As for Munster, booking their place was the initial goal. However, they must now travel to Biarritz, one of France’s most powerful teams.
In the other quarterfinals, Toulouse will take on Northampton and Stade Francais will battle.
LEINSTER 57, TREVISO 17
“It’s as tough a draw as you could get at home,” admitted coach Declan Kidney following Leinster’s crushing 57-17 victory over the Italians from Treviso.
“Leicester are currently on top of the English League, and even though they have a number of players who have retired from international rugby, they’re still more than capable of playing international rugby. So their whole focus is just finishing out their careers on top.”
Unbeaten in their six matches to date, Leinster would certainly have hoped for a more favorable draw, but they will have to face a side that includes former England World Cup winners Martin Johnson, Neil Back and Ben Kay, as well as current England internationals Martin Corry, Julian White, Graham Rowntree and Harry Ellis.
That?s not even mentioning Ireland’s talented back Geordan Murphy, who has been on Leicester’s books since he was a teenager.
“It’s very difficult to go away and win at the quarterfinal stage, so Leinster are favorites,” Murphy said. “We have just scraped through and they’re a fantastic team.”
Leinster have looked like potential quarterfinal winners at times during the pool stages of the competition and the way in which they disposed of Treviso last Saturday with nine tries was once again impressive. Shane Horgan helped himself to three, Shane Jennings scored two, while Denis Hickie, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Byrne and Girvan Dempsey were also on the mark, with David Holwell adding six conversions.
HStill, Leinster were lucky to defeat both Bourgoin and Bath on the road, and while their backline, with the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and D’Arcy in scintillating form, makes them a genuine threat, their forwards have been disappointing and they will struggle to subdue Leicester.
Equally, more of the Leinster players than their Leicester counterparts will be involved in the Six Nations, which gets under way early next month, so injuries could yet play a part in how this intriguing quarterfinal will pan out.
“The Six Nations won’t be as big a distraction as it has been for Leicester in the past,” said Kidney, “and as all good sides do, they’ll test every facet of our play.”
MUNSTER 18, HARLEQUINS 10
With the knockout games not set to resume until the first week in April, Munster will also have time to contemplate their opponents. If Toulouse are the best French side in the tournament, Biarritz are probably the second best.
“They’ve got a very strong side,” said Munster’s coach, Alan Gaffney, “and down in the south of France it’s going to be no easy task. But we’ll go there confidently, and even though we haven’t played well in our last two games, we have still won 15 out of our last 16 matches, so it’s not all gloom and doom.”
Munster’s victory over the English side Harlequins in front of 34,000 spectators at Twickenham was hardly the comprehensive victory they desired, and the failure to secure a bonus point for scoring four tries in this game and in the earlier win in Limerick over the Ospreys deprived the Red Army of securing home advantage in the quarterfinals.
“There was a nervousness about our performance and I thought the occasion would have suited us more,” Gaffney said. “It was unfortunate not to get a bonus point but that’s life. We can’t do anything about it and we have to move on.”
No doubt Gaffney will be reminded that no team drawn away from home in the quarterfinals has ever gone on to win the title in the history of the tournament.
Munster didn’t just need to win at Twickenham; they needed to run in four tries to grab that precious bonus point, but from the moment that Ugo Monye intercepted Denis Leamy’s floated pass to put Harlequins 10-7 in front after half an hour, the bonus was a lost aspiration.
Leamy might have been dejected at his error, but otherwise the young openside flanker had a marvelous match soon recovering his composure to score a try that left Munster leading by 12-10 at the interval. All the winners could add during an error-strewn second half was two penalties by outhalf Paul Burke who was standing in for the injured Ronan O’Gara.
Even if Burke was solid, O’Gara’s composure and tactical kicking were sorely missed as Munster struggled for the upper hand. In fact, there was a danger they might have lost out near the end when the dangerous Monye broke through, but Christian Cullen made a fine try-saving tackle.
CARDIFF 16, ULSTER 12
Already without any hope of making the knockout stages, Ulster lost 16-12 in Cardiff, where David Humphreys had to go off injured with a suspected fractured cheekbone.
CONNACHT 19, GRENOBLE 3
Connacht booked a place in the semifinal of the European Challenge Cup following their second-leg win over French side Grenoble in Galway last weekend. The comfortable margin meant that the western province won 45-24 on aggregate and now qualify for the last four for the second season in a row.
“I don’t think we could have achieved this last year if we had the same injuries as this season, so that says a lot about the depth of our squad,”said Michael Bradley said. “It would have been a terrible thing for us to have exited the competition at this stage, and now having a semifinal in April puts a different complexion on our season.”
Matt Lacey and Michael Swift scored tries, with Paul Warwick, who moved to out-half when Eric Elwood had to go off injured early in the game, landing a drop goal and two penalties.
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