Leinster boys show their delight as they relish Munster final chance
IT would be an All-Ireland like never before.
Rugby fans were today hoping for one of the greatest moments in Irish sport after a Munster-Leinster Heineken Cup final became a distinct possibility.
After a stunning victory for Joe Schmidt's Leinster and an equally impressive triumph for free-scoring Munster in Franklin's Gardens, both provinces have plotted a separate course to May's final at Twickenham.
Leinster's next step towards what would be their third Heineken Cup final in four years will see them host the Cardiff Blues at the Aviva on the first weekend in April.
Munster will face Ulster, who travel south for a quarter-final at Thomond Park.
Although neither team will be looking beyond their last eight clashes, the prospect of Paul O'Connell and Leo Cullen leading their sides out on final day in London will have fans in blue and red salivating.
If both Leinster and Munster win their quarter-finals, Munster will stay in Ireland for their semi but Leinster must travel to England or France, depending on who is victorious between Saracens and Clermont on their side of the draw.
It is a reflection of the rude health of Irish rugby that Ireland provides the most quarter-finalists in the competition for the very first time, qualifying three teams for the final eight.
The Cardiff Blues have already issued their intent with coach Gareth Baber claiming his side won't be "spanked" -- as in December's 52-9 defeat to Leinster. "It's going to be a huge occasion for us going out to Dublin," said Baber.
"Especially after the fact that we went out there earlier in the season and we got a spanking. But that's what we're doing. That's what we're in it for."
Schmidt was delighted that his side were able to provide the proud Blues faithful a home draw but admitted that his side face a tough examination if they are to advance to a semi-final meeting with either Saracens or Clermont Auvergne.
"It is great for our supporters that we will have a chance to play in the Aviva Stadium; a home from home for the province which has served the team well in recent times," he said.
"Our loyal followers, who travel in such large numbers week in, week out, are rewarded with a home tie and, with the larger stadium, this means that we are able to facilitate even more supporters to attend the game.
"If we do manage to win this game that means that we'll maybe travel to either Wembley Stadium or St. Etienne and, to be honest, if we do get to that stage then we'll be delighted.
"But we're not looking any further past the quarter-final.
"Cardiff are a hugely impressive side; well coached with a physical set of forwards up front and a lot of skill and pace out wide and they have been well served by a number of All Blacks in their ranks, who I would personally know well."