Rugby: NZ players, coaches to fore over weekend in Europe

By Campbell Burnes

Casey Laulala of Munster during the Heineken Cup Quarter Final match between Munster and Toulous. Photo / Getty Images
Casey Laulala of Munster during the Heineken Cup Quarter Final match between Munster and Toulous. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealanders were front and centre of European rugby action last weekend in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

In the Heineken Cup, the big winners were Irish province Munster, their Kiwi coach Rob Penney, and former All Blacks centre Casey Laulala.

Two-time champions Munster crushed European powerhouses Toulouse 47-23 at Thomond Park to keep Penney in the hunt for the silverware. The former Canterbury coach was fulsome in his praise of his charges. Laulala, who played under Penney at Canterbury, showed he has not lost the knack of scoring tries in big matches with a five-pointer. He scored the sole try of the 2006 fog-bound Super Rugby final in Christchurch.

Toulouse's former All Blacks Luke McAlister and Hosea Gear were among the points but were in a well-beaten team, Gear scoring a consolation try, while McAlister, who has been injured for much of the season, slotted three penalty goals. The pair will now have to content themselves with hauling Toulouse into the French Top 14 playoffs, the club currently lying on the cusp.

Munster have booked a potentially mouth-watering semifinal showdown with defending champions Toulon, the tie to be played in Marseille on April 27. Toulon included tighthead prop Carl Hayman in the 29-14 victory over Leinster, but missing were former All Blacks Ali Williams, Chris Masoe and Rudi Wulf. The match marked the final act in Brian O'Driscoll's European Cup rugby career, while Toulon No 10 Jonny Wilkinson limped off with a leg injury and may have played his last game at Toulon's fabled home stadium of Mayol.

Wilkinson's opposite, former Blues and Hurricanes first five Jimmy Gopperth, slotted three penalty goals for the vanquished.

Vern Cotter's Clermont sealed a remarkable 75th consecutive home victory, 22-16 over Leicester Tigers. Former Counties Manukau skipper Fritz Lee was at No 8 for Clermont, while former All Blacks backs Mike Delany and Benson Stanley were unused subs. For Leicester, former Kelston Boys High School First XV hooker Boris Stankovich and former Hurricanes No 8 Thomas Waldrom saw time off the bench. Waldrom was sinbinned late in the piece.

Former Blues and Crusaders fullback Jared Payne was dramatically sent off for a high tackle in the fourth minute of Ulster's quarter-final against Saracens, the latter hanging on for a 17-15 victory. Tighthead prop John Afoa and No 8 Nick Williams started for Ulster, who are coached by Mark Anscombe.

In the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup, former Auckland loose forward Nathan Hughes was man of the match in Wasps' 36-24 win over Jimmy Cowan's Gloucester. Nick Evans racked up 17 points in Harlequins' 29-6 defeat of Stade Francais.

- NZ Herald

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