Irish rugby continues to ride the crest of a wave. For the second consecutive weekend, the four Irish provinces all recorded wins. Yesterday Leinster completed the clean sweep with a 37 – 16 away win over Wasps at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. They led the game from start to finish and the result was never in doubt. Leinster started strongly and an early Ross Byrne score was followed by a Garry Ringrose try to give them a 0 – 10 lead inside the opening twenty minutes. Wasps finally got on the board with a Nathan Hughes try after 52 mins, but it was sandwiched either side by two converted Seán Cronin tries. Two further Wasps tries from Dan Robson and Marcus Watson restored respectability for the home side. An impressive cameo from Leinster substitute Noel Reid saw him pick up 10 points in the last fifteen minutes of the game. His late Penalty left the final score Wasps 19 Leinster 37.
For the other three provinces, it wasn’t nearly as straightforward. The three Irish sides in action on Saturday all had to come from behind to win.
Munster had a real arm wrestle of a contest against a tough and dogged Exeter Chiefs side. A Don Armand try for the visitors after twelve minutes was the only time either side managed to cross the whitewash. However, Munster did as Munster of old have always done and the eked out the win. Two Joey Carbery penalties either side of that Exeter try saw the home side trail 6 -7 coming down the home straight. Exeter turned down a couple of kickable penalties in search of a try that would deny Munster a losing bonus and edge the Devon side into the quarterfinal, However Billy Holland came up with a crucial line-out steal inside his own 22 and Munster marched up the field and Joey Carbery’s penalty on 72 mins was to be the match winner.
Fulltime: Munster 9 Exeter Chiefs 7
Ulster knew a quarter-final spot was assured prior to their game against Leicester that thanks to Edinburgh’s Friday night win over Montpellier. That might go some way to explaining their sluggish start. It took half an hour for the games first score, a penalty from George Ford put the home side ahead. A Matt Toomua try, converted by Ford gave Leicester a 10 – 0 lead at the break. Ford added a further 3 points from a penalty early in the second half to extend the home sides lead to 13 – 0.
After that score on 50 minutes, Irish International John Cooney was introduced by Dan McFarland off the bench the tempo of the game changed, Ulster started to find their rhythm and Marty Moore peeled off the back of a maul to get Ulster up and running. Cooney duly added the extras from out wide and it got better for the northerners three minutes later as Robert Baloucoune gathered a deft chip in behind from Billy Burns and ran in under the posts. Cooney’s conversion gave Ulster the slimmest of leads to protect. They saw out the remaining time to set up a quarter-final trip to Dublin to face the reigning Champions Leinster.
Full time: Leicester 13 Ulster 14
Connacht enjoyed the most dramatic win of the weekend as the left it late to secure their quarter-final spot. Bordeaux had led 27 – 19 as the game entered the final ten minutes. A fine counter-attacking move led to a Matt Healy try which gave Connacht some hope, and as the home side pressed looking to kill off the game Jack Carty intercepted a floated pass to run under the post and crown a fantastic week for the Buccaneers man who has just been called up to the Irish squad for the first time.
Fulltime: Bordeaux 27 Connacht 33
Heineken Champions Cup Quarter Finals
Ties to be played on 29th/30th/31st March
QF 1: Saracens v Glasgow Warriors, Allianz Park
QF 2: Edinburgh v Munster, BT Murrayfield
QF 3: Leinster v Ulster, Aviva Stadium
QF 4: Racing 92 v Toulouse, La Défense Arena Paris
European Challenge Cup Quarter Finals
QF 1: La Rochelle V Bristol Bears, Stade Marcel-Deflandre
QF 2: Clermont Auvergne v Norhampton Saints, Stade Marcel Michelin
QF 3: Worcester Warriors v Harlequins, Sixways Stadium
QF 4: Sale Sharks v Connacht, A.J. Bell Stadium