Saturday 20 January 2018

Munster, Ulster and Leinster head for English capital as Zebo edges Schmidt’s men out of Euro top tier

Simon Zebo points the way for Munster as he celebrates one of his three tries against Racing Metro at Thomond Park
Simon Zebo points the way for Munster as he celebrates one of his three tries against Racing Metro at Thomond Park
Conor George

Conor George

THE three Irish provinces still involved in European action are all London-bound for their respective quarter-finals on the same weekend.

Munster and Ulster face trips to Harlequins and Saracens, respectively, in the Heineken Cup, while Leinster will have to settle for the consolation prize of playing Wasps at Adams Park in their Amlin Challenge Cup debut.

A Simon Zebo-inspired Munster qualified for the last eight of Europe's marquee competition as one of the two best runners-up, after comfortably securing the bonus-point win against Racing Metro that forced Joe Schmidt's (right) defending champions into the second tier competition.

Munster won't lack motivation for their trip to The Stoop as Harlequins defeated the Reds in the semi-final of the Amlin Challenge Cup in Limerick two seasons ago.

Munster will also hope to have Paul O'Connell available for that encounter. The second-row has stated his desire to be back playing at some point in April and will certainly see the game against Harlequins as the perfect match in which to reintroduce himself.

If Munster win, they will face an away trip to either Clermont or Montpellier in the semi-finals.

Ulster's hopes of a home quarter-final were dashed by Saracens, who ran in five tries in the snow to beat Edinburgh at Vicarage Road. Mark Anscombe's side edged out Castres to win on French soil for the first time on Saturday, but Sarries' bonus point edged the English side ahead in the standings.

"It's disappointing not to be at home – we dropped our guard by not beating Northampton at Ravenhill and that has cost us," said Anscombe, who knows that his side will be rewarded with a home semi-final against Toulon or Leicester Tigers if they can overturn Saracens.

"With the way the semi-final draw has worked out, there is a massive incentive there."

The winners of the Leinster/ Wasps Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final will face a last-four meeting with either Gloucester or Biarritz.

Meanwhile, four Munster players have been called up to the Ireland training squad in Carton House on the back of their performances yesterday.

James Coughlan, Tommy O'Donnell, Mike Sherry and Damien Varley have all benefited from Munster's win over Racing Metro and joined up with their Ireland colleagues in their Co Kildare base last night.

Coughlan in particular was desperately unfortunate to miss out in last weekend's original squad announcement, given his outstanding form over the last three seasons, while O'Donnell has been a revelation for Munster in this campaign.

Both will have hopes of making the Six Nations squad proper while the two hookers, Varley and Sherry, are likely to be involved with the Wolfhounds squad when they play England Saxons in Galway on Friday night.

Irish Independent

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