Well, that was the weekend that was. Munster trounced Toulouse who arrived at Limerick only ‘to lose’ heavily. On Sunday, Toulon re-dressed the France-Ireland balance with a surprisingly comfortable triumph against the mighty Leinster. As for Ulster, well the northerners experienced a real hard luck story at Ravenhill where they out-fought Saracens, with one less man, and still lost narrowly.
So for the second year in succession, Ulster crash out at the last eight to the dastardly Saracens. The men in white can feel harshly treated by a referee whose red card after four minutes may have been swayed by the apparent seriousness of Goode’s injury. Whether this was really refereeing a situation on its merits or being influenced by the consequences is open to question. In the event, Chris Ashton’s pair of tries were a direct result of Ulster missing a back in their defence. No blame can be attached to Saracens. You can only beat what is placed in front of you, and by hook or by crook the English team squeezed over the finishing line. The contest ended with an epic series of almost forty phases from an Ulster team that could not quite blow the Saracens house down. The story would have been much different if Farrell had landed a few kicks, while Pienaar missed a penalty and Jackson hit the posts, an error which ultimately proved fatal. Ulster’s pack totally overwhelmed their opponents, thus clawing back much of the advantage that Saracens enjoyed. I thought that Ulster’s heroics were definitely on a par with those of Wales when they were compelled to compete in a 2011 World Cup semi-final against France with a one-man disadvantage.
Also, for the second consecutive year, Munster are the only Irish province to progress to the semi finals. They outscored their opponents by six tries to two and produced the kind of all-round performance that suggests that they are more than a one-trick pony which relies solely upon forward power. With Earls and Zebo on the wings, the Munster outfit have enough pace and flair to ensure that they should be a competitive adversary for Toulon in the last four. The results were:
MUNSTER 47 Toulouse 23
(Munster tries: Earls, Kilcoyne, Stander, Laulala, Zebo, O’Connell)
ULSTER 15 Saracens 17
Toulon 29 LEINSTER 14
(Leinster try: Murphy)
Clermont Auvergne 22 Leicester 16
SEMI-FINALS [last weekend in April]:
Saracens versus Clermont Auvergne
Toulon versus MUNSTER