Leinster, Munster qualify for last 8, now aim for home ties

[caption id="attachment_69168" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Leinster's Devin Toner catches the ball under pressure from Johnnie Beattie of Glasgow."]


MUNSTER and Leinster are both through to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with the game to spare following workmanlike victories over Castres and Glasgow Warriors respectively.

They could yet be joined by Ulster who produced the performance of the weekend to demolish former winners Leicester 41-7 at Ravenhill. The victory leaves Ulster top of their pool but they face a huge challenge away to the formidable Clermont side in their final game.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

No such problems for either Munster or Leinster. Their main concern for the final series of matches this weekend is that they make sure of

getting a home quarter-final.

Both will be looking to improve on their displays last weekend. Munster had a comfortable enough 26-10 Thomond Park success over Castres but there’s still a feeling that they are some way short of their best.

Leinster, for their part, found themselves in a real battle away to Glasgow on Sunday. They trailed for much of the opening half and had to show some real determination before getting the job done 23-16.

With their final outing on Saturday at home (the RDS) to Monpellier they should undoubtedly get the job done. Whether it is the the RDS or the Aviva Stadium, Leinster tend to be a different team on their home track.

Munster though face a difficult final outing away to Northampton. The English outfit will be very keen to put one over the Irish province and potentially deny them a home quarter-final.

Certainly, the Munster coach Tony McGahan knows exactly what to expect. While acknowledging that his side has done tremendously well to already qualify, he agrees that there is room for improvement.

“Yes, we want to get better. We’d like to get that final part of what we are looking for and we’re working hard on that.

“We have the work-rate, the shape and the go-forward, we just need the final part.”

Essentially, that final part is to make better use of their try scoring opportunities. They got two against Castres but the second one from prop Wian du Preeez came quite late in the game.

Earlier, wing Johne Murphy gave Munster the perfect start with a try, converted by Ronan O’Gara, after seven minutes. Understandably, there was then the hope that Munster would secure a bonus point against the understrength French outfit.

But they were never quite at their best and had to settle for just one more try with the remainder of the points coming from the boot of O’Gara. Still, it was job done, and Munster have won five out of fivewhich is quite an accomplishment by any standards.

Leinster have had to settle for four wins out of five with one draw. But their ability to secure bonus points means that they are on the same points mark (20) as Munster. In fairness, they knew it was going to be a difficult afternoon against Glasgow.

The tight pitch at Firhill, the Partick Thistle soccer ground, didn’t suit their expansive approach. Nor did it help that Jonathan Sexton was playing on one leg for most of the afternoon, having taking a knock after half an hour. But both Sexton, and the entire Leinster side dug deep, to record a hugely important victory.

Glasgow proved very difficult opponents, strong in defence, and with some very big ball carriers. It took a couple of penalties from Sexton and Fergus McFadden to bring Leinster level a 6-6 by half-time.

But Leinster did manage to break through for a couple of tries in the second half. The first came from full-back Rob Kearney after a Sexton crosskick, while substitute scrum-half Isaac Boss got what proved to be the match-winning score 11 minutes from time. Kearney, who had taken over the goalkicking dutiers from Sexton, landed both conversions and also added a penaltry.

Coach Joe Schmidt praised Sexton for playing on through the pain of his ankle injury. He said: “Johnny rolled his ankle and a little bit later he stepped on Jamie Heaslip’s boot and he rolled it again.

“Then he was hobbling and grumpy. The other boys have to play a bit harder when Johnny gets grumpy, so it’s not a bad thing.”

On a more serious note, Schmidt added that he is hopeful that the injured Richardt Strauss and Luke Fitzgerald will both be available for the Montpellier game. That said, Sean Cronin, deputizing for Strauss at hooker, was rated as Leinster’s best performer against Glasgow, getting the man-of-the-match award.

Any one of several players, meanwhile, could have got the man-of-the-match award for Ulster such was the quality of their performance in beating Leicester. The English club arrived at Ravenhill with a very good recent record in the English Premiership of six wins and one draw but were absolutely demolished. This was one of the great Ravenhill nights. Andrew Trimble (2), Craig, Gilroy and substitute scrum-half Paul Marshall got the tries for a bonus point, while Ruan Pienaar kicked five penalties and three conversions.

The finish it was decided that the man-of-the-match award should go to wing Trimble but it could just as easily have gone to Pienaar.

