Sunday 25 February 2018

Croke Park unlikely to host potential All-Ireland semi-final

Munster head coach Rob Penney
Munster head coach Rob Penney
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Croke Park is highly unlikely be available to host a Heineken Cup semi-final even if two go ahead in Dublin at the end of April.

Ulster and Leinster will have home advantage should they come through their quarter-finals at the start of next month and if the Blues can win in Toulon and Munster in Toulouse, the provinces will meet in the semi-final for the third time in eight years.

The last of those meetings took place in front of a packed house at GAA headquarters in 2009, but the scheduling of all four of the Allianz National League finals on the same weekend means that the association are unlikely to be able to open their doors to rugby this time around.

It means the IRFU could face hosting two semi-finals at Lansdowne Road in one weekend after Ulster received a favourable home draw if they can overcome Saracens at Ravenhill, with Clermont or Leicester Tigers away to the winners of that clash.

Munster coach Rob Penney was ignoring any potential clash against Leinster. "We have a massive hurdle to get over against Toulouse at home first and we won't be looking beyond that, but it is disappointing to potentially go through and not have something in the region," he said.

"That's just the way the draw goes. Traditionally Munster have never feared going away."

Munster's cause will be helped after France captain Thierry Dusatoir suffered a bicep injury against Zebre that will rule him out for four months.

Leinster have never been to the Stade Felix Mayol where Toulon have not lost a European game since 2009. Not surprisingly then, coach Matt O'Connor was reluctant to address the potential Munster clash.

"The draw will get fans and media talking, but we can't control that," he said. "All that we can control is our own performance away to Toulon. If we get over that considerable hurdle we will have plenty of time to talk about a potential semi-final.

"I know from the mentality of my players that they want to be tested against the best and, ultimately, if we are to progress then we have to play and beat the best and I am confident that we have the capabilities to do that."

Ulster, meanwhile, get a shot at revenge on Saracens as the reward for their win over Leicester. The Premiership league leaders ended Ulster's run in last season's tournament at the same stage at Twickenham.

Having been drawn at home for the semi-final, they have a real chance of reaching the final for the second time in three years, this time at the redeveloped Ravenhill which is due for completion just in time. "Last season we were hugely disappointed with the way we performed against Saracens. Now we have the opportunity to lay those ghosts to rest," Ulster director of rugby David Humphreys said.

Irish Independent

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