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Rugby Roundup: Quarter-final bound

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Munster conjured up all their traditional passion and power to crush England?s leading team, Sale, at a packed Thomond Park and book a home quarter-final against Perpignan of France, while Leinster produced a superb attacking performance to defeat Bath and earn an away match against tournament favorites Toulouse.
The 31-9 victory over Sale last Saturday cast aside any remaining doubts over Munster?s well-being. They had to win first and foremost, and that outcome was assured with a blistering first-half display, but there was the added carrot of a bonus point for scoring four tries which would give them an excellent chance of a home game when the knockout stages resume in April.
That bonus looked elusive as Munster struggled to maintain their dominance for a while after the break, but when the outstanding David Wallace crashed over in the first minute of injury time to give his side the fourth try, Thomond Park erupted.
This was a vintage display of controlled aggression. Sale?s muscular ball-carriers Sebastien Chabal and Andrew Sheridan were shut down by the sheer ferocity of Munster?s tackling as Donncha O?Callaghan, John Hayes, Paul O?Connell and Wallace put in hit after hit.
So high was the degree of intensity that Sale were fortunate to be only 24-9 down at the interval following stunning tries by the veteran Anthony Foley, and the two newcomers Ian Dowling and Barry Murphy.
Criticised for much of the season for their turgid play behind the scrum, Munster attacked Sale from the off with the inexperienced Murphy making his mark. Fists flew and tempers were frayed, but the electricity in the Limerick evening air only seemed to galvanise the home side.
Unbeaten now in Limerick in 23 games, O?Connell revealed that the fear of losing that record was a spur.
?That fear could be damaging, but it?s actually unbelievably motivating,? he said. ?We?ve spoken about it so often: ?Do we want to be the first Munster guys to lose at Thomond Park in the European Cup?? It makes people play out of their skins.?
Munster didn?t manage to play out of their skins as Ronan O?Gara lost his way during the second half, but there was a sense of the inevitable when Wallace plunged over for the fourth try. Having been beaten previously in two finals, Munster are possibly on their way to a date with destiny.
The same cannot be said of Leinster at the moment as they now have to face the reigning champions Toulouse in France in the last eight, but if Brian O?Driscoll and his teammates can perform with the same flair come April, a shock result might not be out of the question.
Although their 35-23 win in Bath appears tight enough on the scoreboard, Leinster were by far the more enterprising of the teams, and with 10 minutes remaining they led by 35-9 with O?Driscoll shaking off his injury worries to produce a masterclass of midfield play.
The Ireland captain was back to his very best after last summer?shoulder operation as Leinster positively tore Bath apart during the first half. With O?Driscoll pulling the strings, Shane Horgan, Felipe Contepomi and Will Green scored tries, and then Horgan added a second before O?Driscoll completed the rout after the changeover.
?We played some great rugby, but we played some smart rugby too,? said O?Driscoll. ?That?s the pleasing thing. Both sides ran out of gas towards the end, but I hope our performance proved a few of the doubters wrong.?
Although it was widely expected that Leinster?s talented back division would trouble Bath, the English club appeared to be too strong in the forwards, however, that scenario never panned out as Keith Gleeson, Malcolm O?Kelly and Green produced heroic displays.
Coach Michael Cheika was optimistic about the trip to Toulouse.
?It?s a great opportunity. Look if you want to learn and to get better, you?ve got to play the best and they?re pretty much categorised as the best around.?
Meanwhile, in the European Challenge Cup, Connacht suffered a shock 28-24 defeat at the hands of Catania in Sicily last weekend, but results elsewhere ensured that they qualified for the quarter-finals where they will now meet Newcastle of England.

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