Munster and Leinster roared into the last four of the Champions Cup

Munster and Leinster roared into the last four of the Champions Cup
Andrew Conway of Munster celebrates with team-mates Darren Sweetnam, James Cronin, Billy Holland, Sammy Arnold, and Alex Wootton. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

THE feelgood factor in Irish rugby carried into the Champions Cup knockout stages over the Bank Holiday weekend as Munster and Leinster set up a potential final showdown in May.

After the sizzling Grand Slam triumph in the Six Nations, Ireland's top two club teams could now meet in a first-ever all-Ireland European decider.

The Reds saw off Toulon in the quarter-final at Thomond Park and must now travel to Paris to face Racing 92, and former Munster ace Donnacha Ryan, while Leinster are at home to Scarlets in the semi, after an emphatic victory over three-in-a-row chasing Saracens.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan paid tribute to his "group of warriors" following the epic 20-19 win over Toulon.

South African van Graan, in his first season in charge of the Irish province, is now planning for a European semi-final trip to France after Andrew Conway's sensational 74th-minute solo try helped the two-time champions edge past Toulon in front of a sold-out crowd.

Appearing in a record 17th Champions Cup quarter-final, Munster had trailed by six points when Chris Ashton crossed for a 64th-minute try for the French heavyweights, who lifted the title in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

However, Conway's try and Ian Keatley's all-important conversion wrenched victory away from the visitors' grasp.

Van Graan said: "It was an incredible game of rugby. I thought two great sides, two great clubs that went at each other for 82, 83 or 84 minutes. There were a lot of ebbs and swings in that game.

"I thought they started really well. I thought we fought our way back into it.

Munster's Simon Zebo with Chris Ashton of Toulon. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr
Munster's Simon Zebo with Chris Ashton of Toulon. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

"We scored a fantastic try (through Andrew), converted it to kill the game there for the last few minutes. I think gratitude is the main word. It is a fantastic honour to coach a group of warriors.

"If it gets better than this it is going to be something amazing because like I said before, all the odds were stacked against us, I don't think a lot of people gave us a chance, but if you have 23 guys who believe, a coaching and management staff that believe, a squad of players who believe and a club that really believes, you can do the unthinkable and you can make dreams come true."

Champions Cup holders Saracens were overrun 30-19 at the Aviva Stadium in a defeat that extinguished English interest in the competition.

Leinster's James Lowe grabs the ball. Picture: Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA Wire.
Leinster's James Lowe grabs the ball. Picture: Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA Wire.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen insisted the Irish province - and particularly their rampaging openside Leavy - benefited from what he felt was a deliberate tactic by Saracens to target Johnny Sexton.

"There was definitely space on some of the short sides. Saracens defended very hard on Johnny, particularly in the first half," Cullen said.

"They were playing him ... which is the best way to describe it. They were going aggressively at him, so there was going to be space for somebody else."

Sexton conceded a petulant penalty by kicking the ball away when they were due to take a restart, but Cullen refused to condemn his fly-half.

"It's tough on Johnny because he was played off the ball a few times during the first half. It's hard for him to not get frustrated," said Cullen.

"I'll have a look back at the game, but there are three or four instances when he's been hit, played late off the ball.

"I will have to see how that unfolds because it's important to take that in the context of the game."


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