Leinster will play the Cardiff Blues at home in the quarterfinals of the Heineken Cup after a 25-3 win over Montpellier at the RDS on Saturday when first half tries from Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney proved decisive.
“We have a home quarterfinal is the overriding verdict,” said coach Joe Schmidt when he assessed the province’s fifth win in six Pool Three games.
“I think when you get the stronger wind, like we did today, there is some pressure to get some advantage. A couple of nice plays came off for us to get a couple of tries and build a 17-point lead and I thought there was really good character to defend off our line the way we did.
“We just have to bide our time now, watch a bit of Six Nations and hope guys come out of that fully fit.”
Champions Leinster will now welcome Cardiff to the Aviva for the quarterfinals. Schmidt said, “We’re down to the last eight and we will need to go up another level because Cardiff will travel to Dublin in high spirits after their performances over the group stages.
“We were lucky to get a win in Cardiff City Stadium a few weeks ago and they didn’t bring a full strength side when we faced them in the RDS earlier this year, so with a few players to come back into their side they will be formidable opponents.”
Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh will host Toulouse and Saracens will be at home to Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup quarterfinals.
Munster or Ulster will then be home to the winners of the Edinburgh game in the semis while Leinster or Cardiff will travel to play Saracens or Clermont.
Munster will host Ulster in the quarterfinals of the Heineken Cup – and the winners could meet Leinster in the Twickenham final if they make it that far.
The Reds made it through to the last eight, and a home draw against their Irish rivals, thanks to Saturday’s emphatic 51-36 win at Northampton when youngster Simon Zebo grabbed a hat-trick of tries.
Captain Paul O’Connell was delighted with the win in England, but warned his teammates to keep their feet on the ground ahead of the Limerick date with Ulster in April.
“It was a very good performance, especially when you consider how much pressure we were under at the scrum,” said O’Connell.
“That has been coming for a while. We’ve been very close and it was very satisfying to see the back line finishing off a few moves. It’s right up there because it came against a good side away from home at the business end of the Heineken Cup.
“At times we have showed some good form. The work ethic has been there and I was very happy to see the backs finishing off some moves.
“We’ve proved nothing yet - we’ve just come out of our pool and won nothing. We’ve got a long way to go to emulate the teams of 2006 and 2008 who won the tournament.”
Connacht finally got the win they craved as they wrapped up their first Heineken Cup campaign with a narrow 9-8 win over Harlequins in Galway on Friday night.
“Even with the last scrum with nine seconds left I still wasn’t convinced until the ref had blown the whistle and the ball was off the park, and people were invading the pitch,” said coach Eric Elwood.
“Unfortunately in Connacht we don’t make things easy, but I have to acknowledge the commitment of the boys. To defend like we did with the discipline we did, the commitment was excellent. Our tackle count was two or three times what theirs was but that’s nothing new for us.
“I think everyone got their reward tonight - the players and the crowd, and it was not the prettiest of games - but we have been knocking on the door for the last 13 weeks so I am quite happy to take an ugly win, no problem.”
Ulster lost at Clermont on Saturday but still made it through to the last eight of the Heineken Cup thanks to Connacht’s Friday night win over Harlequins in Galway.
The Irish province came desperately close to ending Clermont’s unbeaten home record in a 19-15 defeat and will now travel to play Munster in April.
Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin said, “We came here wanting to get a home quarter-final for our fans and I think that’s why we’re exceptionally disappointed because we felt in the first-half we maybe had a couple of opportunities.
“What we wanted to do was back up last week, to show that we are proper contenders in this competition.
“Now what we’ve got to do, no matter where we go in the last eight, we’ve got to turn in another performance.”
Keane On Target
ROBBIE Keane scored two wonder goals against boyhood club Wolves, then backed manager Mick McCarthy to keep his old team in the Premier League.
The Ireland captain marked his first start for Aston Villa with the two goals in a 3-2 win at his old Molineux stomping ground on Saturday.
On loan from the LA Galaxy, Keane’s goals only helped to pile the pressure on McCarthy as Wolves look to avoid relegation again.
“I think Wolves are good enough to stay up and Mick is the man to keep them up,” said Keane, who started life as a professional footballer with the club when he was just 16 and refused to celebrate either goal.
“I had wonderful times at Wolves and they are a club that looked after me as a kid. I’ll never forget them, they did so much for me. I’ve got a lot of friends at the club still and it’s always great to come back.
“I’ll never celebrate if I score against them. I never celebrate when I score against any of my former clubs out of respect. But you have to be professional, do the job for the team that you are with, and that’s Aston Villa.”
Keane was so good on his first start for Villa that boss Alex McLeish wants to sign him on a permanent deal if possible, but Ireland’s record goal scorer is adamant the move is all to do with his fitness ahead of the new MLS season and Euro 2012.
He said, “I feel good, I feel sharp, this was my first game since December 7.
“I’ve felt good the last few weeks in training. I’m feeling sharper and sharper and you saw that against Wolves.
“I’m only here for a short time so if I can help in any way possible, then great.”
McLeish said, “Somehow I had to get Robbie into the team. I said that to him last week.
“I said, ‘Train well this week and I’m seriously thinking about you.’ After what happened at Wolves, he picks himself. Robbie is a proud man and whoever he plays for, he’ll do his best for that team.
“He has got a lot of affection for Wolves, but right now he is a Villa player and he showed how passionate he is about the game and how much it meant to him with two cracking goals.”
McLeish also admitted that he would welcome Keane with open arms if he decided to return to the Premier League on a permanent basis.
“It’s one of these things he’s chosen to do. It is up to Robbie,” insisted McLeish. “If he feels he wants to come back to the Premier League, I’m sure there would be some welcoming arms.”
Celtic boss Neil Lennon singled captain Scott Brown out for special praise after his winner in the 2-0 win over St. Mirren as the Bhoys made it 12 wins in a row.
Brown sent winger James Forrest in for the first goal in the 71st minute then grabbed a second with a sublime finish three minutes from the full-time whistle.
“I challenged Scott before the game to get a goal for us if he could,” said Lennon. “I also wanted a big performance from him and I got both.
“I thought he was sensational today. He loves those types of games. His reading of the game was very good, he broke up the play and he was driving the game for us and to cap it off with a beautiful goal speaks volumes for him.”
Brown himself played down his goal. “Maybe the boss should ask me to score every week,” he laughed.
Celtic’s 12 match winning run is their best spell in four years as they lead Rangers in the chase for the Scottish title.
“In terms of the run we’ve been on that was our toughest game,” added Lennon. “Credit to St. Mirren and obviously conditions played a huge part in the game as well but I’m thrilled with the win and thrilled with the clean sheet.”
Celtic have completed the signing of Nigerian youngster Rabiu Ibrahim after his release from Dutch side Feyenoord while young winger James Forrest has been linked with a move to Spurs.
Polish defender Jaroslaw Fojut has signed a pre-contract deal with Celtic and will move from Slask Wroclaw in the summer.
Southampton manager Nigel Adkins has officially ended his interest in signing Celtic striker Gary Hooper.