Quins face the 'ultimate challenge'
April 29, 2011
Danny Care races clear during Harlequins' quarter final win over Wasps © Getty Images
On Saturday afternoon Harlequins face what their director of rugby Conor O'Shea has described as the "ultimate challenge in European rugby" - a tie against Munster at Thomond Park in the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Munster have lost just once at home in 16 seasons in European competition. But for the first time in 13 years they failed to progress to the last eight of the Heineken Cup after finishing second to Toulon in Pool 3. However the two-time winners quickly resumed normal service by beating Brive 42-37 in a thrilling encounter in France to reach the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup.
Harlequins are bidding to become the first club to win the competition three times after previous victories in 2001 and 2004. Quins won their all-English quarter-final against Wasps 32-22 and they go into the clash in Ireland on the back of successive victories in the Aviva Premiership.
Munster - Player to Watch Doug Howlett was in fine form in the last eight and will hope for more quick, clean ball with which to torment Quins.
Munster - Team News: In the only change from the quarter-final win over Brive, Paul Warwick is named at inside-centre with Sam Tuitupou dropping to the bench. Also among the replacements there is a return for Paul O'Connell, who has been out with an ankle problem.
Harlequins - Player to Watch: Nick Evans, arguably one of the leading fly-halves in the world game, goes up against Europe's most successful, Ronan O'Gara. The Quins playmaker will relish the challenge.
Harlequins - Team News: O'Shea has kept faith with the side that ran five tries past Leeds last time out, with Joe Marler, Joe Gray and James Johnston in the front-row and the ever-influential Evans at halfback alongside Danny Care.
Key Battle: Quins have the weapons to hurt Munster but must overcome the home side's pack, who have been uderwhelming this season but always find an extra gear in front of a packed house.
Trivia: Harlequins have only won one of their six previous European contests with Munster, winning 48-40 at the Twickenham Stoop in the 1997-98 Heineken Cup.
Stats: Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara is the all-time leading points scorer in European competition.
"It is a stand alone fixture. There's the prize of a final appearance at the end of it. If we're not good enough on the day, the fact that we've won nine in a row won't act as much consolation," - Munster coach Tony McGahan.
"Thomond Park is the ultimate challenge in European competition so our intensity levels will have to be really high. All I can ever ask of my team is that they give everything to the performance - then it's simply a case of the best men win so we will see what happens," - Quins director of rugby Conor O'Shea.
Prediction: Roared on by their home support Munster will overpower the traveling English side and remain on track to lift the Amlin Challenge Cup.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament
A selection of the best pictures from England's historic World Cup triumph in Paris as they beat Canada 21-9