Munster admit Ulster pose major threat
WHEN Ulster fell agonisingly short of a famous victory at the Stade Marcel Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand, the prospect of an inter-provincial Heineken Cup final became very real.
After yesterday's action concluded, Munster coach Tony McGahan realised he will face a familiar foe when Ulster come to Thomond Park on the second weekend in April.
Munster captain Paul O'Connell has his sights firmly fixed on Ulster after the northern province’s last two performances against Leicester and Clermont-Auvergne propelled them into serious title contenders.
“They have been excellent,” said O'Connell after Munster's stunning 51-36 away win over Northampton.
“They were outstanding last week against Leicester. I obviously haven't seen the game today but they have a lot of quality players and a lot of players showing really good form.
“That's the big thing for them – you look at (Andrew) Trimble, (Stephen) Ferris and (Rory) Best last week, I thought they were outstanding and you add their South African brigade and (John) Afoa to that as well and they have a lot of form.”
McGahan echoed those sentiments in his post-match press conference.
“I really can't comment on all their games, the only game I've really seen was the game against Leicester and I thought they were absolutely sensational,” he said. “I thought it was one of the best performances we've seen in the campaign.”
Ulster boss Brian McLaughlin believes his side are being looked on as possible winners as they came tantalisingly close to ending Clermont's 38-game unbeaten run at home on Saturday.
“When the groups first came out in the summer, I'd have taken this result quite happily, a losing bonus point against Clermont and progression to the knockout stages,” he said. “But we came here looking for a win and a home quarter-final and we're exceptionally disappointed we didn't achieve it. For Ulster to reach the knockout stages two years in a row is a great achievement.
“We were always in the game. We wanted to make sure that we were getting people talking about us as contenders for this competition. I think we did that.”
For the first time in the 13-year history of the Heineken Cup, Ireland have the most representatives in the last eight with three – and five of the last eight ply their trade in the RaboDirect PRO12 league.