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Kiwis in Europe: Vito runs rampant for Baabaas

By Campbell Burnes

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Sometimes a hat-trick is not enough.

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Scarlets wing Johnny McNicholl will know that better than most after his three tries were not sufficient for his Welsh region to clinch another Guinness PRO14 title.

Wayne Pivac’s charges succumbed 40-32 to Leinster in the Dublin season finale, handing the Irish province an unprecedented European Champions Cup/PRO14 double and ensuring that veteran utility back and skipper Isa Nacewa leaves active rugby on a winning note.

McNicholl, who did great deeds for Canterbury and the Crusaders in his time in New Zealand rugby, was largely unemployed for the opening half hour, but then set up his own opening try, from close range, in the 34th minute. He added two more in the second stanza, the first a classic airborne finish in the corner, after a movement he started with a deft crosskick. His third was pure consolation, in the final minute. McNicholl put centre Scott Williams in a hole, followed up, and took the return pass for his ninth try of the season in the PRO14. Furthermore, he set up the play that led to prop Werner Kruger’s try just before his last.

Second five Hadleigh Parkes, soon to depart on Wales’ tour of the Americas, was industrious on defence but had few chances on attack.

Nacewa, who was marking Parkes, limped off after just 18 minutes, but his joy was unconfined at fulltime and one could surmise that he would not feel his leg later in the night. Pivac, who first picked him for Auckland in 2003, caught up with Nacewa after the match.

Leinster left wing James Lowe was busy, scoring in deadly finish in the corner after some slick short side work by, among others, man of the match Jonny Sexton. Ironically, Lowe was marking McNicholl, and was able to get on the outside of him for the score.

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In England’s Aviva Premiership final, Sean Maitland’s Saracens return to the top of the tree, defeating defending champs Exeter Chiefs 27-10 at Twickenham. Sarries win their first title since 2015, while Chiefs No 8 Thomas Waldrom, who featured off the bench, ends his long and illustrious career in England on a damp note. But he does bring a wealth of experience back to Wellington, for whom he will appear in the Mitre 10 Cup from August.

In the French Top 14 semifinals, Vern Cotter’s Montpellier dispatched Lyon 40-14 to book a berth in this weekend’s decider. Montpellier has never won the Bouclier de Brennus.

Nemani Nadolo scored a try for Montpellier, while Aaron Cruden and Jarrad Hoeata also featured. Former North Harbour and Wallaby five-eighths Mike Harris scored all of Lyon’s points via a try and three penalty goals. Toby Arnold, Rudi Wulf and Taiasina Tuifua also all started for Lyon.

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Sixth-ranked qualifier Castres tipped over Racing-Metro 19-14. No 8 Maama Vaipulu scored a crucial try, while David Smith, Alex Tulou and Paea Fa’anunu all partook of the victory. Castres has won four titles, the last in 2013. Former All Blacks captain Gary Whetton was central to the club’s 1993 championship.

Dan Carter’s hamstring prevented him fronting for Racing, thus ending his French club career. Prop Ben Tameifuna did start, but received another yellow card, while hooker Ole Avei came off the pine.

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No less than 10 New Zealanders featured in Sunday’s Twickenham frolic, in which the UK Barbarians beat England 63-45. For England, Piers Francis scored a brace, while wing Denny Solomona entered as a replacement. For the Barbarians, No 8 Victor Vito also registered a double. Prop John Afoa started, while off the bench came Loni Uhila, Joe Tekori, Nili Latu, Luke McAlister and Malakai Fekitoa.

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