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Harlequins target debut semi-final

Tuesday 2nd April 2013

12:00 am (GMT)

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Munster have been threatening a performance like that for a while

Munster have been threatening a performance like that for a while

Recent form for both clubs has been patchy, with Munster conceding more than 50 points in Glasgow last weekend and English champions Harlequins losing three in a row but expect both clubs to bring their “A” games to the Twickenham Stoop for Sunday’s quarter-final showdown.

Harlequins have never been further than the quarter-finals before while Munster will be making a record 14th appearance in the last eight.

Munster might not be as mighty a threat in Europe as they were in an eight-year period when they reached four finals and won the trophy twice but they remain formidable opponents who have the knack of winning on the road.

No other team has won more away Heineken Cup quarter-finals than the Irish club and all the European experience will be in the visitors’ corner.

Tournament points record scorer Ronan O’Gara will line up for his 109th Heineken Cup appearance looking to add to his 1,342 points and Donncha O’Callaghan his 88th while a fit again Paul O’Connell will be hoping to crown his 67th outing with a win in front of watching British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland.

Gatland will complete his five-match round of European matches at the Stoop when he will be running the rule over O’Connell and many others besides ahead of his Lions squad announcement on 30 April.

England skipper Chris Robshaw will be out to make up for the disappointment of missing out on a Grand slam with his country by carrying his club one step nearer to a first Heineken Cup final.

The battle of the boots could be vital with O’Gara taking on home favourite and former All Black Nick Evans.

Harlequins were the No 1 ranked team after winning all six of their Pool matches but they will need to rediscover that form when it really matters if they are to take the next step on the Heineken Cup ladder to glory.

Match facts

• Harlequins are the top points scorers in the Heineken Cup this season averaging 41 per game in the pool stage and scoring 28 tries in total.
• Harlequins enjoyed the biggest share of possession of all clubs in the pool stage, spending an average of 17m 55s per game with the ball, more than any other side.
• Munster back row, Peter O’Mahony, has made 70 carries so far – only two other players have made more.
• Since the 1998/99 season, Munster have failed to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament just once (2010/11). They have won nine of those 13 quarter-finals.
• Munster have won two thirds of their matches against English opposition in the tournament. They have suffered just 13 losses in 38 clashes with English clubs.

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O’Gara wins battle of the boots

Sunday 7th April 2013

12:00 am (GMT)

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Vainqueurs sur la pelouse des Harlequins (18-12)

Vainqueurs sur la pelouse des Harlequins (18-12)

Ronan O’Gara went back to where it all began for him in the Heineken Cup 16 years ago and gained spectacular revenge on Harlequins for his debut defeat at The Stoop as he kicked Munster into the semi-finals.

After two early misses, the 36-year-old outside half grabbed all his side’s points in a 18-12 victory as they picked up their fourth quarter-final success on the road to set up a semi-final clash with ASM Clermont Auvergne in Montpellier at the end of the month.

Reigning English champions Harlequins came into the game with a 100 per cent record from their Pool campaign and as the No 1 seeds in the last eight. The Twickenham Stoop was packed and the two sets of supporters created a white hot atmosphere.

The Quins scrum did the early damage and Nick Evans gave his side a 6-0 lead in the opening quarter from penalties at scrum time. Evans landed a third penalty before the break, but O’Gara finally hit the mark with his third kick at goal and hauled the scoreline back to 9-6 at the break.

Paul O’Connell put in a commanding performance in his biggest game since returning from surgery and must have raised a smile or two on the faces of on-looking British & Irish Lions coaches Warren Gatland, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell.

Munster took control at the start of the second half with some brilliant driving from their forwards that allowed O’Gara to hammer home four penalties in a 15 minute purple patch that not only saw them draw level, but build up a nine point lead at 18-9.

The work of the Munster forwards at the breakdown totally frustrated Harlequins and they were never able to get any momentum into their game. When they did, they ran into a red wall in which James Downey excelled in defence.

Evans grabbed a penalty back after 66 minutes to give his side a hope of snatching something out of the game, but Munster’s passion, pride and experienced carried them to another famous away day victory in the Heineken Cup

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