Patience pays rich dividend as Ireland's top 10s deliver
Published 13/11/2011 | 05:00
Ireland's first weekend with all four teams in the Heineken Cup produced a return of two wins, a draw and one defeat, with Ronan O'Gara pushing them into credit territory thanks to a stunning drop-goal in the fourth minute of injury time at Thomond Park last night. It was the result of an incredible build up that saw Munster go through 41 phases before getting the opportunity for O'Gara to strike.
"It's a lovely feeling having a guy like that who wants to be in that position every game, and I'm not sure every out-half is like that," said Paul O'Connell afterwards. "If ROG could orchestrate every game to end like that, he'd do it. To have a guy around for that long and still be as hungry as he is, to be that willing to fight, is fantastic."
And coach Tony McGahan didn't hold back on the praise either. "It was something special wasn't it? The belief in the group and the way they stuck there for 80 minutes, when a lesser team would not have been in the contest, let alone go through 41 phases. O'Gara's a special person, to have that bottle after 80 minutes to step up and make the kick. A real reflection of the group, but certainly an outstanding contribution at the end from himself."
Champions Leinster needed a last-gasp equaliser with Jonny Sexton riding to the rescue, albeit in less dramatic circumstances, to earn a draw in Montpellier who were playing in the competition for the first time.
"That's typical Jonny," said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt. "I don't think he was rattled by it at all. I think it helps him narrow his focus and get the job done, and he did that superbly."
First, a Sean Cronin try brought Leinster back into a game that had been dominated by the home team and then Sexton goaled the last kick, having failed with an easier one minutes earlier. In the circumstances two points was a decent return for Leinster, who have Glasgow at home on Sunday.
"We created some good opportunities in the first half when we played with a bit of pace," said captain Leo Cullen. "There were a couple of key moments in the game. We were attacking inside the 22 and turned the ball over and they went down the field and scored a try so that felt like a 14-point turnaround."
In Ravenhill, Ulster were faced with the prospect of being under immediate pressure in the toughest pool in the competition if they couldn't get past Clermont Auvergne, and were heading down that road until a fine combination between Adam D'Arcy and Ian Humphreys saw the out-half crash over with a few minutes left to claim the lead.
A bonus point for the French side was poor reward given the number of points they left behind them. Both Morgan Parra -- usually unerring -- and replacement Brock James had awful experiences with the placed ball, allowing Ulster off the hook.
On Friday, Connacht, with two 21-year-old centres in Eoin Griffin and Dave McSharry, destroyed the bookies' prediction of a 25-point home win by running Harlequins close at the Stoop. They have Toulouse on Saturday in what will be a sold-out Sportsground and hope to have Ray Ofisa, their only casualty from Friday night, fit again.
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