Munster and Leinster set for showdown as both still playing catch-up with game to go
HEINEKEN CUP:There is still the outside possibility that both Munster and Leinster could join Ulster in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup as the two best runners-up, but results elsewhere over the weekend didn’t help either cause. Nor did Munster especially help themselves yesterday by falling two tries short of a bonus point in their 26-17 win in Edinburgh.
That left Munster precariously placed on 15 points with nine tries, just ahead of Leinster on 15 points and eight tries, in a probable battle for the last place in the quarter-finals as the second best runners-up. Unless Toulon win in Montpellier next Saturday afternoon, the latter are favoured to grab the first runners-up slot in the last eight given their bonus point win away to Sale on Friday night has left them on 18 points.
A Toulon win would retain the possibility of both Irish provinces squeezing through, but Toulon only need a bonus point defeat to ensure a coveted home quarter-final, most probably in Marseilles, so a mutually beneficial Montpellier win by less than eight points would leave them on 22 and out of the reach of both Leinster and Munster.
Leicester are above the Irish pair on 16 points after their 15-all draw away to the Ospreys yesterday, and host Toulouse (18 points and 13 tries) in Welford Road in Pool Two in the final game of next weekend on Sunday. To safeguard against a Leicester win by less than eight points leaving Toulouse on 19 points, Munster and Leinster each need a bonus point win to reach 20 points.
It is all fiendishly complicated, but the distinct possibility remains that Munster might yet be vying for the final runners-up slot when hosting Racing Metro in Thomond Park next Sunday (kick-off 12.45), and at the expense of Leinster. A blight on their landscape is the possibility that Ronan O’Gara might be cited for appearing to kick Edinburgh lock Sean Cox at the start of the final quarter, after which he was soon replaced. The citing commissioner, Alberto Recaldini of Italy, has 50 hours from kick-off to decide.
If Munster are to qualify for the 13th time in the last 14 years, they will have the advantage of kicking off in the final round of pool games next Sunday, after Leinster complete their group campaign away to Exeter on Saturday (kick-off 6pm).
In the event of Munster and Leinster finishing level on points, the next criteria would be tries scored, followed by their points differential. On top of one try more, Munster’s points difference is +37 compared to Leinster’s +19.
In effect, Munster would only have to match Leinster’s win to finish above Joe Schmidt’s team. Schmidt, who maintained afterwards that Brian O’Driscoll’s injury was not to the ankle which recently underwent surgery and that he was “fine”, also expressed the fear that a five-point Munster haul yesterday would have left his team very vulnerable. Thus, Munster’s failure to secure a bonus point slightly opened the door for the other teams, notably Leinster, who are chasing one of the two best runners-up slots.