The final eight are now set, four French, two English and two Irish are still standing. That could easily have been a two-three-three breakdown, such was the drama at The Stoop and Ravenhill, where Harlequins and Ulster lost to Montpellier and Toulouse by a single point.
In the modern game, this major European tournament is almost an anomaly given how dramatic it gets each year.
Whatever the familiarity may do in domestic competition, it certainly does not apply when the top five rugby playing nations in this part of the world make cross-border club contacts.
I still prefer to leave the old singles format alone, but the performance we have witnessed over the last two weeks need leave little fear for the immediate future of Champions Cup rugby, whatever it is path that EPCR will take.
From an Irish perspective, and to paraphrase Meat Loaf, ‘two out of three isn’t bad’ – and although an Irish province was eliminated in Friday’s round of 16 opener at the Aviva, there is disappointment that Ulster didn’t make it.
Repeating the joint effort of the sports field just seven days earlier would always prove to be a huge hurdle for Connacht, and as it turned out, far too high.
We’re not going to tempt fate by suggesting Leinster are in a different league but they are undoubtedly in the best form they’ve ever been.
A nice mix of brutal physicality achieved through variations in attack is as effective in execution as it is pleasing to the eye. But with Welford Road next, those walls of seeming invincibility could come tumbling down.
There were many candidates in blue for man of the match.
With four tries and even more assists, James Lowe was a worthy winner. The man on the field is class, and while it may have been overlooked by some, he matches the one on the other side of the white line. His gesture when presenting his trophy to Connacht fan Adam Redding was so typical of this contagious adopted Kiwi. My type man and my type role model.
And on Saturday, for the second 80 minutes in a week, Munster took us back in time with a master class in defensive rugby.
Or as Nick Mullins, one of the better commentators, put it: “an old-fashioned Limerick junk”.
There was nothing pejorative in his words – quite the contrary – with Peter O’Mahony, the ultimate warrior captain when it really mattered.
Along with Mick Galwey, Anthony Foley and Paul O’Connell, O’Mahony is one of Munster’s really great leaders in the professional era.
The level of detail in preparing defenses and executing them against Exeter deserves praise. It was a defensive master class straight out of the first chapter of the Shaun Edwards handbook. O’Mahony, with Jack O’Donoghue in his immediate shadow, demonstrated the collapse. Confidence grew from there, that unique Thomond feeling that had been in limbo for so long surfaced.
It’s a shame the Ed Sheeran concerts overlap, but you can still count on the Aviva selling out given the quality of the opposition and the occasion.
That being said, there were great performances from Mike Haley and both centers — particularly Damian de Allende — while Joey Carbery was as pragmatic as he was inspirational at 10. This will have done his confidence good.
Ulster came so close to relieving champions Toulouse of their trophy.
In the end, a slightly larger collective class shone through the night. However, Dan McFarland is doing some work, blending the older element with harvesting new and exciting young players, particularly defenders.
Rob Herring and Iain Henderson were the standout forwards, while Mike Lowry, James Hume and Ethan McIlroy were the best defenders.
It states the obvious, but the front row needs to strengthen on both sides of Herring.
Get the tight five sturdier and even tighter and the potential beyond that for Ulster needs no further explanation.
There have been two falls but Irish rugby is in good shape.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/ultimate-warrior-peter-omahony-proves-hes-right-up-there-with-munsters-great-leaders-41562342.html The ultimate warrior Peter O’Mahony proves he’s up there with Munster’s great leaders