I heard it first on RTÉ Radio sport: the possibility of an Irish rugby invasion of London at the start of April. And so it has come to pass. The remaining Heineken Cup pool fixtures this afternoon have deprived Ulster of a home draw in the quarter final. Instead Mark Anscombe’s team will be travelling to play Saracens on the weekend of April 5th/6th/7th just after Easter. They have been coached since 2009 by Mark McCall. He used to be in charge of the Ulster side so he will know the squad well and what to expect from the opponents. Their home games up to now have been played at Vicarage Road, the home of Watford FC. But they are about to move to a new stadium at Barnet with an artificial pitch. If they are to use the Allianz stadium at Copthall for the game, they will require permission from the local authority to increase the capacity from 10,000 to 15,000.
The other Irish side in the quarter-finals will be Munster, who will be up against Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins, coached by former Irish international Conor O’Shea. They had home and away victories over Connacht in pool 3. Their matches are normally at The Stoop at Twickenham, beside the RFU headquarters. Meanwhile the Heineken Cup holders Leinster despite a win yesterday are out of the competition but now get a place in the Amlin Cup. They will play another London side, Wasps, who play at the Adams stadium in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. Stand up for the Irishmen! The semi-final draw made at Leicester this evening produced the following pairings:-
Semi-final 1: Saracens or Ulster Rugby v Toulon or Leicester Tigers
Semi-final 2: ASM Clermont Auvergne or Montpellier v Harlequins or Munster
It was also a busy afternoon in Gaelic games and at the Athletic grounds in Armagh (attendance 4155), the line-up was decided for the McKenna Cup final at the same venue under the floodlights next Saturday evening at 7:30pm. Monaghan beat Down 1-12 to 0-12 and Tyrone beat Fermanagh 2-09 to 0-07. So Monaghan will get a chance to win their fourteenth McKenna Cup if they can manage to beat neighbours Tyrone.