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No Grey Areas Left

January 22, 2010 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

No Grey Areas Left

Throw away the claculators and the slide rules, the permutations are simple enough, a win, and Munster are through to the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup for a record 12th consecutive season.

A quick trawl through the other Pools will show that Pool 3 will produce two quarter finalists, Clermont and probably Leicester while Pool 6 could also produce a best runner-up in the unlikely event, and it’s highly unlikely that London Irish do a number on Leinster in Twickenham tomorrow. London Irish have managed to do a number on themselves twice in this Pool so they wont reverse the trend.

But as the players have readily pointed out this evening is all about themselves in terms of determining the outcome of this game.

They face a Northampton Saints side who make no bnes about their confidence to become only the second side to lower Munster colours in the Heineken Cup at Thomond Park and Jim Mallinder certainly arrives with an impressive array of talent in the likes of Euan Murray, Juandre Kriger, Courtney Lawes, and the back three of Bruce Reihana and England hopefuls Chris Ashton and Ben Foden.

They also have an impressive unbeaten record and will be buoyed by last weekend’s win over Perpignan, albeit a side shorn of their top players.

For their part Munster look to have run into a nice bit of form. Their performance in the first half against Treviso last weekend was arguably far more impressive than Northampton’s second half against Perpignan when they seemed to get the benefit of the doubt of most 50/50 decisions never mind the try that wasn’t.

But this evening, all that has gone before will count for nowt. What Munster face is an English side, who like Leicester, are far far removed from the flaky sides the English Premiership seems to spawn.

Two good sides, similar in lots of way, tradition,heritage, passion and pride, will go hell for leather from the start in what should prove to be one of the highlights, not of this round, this competition.

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, J de Villiers, D Hurley; R O’Gara, T O’Leary; W du Preez, D Fogarty, J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell [capt]; A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Wallace. Replacements: D Varley, M Horan, T Buckley, D Ryan, J Coughlan, P Stringer, L Mafi, I Dowling

Northampton Saints: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana; S Geraghty, L Dickson; S Tongauiha, D Hartley [capt], E Murray; I Fernandez Lobbe, J Kruger; C Lawes, P Dowson, R Wilson. Replacements: B Sharman, A Waller, B Mujati, C Day, N Best, A Dickens, S Myler, C Mayor

Referee: Romain Poite

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The Better Half Makes All The Difference

January 24, 2010 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

The Better Half Makes All The Difference

Four Ronan O’Gara penalties, two in either half, helped Munster to a 12-9 victory over Northampton Saints and a place in the Heineken Cup quarter final for a record breaking 12th consecutive season.

It was a tense and nervous affair played in front of as vociferous a crowd as the famous ground has ever produced, with the home crowd getting behind their side as never before. That noise level reached a crescendo on the hour when, reduced to 14 with the harsh yellow card for skipper Paul O’Connell, Munster came under intense pressure, scrumming down on their own five metre line, the put in to the Saints.

With the crowd baying their support, they somehow managed to survive – Doug Howlett adding his less than considerable bulk to the scrum – and indeed prosper, turning the ball over and clearing their lines.

Right from the off the tone was set with hit hits, ball in the air rugby. It wasn’t classic stuff nevertheless enthralling and when it came down to making the difference it was O’Gara’s 4 from 5 plus his all round game management that was so superior to his opposite number Shane Geraghty, that made all the difference. Man of the Match Alan Quinlan was all over the park in the opening quarter fielding four of those ill directed Geraghty bombs.

The one kick O’Gara did miss was in the opening half from the half way. That penalty came after Geraghty had kicked the ball dead from a stride inside his 10 metre line. However, when referee Romain Poite restarted with a scrum, he did so on the half way line rather than from where it should have been and when Northampton were penalised, O’Gara’s effort, straight and true, fell short.

He kicked them into an early lead with a 35 metre penalty and after Geraghty had equalised in the 31st minute O’Gara was again on the mark just before the break.

Bruce Reihana tried a long range penalty in the 44th minute that never threatened, Geraghty was wide again six minutes later but tied the game with an easy 52nd minute penalty.

Shortly after O’Gara had restored Munster’s advantage O’Connell received his marching orders and Munster were forced to dig deep to defend with 14. But survive they did and O’Gara edged them six clear with ten minutes remaining.

Replacement Steve Myler narrowed the gap to three with a 76th minute penalty but Munster controlled the closing stages ending the game attacking inside the Northampton 22.

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, J de Villiers, I Dowling; R O’Gara, T O’Leary; W du Preez, D Fogarty, J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell [capt], A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Wallace. Replacements: D Varley for Fogarty, D Ryan for O’Callaghan (both 56 mins), M Horan for du Preez (68 mins), T Buckley for Hayes (71 mins). Not used: J Coughlan, P Stringer, L Mafi, T Gleeson.

Northampton Saints: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana; S Geraghty, L Dickson; S Tongauiha, D Hartley [capt], E Murray, I Fernandez Lobbe, J Kruger, C Lawes, P Dawson, R Wilson. Replacements: C Day for Fernandez-Lobbe (58 mins), N Best for Lawes, S Myler for Geraghty (both 72 mins). Not used: B Sharman, A Waller, B Mujati, A Dickens, C Mayor.

Referee : Romain Poite (France).

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