Agen.

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