Champions Leinster have one foot in the Heineken Cup quarterfinals and Munster look set to join them after another dramatic weekend of action.
Brian O’Driscoll scored a last minute bonus point try as the Blues defeated French visitors Brive 27-10 at the RDS on Saturday night.
That set them up nicely for this Saturday’s big clash with London Irish at Twickenham -- especially as Irish hit the self-destruct button as they blew a 12-point lead when losing away to the Scarlets in Wales on Sunday.
All Leinster need is to avoid a bonus point defeat in London this weekend to guarantee a home draw in the last eight, much to the delight of coach Michael Cheika.
“I still haven’t delivered a home quarterfinal to Leinster and our fans and we’re really committed to deliver that,” said Cheika after Isa Nacewa and Gordon D’Arcy had added to an early penalty try.
“Brive came with a lot of fight and I thought they played very well, and it’s a credit to their new coaches -- they’ve brought them forward.
“At halftime we spoke and said, ‘This is European Cup football and nothing’s easy, don’t expect anything...you have to earn everything you get and it wasn’t going well for us.’
“But I think it’s a good learning opportunity for us and probably what we needed -- a good physical battle before next weekend.
“We dug deep and hopefully that’s what Leinster rugby is all about. We believe in ourselves and when it needed to be executed right, they backed themselves and got it done.”
Munster are also on course for the quarterfinals and can guarantee qualification with a home win over Northampton at Thomond Park on Friday night.
The Reds were comfortable 44-7 winners away to Treviso on Saturday when Keith Earls (two), Denis Hurley, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul Warwick and Donnacha Ryan scored tries and Ronan O’Gara added 12 points.
Team manager Shaun Payne said, “It was a strange match to secure a bonus point as early as that with all the tries scored from long range.
“It’s not something we’re used to, but we were pleased nonetheless. We were aware of the problems both Perpignan and Northampton had here in Italy so we were really up for this game as we chase a playoff place.
“A few of the lads hadn’t played for almost three weeks because of rest periods and games being called off due to the weather, but I guess our concerns that we might be under-cooked were unfounded.
“The lads were hungry and we made the most of the good conditions with the tries.”
Ulster also kept their slim European hopes alive with a 21-13 win over Edinburgh at Ravenhill on Friday night thanks to tries from Isaac Boss and Darren Cave.
“We closed the game out, we were very dogged with no frills to our performance and we just got stuck in,” said coach Brian McLaughlin.
“At the end we got in their half and stayed there. We wanted to be in a position to be going to Bath this weekend with something major at stake.
“We must front up there and get a result, we can go across and get that elusive win.”
Connacht made it a clean sweep for the Irish provinces when they qualified for the quarterfinals of the Challenge Cup for the second year in succession after beating nearest rivals Montpellier 20-10 at the Galway Sportsground on Friday night.
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