English rugby union duo look to end Irish European hopes
Irish rugby is going through a lean time at present and two English sides will bid to deliver another hammerblow to the country's morale this weekend in the European Cup quarter-finals.
- Published: 6/04/2013 at 12:49 PM
- Newspaper section: news
Racing Metro hooker (R) Dimitri Szarzewski is wrapped up by Saracens' hooker Brits Schalk during their European Cup match on January 12, 2013. Saracens will take on last season's beaten finalists Ulster at Twickenham Saturday in the European Cup quarter-finals on the back of a 22-13 win away at Wasps which maintained their position at the top of the English Premiership.
Saracens will start off the double header at Twickenham on Saturday against last season's beaten finalists Ulster while on Sunday Harlequins, whose director of rugby Conor O'Shea said Wednesday he wasn't interested in being Ireland coach after Declan Kidney was sacked, will host two-time winners Munster.
The other two quarter-finals see favourites Clermont host fellow Top 14 side Montpellier, appearing in the knockout stages for the first time on Saturday, while on Sunday Top 14 leaders Toulon, boosted by Jonny Wilkinson committing himself to another season with them, host England's two-time winners Leicester.
Saracens go into their mouthwatering Twickenham fixture on the back of a 22-13 win away at Wasps which maintained their position at the top of the English Premiership.
However, Saracens 2007 World Cup winning Springbok captain Jon Smit says that the game with Ulster is a totally different challenge and against a side which comprises several players he played with both at domestic and international level such as scrum-half Ruan Pienaar.
"I think they've built a good team over the last few years," Smit told the Saracens website.
"Physically they are very difficult to approach from a set-piece point of view; their set-piece is very strong and provides them with a solid base off which to play, and with a game breaker like Ruan Pienaar at scrum half they are a very dangerous opposition.
"But they have people who can turn games all over the pitch so we can't just focus on one player, we have to be aware of every single threat they pose and work harder than we have done all season if we are to get the result we want."
Harlequins, who are third in the Premiership table, face the biggest day of their vaunted history on Sunday says O'Shea, as they bid to reach the last four for the first time.
While Munster looked at times jaded in their pool matches, they still possess match winners such as former All Black Doug Howlett and Irish scrum-half Conor Murray.
They could also be boosted by the surprise return of Ireland wing Simon Zebo, who broke his foot in Ireland's Six Nations match with England but has made a remarkably quick recovery.
O'Shea, who has guided Harlequins to the European Challenge Trophy and then the English title last year, accepts that his side face a real battle to prevail.
"This Sunday will be the best day The Stoop has witnessed in terms of atmosphere and occasion," O'Shea said.
"We just can't wait to get into the quarter-final this weekend and help this club get to a first European Cup semi-final in its history.
"There is no tomorrow in games like this. Munster's journey of heartache and loss to ultimately winning it (in 2006) is one of the great stories of the European Cup.
Like O'Shea Clermont coach Vern Cotter has said that he is not interested in replacing Kidney, preferring to honour his contract with the French club till 2014.
His side are clear favourites for the trophy itself having won all six of their pool games, including beating title holders Leinster twice, sweet revenge for having been knocked out by the Irish side in the knockout rounds on two previous occasions.
However, Clermont's France hooker Benjamin Kayser is nervous about the favourite's tag especially against a Montpellier side that has become a real force under former French captain Fabien Galthie.
"I am really wary of this favourite's tag, as that could undermine us," said Kayser.
"However, I think we have enough quality and maturity not to fall into any traps."
About the author
- Writer: AFP
- Position: News agency