Connacht, meanwhile, are still seaching for their first Heineken victory after an anticipated 24-3 away defeat to Toulouse. But this was a much better effort from Connacht against one of the top sides in Europe. They were level at 3-3 for most of the first half and only trailed 10-3 at the interval. Eventually, Toulouse secured the bonus point but at least Connacht didn’t make it easy for them.

Coach Eric Elwood is now asking for a huge effort in their final pool game, at home to Harlequins. He said: “We have been excellent in our away games but the key now is to reward our supporters with a win against Harlequins.”

Dubs, Lilywhites to meet

THE Gaelic football season may have just started but Dublin and Kildare are already set for an intriguing confrontation in the semi-final of the O’Byrne Cup. Both had easy quarter-final victories over the weekend. Dublin comfortably saw of UCD by 4-14 to 0-12 at Parnell Park, despite the absence of many of their front-line players.

Kildare brushed aside the challenge of an admittedly very poor Offaly by 0-17 to 0-4 in Newbridge on Sunday. So, it going to be interesting

to see how the semi-final clash goes between these two great Leinster rivals.

Meath and DCU (Dublin City University) will meet in the other semi-final. Meath were much too goof for Louth in Navan, winning 0-11 to 0-5, while DCU got the better of Longford by 2-11 to 0-12.

Certainly, the Dublin manager Pat Gilroy was pleased with his team’s effort in beating UCD. Kevin McManamon, Bryan Cullen and Diarmuid Connolly were amongst the goalscorers, while newcomer Micheal McCarthy made a good impression, scoring two points.

“We’re getting back into the swing of things properly now,” commented Gilroy. “Our shooting and ball-handling can be improved but our effort

and application was great.”

Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney must also have been reasonably satisfied with the comfortable victory over Offaly but he wasn’t making too much

of it. That’s mainly because Kilare will be facing Offaly again in the first round of the Leinster Championship next June.

McGeeney is adamant that is going to be a very different occasion. He said: “Offaly are going to be a very different team by the time the championship comes around, we’d be silly to think otherwise.”

Despite the size of Sunday’s win, McGeeney also feels that his side can improve on their finishing. James Kavanagh ended up as top scorer, contributing 0-5, four from play.

At Navan, the Meath manager Seamus McEnaney was another to complain about his team’s shooting but overall they did pretty well to comfortably see off Louth. They were even able to bring 38-year-old Graham Geraghty on as a second half substitute. Graham Reilly (0-5) and Paddy Gilsenan (0-2) made good impressions.

In Munster, Cork made a useful start to their McGrath Cup campaign trouncing Clare by 2-14 to 0-7. Most importantly, Colm O’Neill made

an impressive return after injury to score both of Cork’s goals. O’Neill hasn’t featured since damaging cruciate knee liagaments last March. He finished the game with 2-4.

Elsewhere, UCC beat Limerick 1-19 to 0-10, Tipperary got the better of Waterford IT 4-16 to 0-6 and Cork IT defeated IT Tralee 2-16 to 2-5.

The Dr McKenna Cup in Ulster provided wins for Tyrone, Down, Cavan, Fermanagh and Derry. Tyrone needed a good finish to see off Antrim 1-12 to 0-10, while Down were much to sharp for Monaghan, winning 4-12 to 0-11.

Peter Canavan’s Fermanagh got the better of Queen’s University by 2-13 to 0-10, with Cavan seeing off Donegal 1-14 to 2-8, and Derry defeating UUJ by 2-13 to 0-10.

In the FBD League in Connacht, there were wins for Leitrim, Galway, Mayo and Sligo. Leitrim had a noteworthy 1-8 to 1-5 win over Roscommon, while Galway accounted for London by 1-15 to 0-8.

Mayo were too good for GMIT, winning 4-11 to 0-11 and Sligo beat Sligo IT by 1-9 to 0-6.

Death of Colm Tucker

IRISH and Limerick rugby in particular is mourning the loss of former international and Lions flanker Colm Tucker. Tucker, who died at the age of 59, was associated throughout his career with the Shannon club. He made his debut for Ireland against

France in 1979 and the following year featured in two tests for the Lions against South Africa.

Had it not been for the presence of Fergus Slattery, Willie Duggan and John O’Driscoll he would have added considerably to his three

Irish caps. As it was, he was a huge presence for Munster and for the Shannon side he helped win six Munster Senior Cups.