Saracens thump Connacht to reach Euro quarters
David Strettle prepares to catch the ball during a training session in Bagshot, south-east England, on March 15, 2012 - by Adrian Dennis
Leinster's 36-3 thrashing of Ospreys on Friday night had left just one remaining place up for grabs in the last eight and Saracens knew that a victory would be enough for them to secure it.
But they weren't content with merely beating their Irish visitors as the 2011 English champions ran in an astonishing 11 tries, including a hat-trick from wing David Strettle, in a swashbuckling performance.
But for their missing eight conversions, the final score could have been even more humbling for the Irish province.
The only black mark on an otherwise ideal day was a wayward kicking performance from Charlie Hodgson, who managed just four successful kicks.
Scottish fly-half Dan Parks opened the scoring for Connacht with a penalty on five minutes and even put the visitors back in front with a second successful kick on 21 minutes following England wing Chris Ashton's opening try in the corner for Saracens.
Hodgson put the hosts in front with a penalty, a rare successful strike from the tee, before tries from Strettle and South African hooker Shalk Brits put Saracens in control 18-6 ahead at the break.
The second half was one-way traffic as Strettle took less than 120 seconds to double his tally with full-back Alex Goode and lock George Kruis also going over with less than an hour gone.
American Chris Wyles popped up on replacement hooker Jamie George's shoulder to go over for the seventh try.
A miss pass from Hodgson helped Goode pop the ball out to substitute flanker Jackson Wray to score number eight.
James Johnston emerged at the bottom of a driving maul for the ninth and Strettle collected his own chip and chase to add number 10, while Ashton provided a swallow dive after the 80 minutes were up to bring up the 11th.
Despite the stunning nature of this victory, Saracens will be away to one of the top two qualifiers in the quarter-finals.
Saracens could have snatched top spot in Pool 3, and an outside shout at a home quarter-final, but Toulouse stayed in command with a 16-6 win at hapless Italians Zebre.
Scrum-half Sebastien Bezy scored the only try of the game and added a penalty while fly-half Jean-Marc Doussain notched two penalties and a conversion.
Zebre fly-half Luciano Orquera kicked the Celtic League team's points.
Toulouse's failure to get a a bonus point, though, means they finish on 23 points, one more than Leinster but now reliant on other results to go their way to finish as one of the top four qualifiers.
A bonus point would have meant that Munster could not surpass them and would have ensured that home tie in the last eight.