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AFTER LAST NIGHT’S disappointment for Ulster, it was back to Twickenham Stoop to see if Ireland’s last men standing could get the job done against Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins.

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Harlequins 12-18 Munster

It’s nearly time. After last night’s disappointment for Ulster, it’s down to the men from Munster to fly the flag for Ireland in the Heineken Cup this season.

Kick-off is at 2pm and we’ll be back in plenty of time to get the build up going. But for now, if there’s something you have to get off your chest, the comments section is open.

Can Paulie and co get the job done?

Twenty minutes to go until kick-off at the Twickenham Stoop. As per usual, both Quins and Munster announced their teams earlier this week but here’s a quick reminder.

Most importantly for Munster, Simon Zebo is passed fit and starts on the left wing. How he fares in his own personal battle with Nick Williams could go a long way towards deciding today’s outcome.

Harlequins: Brown; Williams, Lowe, Casson, Monye; Evans, Care; Marler, Buchanan, Johnston; Kohn, Robson; Fa’asavalu, Robshaw, Easter.

Munster: Jones; Hurley, Laulala, Downey, Zebo; O’Gara, Murray; Kilcoyne , Sherry, Botha; Ryan, O’Connell (c); O’Mahony, O’Donnell, Coughlan.

Alan Quinlan’s in the Sky Sports studio this afternoon, talking about how much of an impact Paul O’Connell can have on today’s game. “Guys are scared of him,” is the general jist — can’t say we blame them…

It doesn’t matter if you’ve hung up your boots, that matchday feeling never leaves you:

If you’re to take the bookmakers’ word on trust, Munster are big underdogs at Twickenham Stoop this afternoon — but sure isn’t the big red machine usually at its best when the backs are to the wall.

One thing is for sure, Rob Penney’s men will have to step up their game from last week’s 51-24 thumping in Glasgow. Cutting out the silly intercept tries would be a good start.

It hasn’t all been rosy for Conor O’Shea and Quins either. They’ve lost their last three in the Aviva Premiership and they’ll need to improve if they’re to have a repeat of their Amlin semi-final success in Thomond Park two seasons ago.

David Keogh: One team left…time for all provinces supporters to get behind them!

Some great inter-provincial camaraderie in the comments section ahead of kick-off. Can Ireland’s last men standing get the job done?

KICK OFF: Nick Evans gets us underway. Referee is Jerome Garces.

Early let off for Munster within the first 20 seconds. From the kick-off, Monye claims the ball and Casson is able to dink the ball through the defensive line. Denis Hurley has to scramble to deal with the bouncing ball and eventually shepherds it into touch. It may have been a deliberate tap out but no penalty for Quins.

PENALTY! Harlequins 3-0 Munster Advantage Quins at the first scrum and their pressure is rewarded with a penalty from Jerome Garces. Evans kicks it from out towards the right touchline.

MISSED PENALTY! O’Gara’s restart hangs high in the sky and it gives O’Mahony an opportunity to put Easter under pressure and force the turnover. O’Donnell carries and wins the penalty which gives O’Gara a chance to hit straight back from in front of the posts. It should be straightforward but he rocks the left upright.

There hasn’t been an awful lot to choose between the sides in these opening seven or eight minutes but there’s plenty of encouraging signs for Rob Penney and the red men. O’Connell has already put his stamp on the lineout and is getting quick ball out to Murray, while the back-row pair of O’Mahony and O’Donnell are making good ground with ball in hand.

James Coughlan makes a right nuisance of himself at a Quins lineout and scrambles the ball back onto the Munster side. It’s fed back to O’Gara and from deep, he picks his spot behind Mike Brown perfectly and drops the ball over the full-back’s head and into touch. Quins deal with the danger.

MISSED PENALTY! Another Quins scrum ends in a penalty for the home side but fortunately for Munster, Evans shanks it horribly wide. One for the blooper reel.

PENALTY! Harlequins 6-0 Munster Paul O’Connell’s first mistake at the lineout gives Quins a turnover and allows them to break the Munster line and work the ball through the phases. Donnacha Ryan is penalised for not releasing the ball carrier and Evans slots the penalty. 19 minutes played.

Possession stats after 20 minutes: Quins 72%-28% Munster

With an advantage coming his way, ROG tries a left-footed drop goal and hits referee Jerome Garces. Never mind, back for the penalty…

MISSED PENALTY! Another kickable penalty goes a-begging as ROG drags that one left and wide, much to the delight of the home support. 0/2 for O’Gara so far today.

PENALTY! Harlequins 6-3 Munster Casey Laulala slips the tackle and sparks Munster’s best attacking phase so far. They’re desperate to get quick ball but Quins won’t let that happen and are penalised for coming in from the side. It’s third time lucky for ROG and Munster are on the board. 25 minutes played.

Quins are getting every 50/50 call at the scrum and despite Paul O’Connell’s quizzical protestations, it’s another penalty for the home side.

PENALTY! Harlequins 9-3 Munster No worries for Evans. That’s 3/4 from the Quins fly-half so far today.

A little bit of a let off for Munster. Quins have a central penalty but Danny Care, as is his wont, takes a quick tap-and-go but once he goes 10, he’s brought down by Murray and smothered by Munster pressure to force the penalty.

