The Quarter Finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup took place in England and France from Thursday -Saturday and featured teams fielding generally weakened sides. Nonetheless there was quality rugby on show and players from across the globe. Like the Heineken Cup, players were on show from Argentina and the United States as the IRB region known simply as the Americas continues to be the only one to not have hosted a Rugby World Cup yet a region producing world class players. Cleary Argentina 2023 is not a dream at all - rather just waiting to be blue stamped by the powers that be. Of the eight quarter finalists five were French teams and three of the four matches took place in France. All French teams featured Argentine players.
The first Quarter Final took place in the French Atlantic port city of La Rochelle as 2010 Top 14 champions Clermont came to town. In a competitive but low scoring encounter the current French champions succeeded in advancing to the semi finals as they held firm to complete an 18-13 victory. Uncapped Argentine hooker, Franco Pani featured for La Rochelle and had a good game for the hosts. The man from Tucuman left the field in the final minutes of play to be replaced. Argentine tighthead prop Martín Scelzo started for Clermont and played until being substituted in the 69th minute. His international frontrow partner, Mario Ledesma was rested as was Argentine born Italian international centre Gonzalo Canale.
The terrible Top 14 season of Stade Français can be forgotten for the time being as the Paris club enjoyed a home Quarter Final victory on Friday evening vs the highflying Montpellier. Stade Français snuck home in a thrilling encounter to win the match 32-28 and advance to the semi finals. Both teams fielded weakend sides with Montpellier opting to rest its Argentine players and Stade Français only starting loosehead prop Rodrigo Roncero. Pumas fullback Martín Rodriguez Gurruchaga was selected on the bench and came on as a secondhalf replacement while former Pumas prop Pedro Ledesma was on the bench but did not play for the Parisians. The result means that Stade Français will host Clermont in the first semi final on Friday April 29 which will be played at Paris´s Stade Charlety.
The third Amlin Challenge Cup Semi Final was also played on Friday with eastern London side the Harlequins playing host to western London side the London Wasps. The Quins have been puttting together good results in the Aviva Premiership while the London Wasos have been falling dow the ladder. Friday´s Semi Final continued this pattern as the Quins were too strong in winning the match 32-22. The victory included Argentina international winger Gonzalo Camacho who played the full 80 minutes and uncapped secondrower Tomás Vallejos Cinalli who came on as a replacement in the second half. Vallejos Cinalli recently trained in the Los Pumas squad in Paris which was his first time together with the national team. The opportunity of playing in a Semi Final will do wonders to his chances of making the cut for Rugby World Cup 2011.
The Harlequins will play Munster in the second semi final after the Irish province defeated French side Brive 42-37 in Brive on Saturday. USA born Irish international flyhalf Ronan O´Gara kicked 17 points for Munster and contributed in a big way to Munster´s victory as they led 42-23 with eleven minutes remaining. Brive fought back but left it too late. Argentine international scrumhalf Agustín Figuerola continued his fine form for Brive as he continues to look like a brialliant player in the making. He was joined in the second half by former Argentine international prop Pablo Cardinali. With the win Munster will have a great chance of advancing to the final as they will host Harlequins in the rugby mad Irish city of Limerick at the fortified Thomond Park.
Amlin Challenge Cup Semi Finals
Friday April 29 Stade Français v Clermont Auvergne, Stade Charlety, Paris
Saturday April 30 Munster v Harlequins, Thomond Park, Limerick