Munster out to see off Irish rivals
April 6, 2012
Ronan O'Gara nailed two last-gasp drop-goals to secure Munster's spot as top seeds © Getty Images
It is an all-Irish clash as Munster host Ulster in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup at Thomond Park on Sunday.
Munster took six from six in the Pool stages to qualify as top seeds, while Ulster snuck in to the knockouts as the second best runner-up. It is only the third time that Ulster have qualified for the quarter-finals, but the second time in three years. With Brian McLaughlin moving on at the end of the season, he will be looking to show the Ulster management what they have dismissed with a commanding performance at Munster's fortress.
The two teams are separated by just one point in the RaboDirect PRO12, with Munster sitting in third and Ulster fifth, but it is the away side who come into the match with the better run of form. Munster fell at home to Irish rivals Leinster in the PRO12 last weekend, despite possessing a side that included the likes of Keith Earls and Ronan O'Gara.
Munster - Player to Watch: Paul O'Connell returns from injury to take his place in the second-row and the former British & Irish Lions skipper will be fired up for another major European match.
Munster - Team News: Tony McGahan has made a number of changes from the side that lost to Leinster, with inexperienced hooker Mike Sherry and flanker Tommy O'Donnell making their first Heineken Cup starts. Donnacha Ryan returns alongside O'Connell at lock, while Conor Murray and Denis Hurley start in the backs.
Ulster - Player to Watch: All the attention in the build-up has been on Stephen Ferris and Ulster will hope that the Ireland flanker comes through after an ankle problem. He has been named to start and is vital to the visitors' hopes.
Ulster - Team News: In one change to the side that defeated Aironi last weekend, Dan Tuohy starts in the second-row alongside Johann Muller. Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys are at halfback, with the veteran Springbok Stefan Terblanche at fullback.
Key Battle: The Ulster back-row, should Ferris start, will be gunning for an inexperienced pair of Munster flankers. Some lessons could be delivered by the visitors, although Peter O'Mahony and No.8 James Coughlan have proven themselves to be strong operators already this season.
Trivia: A note of caution to Munster - no side that has won all six Pool stage matches has gone on to win the competition
Stats: Munster are appearing in a 13th quarter-final - a record they share with Toulouse
"From our perspective we had a real enlightening experience last year missing out. We understand the importance of it and we certainly don't take it for granted, and we never did. But I think last year's events have given us a real appreciation of how important and how difficult it is to get back to this stage each year." - Munster coach Tony McGahan.
"Stevie will play subject to fitness. At this stage we are hopeful that he will be available and a lot of credit should go to our medical team and physios for getting him into this position. He brings a great deal to this team and gives the players around him a massive lift." - Ulster boss Brian McLaughlin.
Prediction: Ulster produced some magical displays in the Pool stages but Munster should be too streetwise at their European fortress.
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