Mouth-watering: Leinster and Munster may meet in semi-finals
Ulster are given the carrot of a ‘home’ semi-final at the Aviva Stadium
Munster’s Peter O’Mahony punches the air after scoring his side’s fourth try against Edinburgh at Thomond Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
There was a little something for all three Irish provinces still standing in the Heineken Cup, with the main beneficiaries perhaps being Ulster, as the knock-out route to the Millennium Stadium final on May 24th was outlined yesterday. In the other half of the draw, Munster and Leinster could meet in the semi-finals.
On foot of securing a home quarter-final at Ravenhill against Saracens with Saturday’s superb win away to Leicester, Mark Anscombe’s team were given the carrot of a ‘home’ semi-final at the Aviva as the winners of that tie will host Clermont or Leicester.
Munster secured a home quarter-final against Toulouse by dint of their 38-3 bonus-point win against Edinburgh, but the draw, which took place afterwards in Thomond Park, pitted the winners of that tie away to Toulon or Leinster.
Their away semi-final could yet be at the Aviva, which would mean a reprise of the Leinster-Munster semi-finals of 2006 and ‘08 at the old Lansdowne Road and Croke Park. First though, Leinster must overcome the reigning European champions, which will probably be in Toulon’s Stade Felix Mayol home, with an increased capacity of 15,000-plus, with Leinster entitled to 25 per cent of the tickets. Were Toulon to secure a home semi-final against Munster or Toulouse, it would be staged in the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles.
Leinster will be meeting Toulon for the first time ever, an ironic eventuality given their unsuccessful pursuit of Seán O’Brien and continuing pursuit of Jamie Heaslip, which is not expected to be resolved for a few more days at least.
‘Beat the best’
Matt O’Connor commented: “I know from the mentality of my players that they want to be tested against the best and ultimately if we are to progress in this competition then we have to play and beat the best and I am confident that we have the capabilities to do that.”
O’Connor would not be drawn on a possible clash with either Munster or Stade Toulouse. “Look, of course the draw will get fans and media talking but we can’t control that. All that we can control is our own performance away to Toulon. If we get over that considerable hurdle we will have plenty of time to talk about a potential semi-final then and I am sure Rob (Penney) will say the same.”
The door had been inched ajar for Munster by Zebre restricting Toulouse to just one try on Saturday, ensuring a bonus-point win would earn a lucrative and advantageous home quarter-final. Of the 68 quarter-finals to date, 51, or exactly 75 per cent, have yielded home wins.
After Munster had completed their task, it was left to Clermont to secure a bonus-point win at home to Racing. Had Clermont fallen short of the fourth try, it would have meant a Munster-Leinster quarter-final at Thomond Park three weeks after the Six Nations and a week after the pair met at the Aviva in the Rabo Pro12. Judging by the cheers which greeted the tries by Gerhard Vosloo and Vincent Debaty in the 60th and 67th minutes to secure Clermont’s bonus point, not even the packed Munster Supporters Bar in the main stand wanted that.