independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Double delight at Thomond as Reds eclipse old rivals

Despite recording a maximum 10-point return from their final two games, Leinster knew on the journey back from Exeter that their time as champions was up.

Munster at home, knowing they needed a 'mere' four-try victory over Racing 'moneybags' Metro to qualify for the last eight, knocking out Leinster in the process, could have but one outcome, and so it came to pass.

With Metro travelling light – which demeans the competition, however much ERC and the French federation dress it up – you knew it would only be a matter of time.

To be fair to the Parisian aristocrats they started well enough, but once flanker Antoine Battut committed hara-kiri it was no longer a matter of would Munster qualify but a shift to how long would it take, and by how much.

In the end it took less than 10 minutes of the second half to seal the deal, although 14-man Metro battled to the bitter end.

Damage

And bitter will be the feeling in Dublin this morning for, despite a brave and at times riveting display in Exeter, it was the one that got away in Clermont-Ferrand that did all the damage.

The collapse was in Dublin, but the real carnage was in France the week before.

By contrast Munster, despite their own blip in France back in October, just knuckled down and burrowed away as only they can. For a relatively young team in transition under a new coach to make the final eight is a real plus, irrespective of what happens at Harlequins in April.

As last in the door Rob Penney won't care where he and his restructured squad have to travel but dare we suggest that a trip to the Stoop, home of the reigning Premiership champions, is far less intimidating than a trek to Clermont or Toulon.

Quins head coach Conor O'Shea (pictured) will hardly be bragging to the media but behind closed doors he will be far happier with Munster in the last eight than Leinster, for on Saturday, in flashes, the Blues again looked the real deal.

There is a problem in the line-out and the balance in the second-row is just not right.

Mike McCarthy should shore that up in time but for whatever reason it just doesn't look right now.

For Munster, this sort of talk is precisely what they want to hear but, equally, the success of the province in this great competition relates to the ability to assess opposition in the most pragmatic way and then deal with it accordingly.

Suffice to say that come April when they pitch up at the Stoop – and there is not a snowball's hope in hell of Quins shifting it across the road to Twickenham – they will be ready.

The faithful left Thomond euphoric at the outcome, but deep down knowing they had been duped by an under-strength opposition and an early red card.

I will deal with the finer detail tomorrow but for now let Munster folk bask in qualification at the expense of Leinster.

There was a time when Leinster's tribal support wouldn't quite get what that meant and why. Now they do but they'll move on, as will the players. They will feel that if they had squeezed through, they could have gone the whole way to the Aviva in May.

Munster have much convincing to do in that regard but they are still in with a fighting chance; Leinster aren't.

However much they might look to play it down, it's a pretty good starting point.

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