By Martin Breheny
Pontypridd 38, Munster 36
DUBLIN — Munster’s amazing run in the European Cup was ended by Pontypridd last Saturday, but a 38-36 defeat wasn’t enough to prevent Declan Kidney’s squad from marching confidently into the quarterfinals.
Munster topped their group with five wins from six and will have a home venue for the quarterfinal in April. They are drawn to meet Stade Francais, but that is by no means certain as Leinster are considering lodging an objection to the French champions.
Leinster beat Stade Francais last December but are complaining that the French side fielded an ineligible player. Agen, another French side, have already been eliminated from the European Shield for fielding an ineligible player. London-Irish were the beneficiaries from Agen’s misconduct and have taken a quarterfinal spot against Ebbw Vale (Wales).
Leinster will decide later in the week whether or not to lodge an objection against Stade Francais. Leinster were desperately unlucky not to reach the quarterfinals in their own right. They beat Leicester by 32-10 on Saturday to finish Pool 1 on eight points, the same as Stade Francais. However, the French got through because they scored more tries. It was an excellent performance by Leinster, who destroyed their illustrious opponents in the second half.
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Munster had already qualified for the quarterfinal before their clash with Pontypridd in Cardiff, but they were keen to maintain their unbeaten run. It looked as if they would achieve that as they led be five points as the game ticked into injury time. However, in a late, desperate surge, Pontypridd got in for a try that was converted to give the Welshmen a two-point win.
Despite the defeat, Munster were upbeat. They can look forward to home advantage for the quarterfinal in April.
"It’s disappointing that we didn’t meet the standards we set for ourselves, but at least we’re in the quarterfinals," said Munster out-half Ronan O’Gara, who scored 21 points.
The season went from bad to worse to awful for defending European champions, Ulster, who lost to Bourgoin (37-26) in their final pool game. They lost all six games in their group, scoring just 71 points in the process. It’s all very different from last January, when a packed house at Lansdowne Road saw them take the European Cup in dramatic circumstances.
Bad times for Connacht too as they slumped to a 42-19 defeat against Ebbw Vale in their final European Shield game. They won just two of their four games in a disappointing season that also saw them ship some heavy defeats in the interprovincial series.