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Future Ulster ace Piutau is a Euro star

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 11/04/2016

Major influence: Charles Piutau, who will join up with Ulster in the summer, led the Wasps into the Champions Cup semi-finals
Major influence: Charles Piutau, who will join up with Ulster in the summer, led the Wasps into the Champions Cup semi-finals

While Ulster were left to rue a Champions Cup campaign that yielded four wins but no place in the quarter-finals, there were plenty of familiar faces on display in continental competition over the weekend.

All Black Charles Piutau - who will arrive at the Kingspan this summer after signing a deal last April - was the star for Wasps as they overcame a scare to win 25-24 and book their place in the Champions Cup last four at the expense of fellow Aviva Premiership hopefuls Exeter Chiefs at the Ricoh Arena.

The visitors were captained by Armagh man Gareth Steenson, who provided nine points off the tee, while his fellow Ulster native Ian Whitten started the game and was at centre for 70 minutes, but it was Piutau who was the decisive factor.

With the Coventry-based outfit trailing 14-6 at the turn, the 17-times capped Kiwi got them back in the game with a try early in the second-half.

The Chiefs came back though and were leading by six with only seconds remaining.

It was then that Piutau popped up with the most dramatic of scores with former Leinster out-half Jimmy Goperth's conversion completing the late turnaround.

Wasps will now play Saracens in the semi-finals next weekend.

The north Londoners, led by former Ulster coach Mark McCall and having beaten the Kingspan outfit twice in the pool stage, overcame Northampton Saints after a second-half comeback.

In the Challenge Cup, Fivemiletown-born centre Chris Farrell was instrumental as Grenoble came from 16 points behind to beat Connacht. Having fought back to lead 29-28, John Cooney had booted Pat Lam's men into another late advantage before a Jonathan Wisniewski drop goal sealed the win.

There will be no reunion between former Ulstermen in the semi-finals however after London Irish, for whom Tom Court played the final half an hour, lost against Harlequins.

On the other side of the draw, David Humphreys could not lead his Gloucester side to the semis.

With one-time Ulster front-rowers John Afoa and Paddy McAllister as their starting props, they were aiming to defend the title but were turned over at home by the Dragons.

Away from European action, Ulster's other big-name import for next season had a more forgettable Saturday afternoon.

Representing the Sharks in Super Rugby, Marcell Coetzee was stretchered off after half an hour of his side's home reverse to the Lions with more news on his injury expected in the coming days.

Belfast Telegraph

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