Less than a week until the Heineken Cup quarter finals commence and fans from Leinster, Munster and Ulster will be hoping the classes of 2014 can emulate epic wins of years gone by in rugby’s greatest club competition. The provinces’ record at the quarter final stage reads; played 27; won 18 and lost 9. Matt Cassidy looks back on eight of the greatest performances in recent memory.
8. Munster 37 – 32 Stade Français, Thomond Park 2004
Munster blitzed the French side in the first ten minutes to go 17-0 up. Stade regrouped and scored a try through Argentine full back Ignacio Corleto. The half time score was 24-10 to Munster. But the Parisian side refused to lie down as they scored after the restart to narrow the gap to seven points. However, a moment of brilliance extended Munster’s lead again as Marcus Horan side-stepped the defence and sprinted thirty metres to cross the whitewash. With Munster tiring Stade pulled back another score in the final ten minutes but O’Gara kept his cool as he slotted two more penalties to send Munster through to their fifth semi-final in a row.
7. Harlequins 12 – 18 Munster, The Stoop 2013
The most optimistic Reds’ fan could not have expected the final result as Munster conquered the Quins at the Stoop. Harlequins were English champions and notwithstanding the fact they were not in good form, they were expected to easily dispatch a side who had leaked fifty points the previous week to Glasgow in the Pro12. However, led by Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony, playing like men possessed, Munster beat up Quins physically. And with Ronan O’Gara rolling back the years to land six penalties, Ireland’s southern province secured a famous victory and a spot in the last four once again.
6. Leinster 29 – 28 Clermont Auvergne, RDS 2010
The intense rivalry between the two sides was born here. Leinster won but Clermont fly half Brock James had a night to forget as he missed five kicks at goal and two drop goal attempts. It was a wonderful game of rugby as Jamie Heaslip scored a brace of tries for Leinster with Clermont wing Julien Malzieu beating Heaslip’s achievement with three of his own. The game came down to the final play and it was painful to watch as James hid from the responsibility to win the game for his team. When he did shoot for glory his drop goal ended up nearer to the corner flag than the posts. The Leinster fans erupted but the Dublin team used their get out of jail card in this game as they were defeated in the next round by eventual champions Toulouse.
5. Ulster 15 -13 Toulouse, Ravenhill 1999
Irish Rugby’s first Heineken Cup victory was achieved when Ulster defeated Toulouse. It was the third encounter between the two sides that season with home advantage being key in the first two encounters. And it was to prove vital again as Ulster won a tense match to set up a semi-final with Stade Français. One of the most endearing images of the game was the substitution of Andy Ward so he could be rushed to hospital to see his wife give birth.
4. Stade Français 14 – 16 Munster, Stade Jean-Bouin 2002
Revenge was sweet as Munster defeated the Parisian side. The quarter final was a repeat of the previous season’s semi-final as Munster was robbed of a place in the final when John O’Neill’s try was incorrectly disallowed. But the men from Thomond were not to be denied in the rematch as Anthony Horgan scored the winning try to send them through to the semi-finals.
3. Munster 16 – 22 Ulster, Thomond Park 2012
The game was played on Easter Sunday and we saw the resurrection of a rugby team who had been in the doldrums for many a year. Ulster shocked Munster and their fanatical home crowd into silence as they took a 19-0 lead with monstrous kicking from Ruan Pienaar and a brilliant solo try by wing, Craig Gilroy. Munster slowly worked their way backed into the game and Simon Zebo crashed in at the corner just before half time. During the second half the Reds laid siege to the Ulster line but only could muster up two penalty goals. The game ended in the northern side’s favour, announcing Ulster’s step back into the European spotlight.
2. Leicester Tigers 7 – 20 Munster, Welford Road 2003
To say this was a grudge match would have been an understatement. Munster had been denied in the previous season’s final by the hand of Neil back and to stir up the emotions even more Leicester had controversially allocated Munster only a thousand tickets for their supporters. This contravened ERC rules and Munster were eventually allowed 50 percent of Welford Road’s capacity. The game was a bruising encounter with Munster securing the win through a brilliant Peter Stringer try five minutes from time. The final act of the game was Ronan O’Gara booting the ball into a section of the Munster faithful, sending the red hordes into delirium.
1. Toulouse 35 – 41 Leinster, Stade de Toulouse 2006
The greatest Irish away victory in the last eight came as Leinster defeated defending champions Toulouse in their own backyard. The score was 16-6 to Leinster at half time thanks to Brian O’Driscoll’s try but the second half was when the men from D4 cut loose. Tries from Cameron Jowitt, Denis Hickie and Shane Horgan were richly deserved as Leinster played some sumptuous, thrilling rugby in the second forty. The rouge et noir did score two consolation tries in the final five minutes but this was Leinster’s day.
Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena.