Diamond cut up as Saracens crash out

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The Independent Online

The Saracens coach Steve Diamond pronounced himself to be "gutted" as his side were knocked out of the European Challenge Cup after losing 31-16 in Brive yesterday.

The Saracens coach Steve Diamond pronounced himself to be "gutted" as his side were knocked out of the European Challenge Cup after losing 31-16 in Brive yesterday.

A touchline conversion from Valentin Corrent after five minutes of injury time levelled the scores before an extra-time try by the flanker Alexandre Maleyrie won the match for the 1997 Heineken Cup champions on an aggregate score of 37-35.

"We're obviously very disappointed to lose," said Diamond, who saw his wing, Richard Haughton, held over the line in the last minute of extra-time. "I thought the players gave everything and their effort today was fantastic. We were unlucky not to get through to the semis with a try right at the end. We just have to put this result to the back of our minds and move on."

Sale, though, remain in the running for the Heineken Cup place the Challenge Cup offers after staying close enough to Agen on Saturday. The Sharks lost 17-15 in France but had stacked up a larger lead at Stockport last week to make it through to face Connacht, the fourth Irish province, in the last four.

Agen, who are struggling to book a Heineken Cup spot for next season through the French Championship, scored tries through Conrad Stoltz and Christian Califano, the former Saracens and France prop. Luckily for Sale Charlie Hodgson was on slightly less sporadic form with the boot than he has been for England recently and landed five penalties to keep his side in touch.

Leeds booked their first European semi-final spot on Saturday by beating Petrarca 57-9. Phil Davies' side will not be getting carried away, though, as they will meet Worcester in the last four of the distinctly third-tier European Shield. No Heineken Cup place is on offer that far down the pecking order, however much you hammer the Italians by.

Worcester endured 49 minutes in similarly sub-Alpine conditions on Friday night before heavy fog forced their quarter-final to be abandoned. Play had gone on long enough, though, to confirm a win over Leonessa.

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