Munster stand alone as Leinster and Ulster fall

Munster keep the Irish flag flying but Leinster are easily outgunned by Toulon to follow Ulster out of the Heineken Cup

 Drew Mitchell of Toulon is tackled by Brian O’Driscoll  and Jimmy Gopperth of Leinster during the Heineken Cup quarter-final  at the Felix Mayol Stadium  in Toulon, France. Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Drew Mitchell of Toulon is tackled by Brian O’Driscoll and Jimmy Gopperth of Leinster during the Heineken Cup quarter-final at the Felix Mayol Stadium in Toulon, France. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

And then there was one. Following on from Ulster’s heart-breaking exit, Leinster were unceremoniously turfed out of the last Heineken Cup as we know it by the holders Toulon in yesterday’s final quarter-final, leaving only Munster still standing of the three Irish provinces after their handsome win over Toulouse on Saturday.

Unusually, this means the last four are the same as at last season’s semi-final stage, albeit with different match-ups. It could yet be a repeat of last year’s all-French final between Toulon and Clermont. A day after Saracens host Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham, Munster will travel to the Stade Vélodrome (capacity: 41,000) in Marseille for a 4.30 kick-off local time. Munster will probably receive 15,000 tickets for sale.

The magnitude of the task now facing Munster was starkly underlined yesterday when Toulon’s expensively assembled international cast of galacticos put Leinster to the sword, thereby ensuring an ignominious end to Heineken Cup rugby for Brian O’Driscoll and their three-time winning captain Leo Cullen.

“It’s a disappointing result,” admitted a downbeat Matt O’Connor. “Not so much to lose but the performance is disappointing because we’re a better side than that and we were second best today. But quarter-finals are quarter-finals, knockout footy is that, that if you’re not very, very good, especially away from home, you won’t get the result . . . I don’t think it’s a bigger issue than we underperformed today against a very good side.

“The big lesson is you probably need to be at home in a quarter-final. And that’s where a day like today matters. I think we’ve got a really good group. There’s some big names moving obviously but the core of that group will be there and be there for a long time. So it’s not all doom and gloom,” he maintained, trying to muster a smile.

Leinster were outgunned at the breakdown, often came off worse in the collisions, were porous in defence and their unimaginative attacking game lacked penetration.

“We didn’t really fire any shots, which was disappointing,” admitted the Leinster coach. “They made it hard for us to play obviously and we didn’t get a lot of love at the breakdown. Steffon Armitage was very, very good. He slowed our ball and won a lot of turnovers and that made it hard to get any momentum.”

As to whether Munster can keep the Irish flag flying through to the final in Cardiff on May 24th, O’Connor said: “Munster always have a chance, don’t they? They will be incredibly hard to beat. They probably don’t have the class that that Toulon side has got and they have big-name players with a lot of Test experience. Guys who are performing week on week in the Top 14 so it will be a fair battle but you would imagine Toulon would win.”


Munster’s 16th man
Whereas Ulster were disadvantaged by having to play with 14 men – and Ravenhill did its damndest to make up the difference – Munster’s 16th man has rarely been in greater evidence than in their 47-23 rout of four-time winners Toulouse.

The visitors seemingly allowed themselves to be spooked by the Red Army, but it was still arguably their most compelling 80-minute performance in this competition since their 43-13 quarter-final win at home to the Ospreys in 2009.

The one blemish was the suspected dislocated shoulder which captain Peter O’Mahony suffered, and pending a scan “early this week” according to a Munster release yesterday, Rob Penney admitted “it doesn’t look great.”

In any event, Munster are contenders now. “It’s a long way to go,“ said Penney afterwards. “This team is capable of winning silverware but you need to have a bit of luck with the injuries. We’re capable of winning it, no doubt about that.”

Ulster’s hopes of earning a semi-final in the Aviva against Clermont were effectively dashed by the fifth minute red card which Jerome Garces brandished to Jared Payne in their heroic 17-15 defeat to Saracens on Saturday night. The laws state that players competing for the ball in the air have a duty of care to their opponents, and do not judge whether a player’s actions are malicious, but that merely shows the laws are an ass.

Reckless and worthy of a yellow at worst, it was made to look worse by the way Alex Goode fell and the slow motion replays, but given Payne clearly only had eyes for the ball the red card was excessive and showed no empathy for the game. Monsieur Garces may be the best of a hopeless French lot but like so many modern-day games he became the match’s main figure.

“It was a collision in the air and did it warrant a red card? I think we’re pretty hard done by there,” said Mark Anscombe. “To have a red card four minutes into the game meant we were always going to be chasing our tails. I’ve got to take my hat off to the boys to hang in there and, to actually be taking the game to them and trailing 17-15 in the 80th minute, we’ve got to be really proud of their effort. Jared, the whole time, had his eyes on the ball. I mean, how’s that a red card? I think that’s the emotion of the injury,”

Rory Best (ankle), Ruan Pienaar (shoulder) and Nick Williams (ankle) are all liable to be sidelined for a couple of weeks or more and while Andrew Trimble’s injury was described as “a knock”, it must rate as suspected concussion, despite getting to his feet to make a try-saving tackle. And then there are the mental scars, with Johann Muller, in his last Heineken Cup game, admitting that the defeat would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.