PENALTY! Harlequins 9-6 Munster Nice bit of improvisation by Paul O’Connell who spills a pass forward off his chest but manages to pirouette and reclaim it before it hits the ground and then keeps the legs pumping to drive on into the tackle. Good work from the pack brings about a penalty — and after Murray half-heartedly snatches at a free drop goal — O’Gara slots to reduce the deficit to three.

O’Gara decides to test Ugo Monye’s nerve with a big garryowen but the winger is coolness personified as he calls the mark inside the 22 to relieve the pressure.

With the clock ticking down on this first half, Munster’s dogged defensive effort earns them one last attacking platform. Laulala scythes down Mike Brown and as Quins try to regroup, O’Connell forces the turnover. O’Gara is aware that there’s only seconds left on the clock and quickly punts the ball into Quins territory and though there’s time for the lineout, it comes to nothing.

HALF TIME: Harlequins 9-6 Munster

A sample of some of the comments below. I think we can all agree that Paulie did the business out there in the first half.

Gearoid Murphy: POC playing himself into a Lions jersey

Macca: O connell having some game

Ger Punch: man this ref is killing us

We’re ready to go again at the Stoop. Forty minutes separate either Harlequins or Munster and a semi-final date with Clermont.

PENALTY! Harlequins 9-9 Munster Downey wins the penalty and O’Gara slots it. Perfect start by Munster in this second half.

Munster have flown out of the traps and after O’Gara’s grubber finds touch, O’Mahony springs off his feet at the front of the lineout to steal possession back for the red men. It’s a great platform to probe for the game’s first try and as the ball is sent wide, Zebo shows a superb touch to free Felix Jones on the wing. He’s tackled into touch but we’re coming back for a Munster pen under the posts…

PENALTY! Harlequins 9-15 Munster Brilliant work by O’Mahony again and he’s backed up by Donnacha Ryan to force another Munster penalty. The reaction from the pack shows how much that means to Munster. O’Gara kicks it and the belief is coursing through this team now. Munster going in for the kill.

Munster smell blood here and they’re moving the ball through the backline without a care in the world at the moment, finding holes and gaps all over the Quins defence. Laulala and Jones look like they’re certain to combine for a try but they’re held up just short. No let up for Quins though and here come Munster again…

Munster smell blood here and they’re moving the ball through the backline without a care in the world at the moment, finding holes and gaps all over the Quins defence. Laulala and Jones look like they’re certain to combine for a try but they’re held up just short. No let up for Quins though and here come Munster again…

James Downey has just put Mike Brown back into yesterday. Wait until you see that bone-jarring tackle again later.

PENALTY! Harlequins 9-18 Munster Wave after wave after wave of Munster pressure brings about another penalty for ROG to kick. Quins might count themselves lucky to escape only conceding three here. It has been a brutal assault for the first 15 minutes of this second half.

Just under 20 minutes left here at the Stoop and while Quins have finally got their hands on the ball for more than a second or two, this game is still being played on Munster’s terms. The back row in particular has been awesome.

A glimpse of a chance for Quins as Casson picks a great line from deep and Evans delivers the ball right into his path. Unfortunately that path has to take him through both James Downey and Tommy O’Donnell and the ball is spilled forward.

PENALTY! Harlequins 12-18 Munster For all of Munster’s dominance, this game isn’t over yet. Evans kicks a penalty to bring Quins back to within a converted try. Fifteen  minutes to play.

The Fields of Atheny rings out around the Stoop but it’s a rallying cry for these final few minutes rather than any sort of premature celebration. Six points in it with six minutes to play, and those marginal calls are starting to go Quins’ way again.

Brilliant by the Munster pack. They isolate Casson and then flood in at the breakdown, giving Quins no chance of legally holding on to that ball. Referee Garces has no choice but to award the penalty and Munster celebrate a penalty that could be key to this endgame.

Three minutes to play. Munster inside the Quins 22.

Munster power it through 11 phases but it’s turned over for a Quins scrum on their own 22 with 90 seconds remaining.

Namechecks for O’Mahony and Coughlan on the man of the match shortlist but this one is nailed on for Paulie. Deserved.

FULL TIME: Harlequins 12-18 Munster

Save the date: Saturday 27th April, 5pm: Clermont Auvergne v Munster in the Stade de la Mosson.

Where do you even start after a performance like that? Munster came with a plan and executed it to perfection, disrupting Quins at every opportunity and taking the game to their hosts with a greater intensity and hunger. Paul O’Connell was superb and with Warren Gatland in attendance, he will have done his Lions chances a world of good today while the back row of O’Mahony, O’Donnell and Coughlan didn’t give Quins a moment’s piece. A word as well for James Downey who was superb in defence.

Oh and then there’s the guy who kicked all 18 points. Take a bow, ROG.

Sir Clive Woodward: “Munster have just smashed that Harlequins team and there’s a big bubble been burst for Quins there today.”

That’s it from us today. A brilliant performance by Munster and a deserved win. Clermont lie in waiting, which is no small matter, but we’ve got three weeks to look forward to that one.

Thanks for reading.

About the author:

Niall Kelly