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Sunday 20 April 2014

Muller blow for Ulster as O'Gara gives masterclass

Munster's Doug Howlett gets away from the tackle of Ernst Joubert during last night's Heineken Cup Pool 1 clash.

Ulster captain Johann Muller will miss the rest of his team's Heineken Cup pool campaign after he was ruled out for eight weeks with a broken arm sustained in Friday night's win over Northampton Saints in Franklin's Gardens. It was a sobering follow-up to a hugely impressive win by last season's beaten finalists, one of three wins out of three for Irish teams this weekend, with Heineken Cup champions Leinster to come this afternoon, in Clermont.

Muller was playing only his second game back after surgery on his thumb. With Lewis Stevenson still out with a knee injury – a further assessment yesterday morning suggests it will be after Christmas before he's back – it leaves Mark Anscombe's side short-staffed in the second-row as they chase what would be their third European qualification in a row.

The coach's likely reaction will be to put the excellent Iain Henderson into the second-row and promote Robbie Diack.

Elsewhere, Munster reacted positively to the threat from Pool 1 leaders Saracens. A match-winning goal-kicking performance from Ronan O'Gara, the tournament's record points scorer, saw them home 15-9 – the only blot on their copybook was the concession of a late bonus point to the away side, who saw four of seven penalty shots missed by Owen Farrell, who was central to England's win over New Zealand last weekend.

Meanwhile, Connacht's win over Biarritz on Friday night was their second of this campaign and third in all, having got off the mark in Europe in the final game of last season's campaign.

It's unlikely to enhance their chances of qualification in a pool where Harlequins will be the only qualifiers, but they still have a chance of transferring into the knockout stages of the Amlin Cup as a runner-up.

What happens away to Biarritz on Friday night will make or break that journey for the westerners.

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