Well, it’s been an exciting fortnight of European action for the Irish provinces, both in the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect Pro 12, tournaments. Munster have managed a shock revival in the Heineken, and Ulster and Leinster top the Rabo table.
Coming into the Heineken quarter-finals, both Ulster and Munster looked to have had differing chances. Ulster had dipped in form recently, but had been superb in the pool stages of the Heineken.
Conversely, Munster had had a very difficult time in their pool, and just scraped through in qualifying. They also had a daunting task in the fact that their opponent’s, Harlequins, had been one of the best teams in the Heineken tournament.
Munster put in one of their best ever performances in beating ‘Quins. They looked like the Munster of old, with a storming performance. Harlequins started the stronger, but Munster showed great grit and determination in managing to win the game, 18-12.
Paul O’Connell was at his very best in leading the province to victory, playing one of his best ever games, and almost guaranteeing his place on the Lions tour (Lions coach Warren Gatland was in the stand). Ronan O’Gara was good as well, kicking 6 goals.
Munster will face Clermont, who crushed Montpellier, 36-14, scoring 5 tries in the process. Munster will have been encouraged by their great win, but will need to harness their old magic if they are to have any chance of beating Clermont.
Ulster failed in their quarter-final, losing to Saracens, 27-16. Ulster dominated in the scrum but were unable to cut down the Saracens threats, with Will Fraser and Chris Ashton scoring tries for Saracens, and Owen Farrell kicking 5 penalties and a conversion.
Saracens will face Toulon, who beat Leicester, 21-15, in a great game. The match was especially noticeable for the performance of one Jonny Wilkinson, who kicked all Toulon’s points, 6 penalties and a drop goal.
It was Wilkinson’s best performance in years, 10 years on from helping England win the World Cup. He also increased his chances of touring with the Lions in the summer. The Heineken semi-finals will take place on the weekend of April 27/28.
Ulster bounced back from their Heineken disappointment by thrashing the Dragons, 31-5, in the Rabo tournament, after struggling at the start. Tommy Bowe put in a masterful performance, capping it off with a try.
Leinster managed to beat Munster, 22-18 in a very tight game. The returning Brian O’Driscoll was the star here, managed to score the winning try for Leinster, a few minutes from the end. Ian Madigan also had a great game.
The game was not without controversy, though. Paul O’Connell was almost cited after clumsily booting Dave Kearney on the ground. It was unintentional but Kearney will be out for several weeks, and someone of O’Connell’s size should be more careful.
All the provinces are in Rabo action this weekend, with Munster facing the Dragons on Friday 19th, at 7. Ulster face Connacht, also on the Friday, 7.45, with Leinster facing Zebre on Sunday, 21st, at 3.
Ulster top the Rabo table with 71 points, Leinster are 2nd, with 68 pts. Glasgow are 3rd with 67. Munster are way down at 6th, with 48 points. Ospreys and Scarlets both have 62 points, and are, respectively ranked 4th and 5th.
With only 2 games left for each team, These 5 times are the only teams still with a chance of qualifying for the Rabo semi-finals. The top 4 teams will proceed, with 1st and 2nd getting home venues for the matches.