ERC Heineken Cup
Congratulations to Ulster Rugby on their Heineken Cup win over Leicester. The 19-22 victory over the Tigers at Welford Road thanks to the boot of Ruan Pienaar earned them a home quarter final at Ravenhill against Saracens. The semi-final draw also favours Ulster, and hopefully they can progress to a home tie against the winners of Clermont v Leicester. Ulster and Saracens met in the last eight last season and on that occasion the Londoners ran out winners 27-16.
The other semi-final could be an all-Irish affair with the winner of Toulon v Leinster hosting the winner of Munster v Toulouse. The quarter-finals take place from 4th-6th April with the semis following on 25th-27th April. The last eight line-up includes six past champions, with Saracens and last year’s beaten finalists Clermont the only survivors this season not to have won the tournament.
Quarter-finals: Ulster v Saracens; Clermont v Leicester; Toulon v Leinster; Munster v Toulouse.
Semi-finals: Ulster or Saracens v Clermont or Leicester; Toulon or Leinster v Munster or Toulouse.
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.
An explanation first of all of the title. Rugby fans will I hope recognise it immediately. It means Stand Up For The Ulster Men. The chant could be heard around a rain-soaked Ravenhill tonight as Ulster took on Glasgow Warriors in the Heineken Cup. Despite some protests over the union flag on some of the main roads in Belfast, it was almost a packed house (10,940) and there seemed to be only a handful of visitors from Scotland. The wet conditions were not conducive to good rugby. Ulster dominated the first half. Ruan Pienaar put over a penalty after seven minutes and the out half added the conversion after Nick Williams went over for a try in the nineteenth minute. A 10-0 lead for Ulster at the break. Glasgow came back in the first fifteen minutes of the second half with two penalties from out half Duncan Weir. Pienaar added another penalty on 62 minutes to give the home side a seven points cushion 13-6. The last quarter saw a determined Ulster side score two tries in the 73rd (Jared Payne) and 78th (Darren Cave) minutes. Neither was converted but coach Mark Anscombe will be satisfied with the result: victory to Ulster by 23-6. With one round of pool matches remaining, Ulster now sit top of Pool 4 on 19 points, five clear of Northampton Saints and six ahead of next weekend’s French opponents Castres. Although qualification for the Cup quarter-final is now secure, a good away result next week would give Ulster the advantage of a home draw in the knockout stages. Man of the match: Tom Court.
ULSTER 23 GLASGOW WARRIORS 6 (HT 10-0)
For the teams, see Ulster Rugby.