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.