Dave Gantly analyses Munster’s heroic win over Harlequins in the Heineken Cup Quarter-Final.
What a momentous day for the red of Munster. Having been strongly
labelled as underdogs coming in to yesterdays Heineken Cup Quarter final against Harlequins at the Stoop, they had nothing to lose. Coming in to this game off the back off that disappointing 51 – 24 defeat in Glasgow last week, the red army were out for redemption. And how they delivered.
Munster defied the odds to pick up a crucial win that keeps their season alive, as they are eleven points off the play off spots in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 League. But Munster fans won’t mind too much about that if days like yesterday continue with the eagerly anticipated semi final against Clermont scheduled for April 27th 5.00pm kick off. But that is for another day.
Munster came in to this game with the returning Paul O’Connell who was restored as Captain after Doug Howlett failed to overcome a shoulder injury. To say his performance was majestic is an understatement. Along with returning Irish internationals scrum half Conor Murray and blindside flanker Peter O’Mahony, they were the heartbeat of a truly resurgent Munster side. In front of the watching Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland, this was as big a statement as any.
In terms of excitement, dedication and skill, if you were a rugby fan yesterday you wouldn’t want to have been anywhere else.
Munster outhalf Ronan O’Gara kicked all 18 of his team’s points but the match was really won in the break down where the Munster pack dominated throughout. Flankers Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell lead the way showing the utmost dedication to the cause. Making ferocious hits, it says something that O’Donnell outshone English Captain Chris Robshaw. Robshaw is in the mix for the Lions Captaincy this summer.
At the start of the game Munster fans would have been nervous seeing Ronan O’Gara miss two consecutive penalty kicks but as has been the case many times before, the Cork man landed six kicks and controlled the game with his brilliant tactical kicking. But even O’Gara was outshone by his returning teammate, the talisman Paul O’Connell. Munster just seemed inspired by the presence of the former Lions second row, with his work at the lineout and in the loose inspiring the Munster pack.
Going in 9 – 6 down at the break, Munster came out like men possessed, with O’Gara leveling up the scores at 9 – 9. Two more penalties followed to put Munster ahead by six points and Harlequins started to panic. Every time they attempted to build momentum, a wall of red met them. Casey Laulala’s hit on Harlequins outside centre George Lowe was surely felt in the stands while James Downey’s tackle on Mike Brown typified the Munster philosophy. These two players have had mixed starts to their Munster careers but they delivered when it was needed most. Laulala looked solid in defence and his quick feet caused problems for the Harlequins defence. As for Downey, he was used more on the crash ball to good effect and his defensive efforts were second to none.
Munster dealt with Harlequins last-ditch attempts to steal the game, with the choke tackle being used to good effect by O’Gara and Coughlan when Tom Casson led the last attack, squeezing any life Harlequins had left.
Another quarter-final success for Munster, their 10th in their illustrious European career. Another semi-final awaits. A fascinating challenge now awaits the Munster men. They travel to the South of France to take on the mighty Clermont Auvergne.
Once again they will have to stand up and fight.
Sport Is Everything. Dave Gantly.