Harlequins not for bending as tie to remain at the Stoop
As expected, Harlequins have intimated that they wish to keep their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster at the Stoop. The news will not especially delight the tournament organisers, and will be of particularly disappointment to Irish fans wishing to attend the game.
Although Harlequins have not publicly declared their desire to sacrifice a financially more remunerative switch to Twickenham – perhaps attracting over three times the attendance – it is widely believed that the club’s hierarchy are backing Conor O’Shea’s desire to keep the game at their normal home; and thus maximise their chances of winning.
Indeed, Munster have stated that “Harlequins Rugby have confirmed the game will be played at their home grounds, the Twickenham Stoop”. The Stoop’s capacity is 14,800 but even if Harlequins meet the requirement for a 15,000 capacity, the share of the tickets for Munster would be 25 per cent, circa 3,750 tickets, which would come some way short of meeting the demand.
Hence, Munster’s quarter final ticket allocation will be distributed through the Munster Rugby Clubs and the Munster Rugby Supporters Club, with no tickets going on public sale through Munster Rugby.
“I’d say we’d be able to fill it with our travelling support so wherever they play, it doesn’t really matter,” commented Munster hooker Mike Sherry after Sunday’s 29-6 win over Racing Metro sealed qualification for the knock-out stages for the 14th time in 15 years.
A great place to play
“The Stoop is a great place to play as well, I went over there as a young fellah to watch Munster play there. Wherever we play it isn’t a big issue to us.
“It will be an incredibly hard match. I think they’ve won their last eight games so they’re very good. I think they’ve played a lot this year and they’ve a lot of possible Lions players, a lot of England players, so they’ll be a huge challenge.”
At least Munster have a quarter-final to sustain them through the Six Nations hiatus. “We said that it was our season on Sunday. We still have the Rabo and we still put huge emphasis on that. But days like Sunday, it’s European rugby in Thomond Park that you want to play and I know we’re going away but we’ll get a ridiculous following again. Yeah, it was our season and we knew we had to deliver.
“There was a lot of talk about our game plan and what we’re doing, but we just said if we batten down the hatches and play rugby, the game plan is there to kick on whatever way we want to play. We owed Rob (Penney), Simon (Mannix), the coaches. We owed a lot of the fans, the support we’ve got in this group, it’s just been incredible.
“You can’t put into words what it means. And then the atmosphere was just incredible, I can’t describe what it’s like playing in that, I can only imagine what it’s like for a team coming over. I hope we never lose that and I think we repaid them a small bit on Sunday with this result.”
Strong and quick with an accurate throw, Sherry’s form has made him the de facto Munster hooker as well as jumping to fourth, and rising, in the Irish pecking order after his call-up in place of the unfortunate Richardt Strauss.
The 24-year-old is also in the vanguard of a new generation of Munster players trying to emulate the extraordinary feats of a golden generation.
“It was like a mini miracle match. Sunday was 10 years and a day since the last one. That was in our minds that we had to do something special and create a bit of Munster history ourselves.
“Everyone knows about Munster in Europe but they don’t know about this group of players coming in, so we really wanted to announce ourselves.
“I see Quinny (Alan Quinlan) and Fla (Jerry Flannery) on a regular basis, Paulie and Rog (O’Gara) and Donners (O’Callaghan) and Marcus (Horan) are still around and you just chat to them about what they’ve done before and the work they’ve done to build up what Munster is.
“For us to add on another layer of that on Sunday is hugely important to us and we’re really proud of what we did.”