Home Sport Rugby Leinster, Ulster and Munster looking good for quarter-finals

Leinster, Ulster and Munster looking good for quarter-finals

Leinster Ulster and Munster looking good for quarter finals
7 December 2019; James Lowe of Leinster makes a break during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 3 match between Northampton Saints and Leinster at Franklins Gardens in Northampton, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

By Phil Rice

Connacht were the only Irish province to lose their European Champions Cup match last weekend and now they only have an outside chance of qualifying for the quarter-final stages.

Leinster thumped English Premiership leaders Northampton 43-16 at Franklins Gardens and are justifying their position as favourites for this year’s trophy.

Holders Saracens narrowly lost to Munster in a dour encounter at Thomond Park, putting Johann van Graan’s men in a strong position after two wins and one draw.

Saracens appear to be concentrating on surviving in the Premiership this season, after their deduction of 35 points due to breaching the salary cap ruling.

Meanwhile, Ulster just about maintained their 100 per cent winning ways in the competition, with a last gasp penalty from John Cooney giving them victory over Harlequins in Belfast.


We are in the middle of the back-to-back Champions Cup Rounds third and fourth round matches, and last weekend’s teams will meet again this weekend at the reverse venues.

Northampton will not be looking forward to facing Leinster again after the drubbing they received. A festive atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium with Leinster supporters baying for blood, will not be on the Premiership leaders Christmas wish list.

The most impressive element of Leinster’s win was their watertight defence. They soaked up everything Northampton could throw at them and then went down the other end of the pitch and scored seven clinical tries.

The only blemish on the day’s proceedings was the nasty looking knee injury to captain Johnny Sexton. The Ireland fly half underwent a scan on Monday. Ross Byrne is expected to take over the reins against Saints.

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Leinster’s back row was outstanding with Josh van der Flier and Caolin Doris particularly impressive.


Hooker Ronan Kelleher continued his excellent form and at this stage it would be no surprise if Ireland coach Andy Farrell gave the number two shirt to the 23-year-old for the opening game of next year’s Six Nations.

He has certainly been the most impressive hooker for the provincial teams this season so far.

His seven tries are noteworthy but it is the routine responsibilities of a hooker that he fulfils so admirably.

Scrummaging, throwing in at the line out and his all-round loose play have been a revelation.

Jordan Larmour had a superb game also. Rob Kearney must be concerned that his international days are drawing to a close as Cullen continues to select the exciting Larmour ahead of him.

In light of Ireland’s disappointing recent World Cup experiences, it is timely that these younger players are staking a strong claim for international recognition.


Another candidate who must be catching Farrell’s eye is Ulster’s scrum-half John Cooney, who has been a key figure in the turn-around in the Northern province’s fortunes this season.

Although he is hardly a newcomer at 29-years-of-age, his recent form has certainly been trumping the performances of Irish incumbent of the 9 shirt, Munster’s Conor Murray.

This calendar year has not been one that Murray will look back on with much pride. At the end of 2018 he was widely regarded as one of the top three scrum halves in world rugby, but he has still yet to rediscover that form in 2019.

He will be concentrating on cementing Munster’s claim for a quarter-place this weekend when they face Saracens again.

Mark McCall’s team are a proud bunch and despite their obvious disinterest in the Champion’s Cup this season, they will realise how close they were to beating Munster at Thomond Park last weekend and would take some pleasure in putting one over Johann van Graan’s team at Allianz Park this weekend.

Ulster visit The Stoop in Twickenham to take on Harlequins again. It was a disappointing game last weekend and Ulster were decidedly lucky to come away with a win.

Leinster Ulster and Munster looking good for quarter finals
7 December 2019; Peter O’Mahony of Munster scores his side’s first try despite the efforts of Brad Barritt of Saracens during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4 Round 3 match between Munster and Saracens at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile


If they raise their game this weekend they could extinguish the English club’s interest in this year’s competition and put themselves in a very strong position for a quarter-final place.

There were far too many handling errors in the match at the Kingspan and although Stuart McCloskey is an important element of their midfield attack, his passing frailties are causing far too many breakdowns to promising attacks.

Ulster have a strong back three in, Jacob Stockdale, Louis Ludik and Craig Gilroy but they were under-utilised last weekend.

Connacht will be desperate to beat David Humphries Gloucester team at the Sportsground this weekend.

Although victory is unlikely to save the Westerners cup campaign, they will be anxious to perform at their best now they are involved among the top European teams.

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