Munster march on Europe
Published 15/01/2012 | 05:00
Munster put some distance between them and last year's failure to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup when they guaranteed their progress to that stage this season with a game to spare.
"If you had offered us that last week before we had qualified we would have bitten your hand off," said their number eight James Coughlan after their win over Castres in Thomond Park.
Munster had chased a bonus point to put towards their chances of a home draw in the quarters, but came up short. They travel to Milton Keynes on Saturday to face Northampton Saints who are out of the competition but who will be hellbent on balancing the account with Munster.
"I'd say they'll be looking for revenge," Munster coach Tony McGahan said. "They made their thoughts well known when they left here (after the first round) and it certainly stayed with them. The way they've played in the Premiership and the way they've attacked in their last Heineken Cup games certainly we're in for a battle on Saturday."
It remains to be seen if flanker Niall Ronan will be available for that tie after being carried off with a knee injury in the first half. McGahan confirmed that Ronan, whose knee was very swollen after the game, will go for a scan tomorrow.
Saints overcame Llanelli Scarlets earlier in the day to leave them chasing a place in the Amlin Trophy.
"They still have a lot to play for," Paul O'Connell said afterwards. "There's a bit of history between us and we've played each other a lot over the last few seasons. It will be almost like a Test match. We know we'll have a home quarter-final if we can get a result over there which would be brilliant."
Ulster, who took a vital bonus point in their win over Leicester Tigers in Ravenhill on Friday night, will go to Clermont knowing that if they can win, they will top the pool. But after annihilating Aironi yesterday, Clermont will be chasing a bonus-point win to take them through.
A bonus point may be enough to take Brian McLaughlin's side through as one of the best runners-up, and if not then the Amlin is an route for them.
Connacht as expected were well beaten in Toulouse, although they did take the lead through a Niall O'Connor penalty. This ultimately proved to be their only score in a 24-3 defeat. Connacht's last chance to record a first Heineken Cup victory is on Friday night when Harlequins visit the Sportsground needing a win to qualify.
"It would be great to finish our first season in the Heineken Cup with a win and we will take a lot of encouragement from this game into that match against Harlequins," said coach Eric Elwood.
"We are happy with the performance. It was important to mentally understand how important this game was. It wasn't just another game. I think the lads in fairness prepared very well, they were mentally prepared for this game. And at half time at 10-3 we were in a good game here, and they knew they were.
"Okay it finished off 24-3 but maybe that wasn't a scoreline that a lot of people would have expected. But the effort was excellent, the performance was excellent and some of our defensive work was excellent."
Leinster travel to Firhill this afternoon -- where they have never won in this competition -- leading the pool by six points and looking for a win to take another step towards a home quarter-final.
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