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HEC Hard Yards: O'Gara comes to Munster's rescue

Top class rugby, drama, tries and spectacular kicking… all you need to know about the first weekend of action in the Heineken Cup.

O'Gara celebrates his late drop goal
O'Gara celebrates his late drop goal

ANYTHING JONNY CAN do, ROG can do better. At least that’s the way Munster supporters will be feeling after the opening round of Heineken Cup action.

Two wins, a draw and one defeat was the return for Ireland’s four representatives, and all have improvements to seek ahead of another busy fixture list next weekend.

Connacht kicked off their first ever top-level European campaign with a credible performance at Harlequins, ultimately going down 25-17. Tries from Tiernan O’Halloran and Gavin Duffy gave the western province every chance, only to be undone by the kicking form of Nick Evans.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Connacht boss Eric Elwood admitted afterwards (See Planet Rugby).

“The most frustrating and disappointing thing is that for all the effort, endeavour, commitment and hard work we have actually come away from The Stoop with nothing.”

What’s next up: Connacht will need to take every inch of confidence gained and remain focused as rugby giants Toulouse are in town next weekend (Saturday, 6pm).

Leinster, for their part, had a Sean Cronin try and some cool kicking from Jonny Sexton to thank for their late draw in France. Down 16-6 at Montpellier, with 24 minutes remaining, it was the hooker’s five-point score that hauled the defending champions back into a highly-contested fixture.

Leo Cullen instructed his fly-half to go for the line with eight minutes remaining and when the gamble failed, it seemed as if Leinster would open their new campaign with defeat. However, Montpellier conceded a last-gasp penalty and Sexton keep his concentration to secure a valuable away point for his side.

“That’s typical Jonny (Sexton),” Leinster coach Joe Schmidt said afterwards (see ESPN Scrum).

“I don’t think he was rattled by it at all. I think it helps him narrow his focus and get the job done, and he did that superbly.”

Next up for Leinster? Glasgow come to Dublin next Sunday (12:45), and the hosts will surely be targeting a bonus-point victory over their pool opponents in order to get their campaign back on track.

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Ulster got their Heineken Cup season off to a winning start with a hard-fought victory over a talented Clermont Auvergne team at Ravenhill. The former European champions conceded an early try and had Ian Humphreys to thank for their 16-11 win.

“We always felt in control, yet when you looked at the score board, at times we were losing,” the fly-half told BBC Sport afterwards (audio).

“We’re delighted to win but, at the end of the day, there is a tinge of disappointment that we let them get the bonus points.”

What it Means: It doesn’t get any easier for Ulster with a trip to Leicester next on the cards (Saturday, 6pm).

No team does drama better than Munster though, and it was Ronan O’Gara who nailed a stunning drop kick after 41 phases of play to ensure an added time victory for the Reds at Thomond Park.

Coach Tony McGahan will have plenty to focus on in training this week – the Munster scrum, in particular, was ripped apart by the Saints far too often – but will at least be relieved that the former double champions are off the mark, after failing to escape their pool last time around.

“It was something special,” he told reporters (see The Telegraph). “The belief in the group (and) the way they stuck at it for 80 minutes, a lesser side would maybe not even have been in the contest.

“Ronan O’Gara’s kick at the end – he’s a special person to do that, to show the bottle to put his hand up and make the kick.

“This competition is like six Test matches and we are approaching it in that fashion. The win gives us a great buzz.”

Next up: A trip to Castres for Munster and a real test of their credentials. (Saturday, 3.40pm)

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