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Munster versus Ulster: 3 keys battles to decide European Cup clash

A semi-final date at Lansdowne Road awaits and some familiar faces return to spice up the knock-out clash

Chris Henry will be eager to prove that the Ulster back-row is not a one-man show
Chris Henry will be eager to prove that the Ulster back-row is not a one-man show
Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd

THE PRIZE OF taking to the field in a Heineken Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium awaits for the winner of Sunday’s encounter.

It seems like a long time ago that Munster secured their position as top seeds for the knock-out stages and Ulster almost pulled off a famous win away to Clarmont Auvergne.

The high hopes of late January have been taken from the shelf and dusted off. Key battles will take place all over the park and we have decided to focus on three areas that should decide the outcome of a potential cracker.

Duff ankles and breakdown dust-ups

The sight of Stephen Ferris hobbling off against Aironi last weekend shunted Ulster away from predictions of upsets. Many Ulster supporters will have rejoiced in the news that Limerick’s bars are allowed to open earlier on Easter Sunday – a stiff drink helps when contemplating life without one of the best Number 6′s in the world.  The flanker has been named in the provisional squad and will do everything possible to prove his fitness. Another player with a point to prove will be Chris Henry, who was overlooked for matchday 22′s in the Six Nations. Munster’s ace in the back-row this season has been Peter O’Mahony, who will relish the battle with Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg. A certain David Wallace is also back in the selection mix.

The hooker side-show

Long before the (too) early retirement of Jerry Flannery, Ulster hooker Rory Best had established himself as the top Number 2 in the country. Best was always an energetic performer up front but has begun to show up in backline moves and added a handy try-scoring knack that was last seen when Keith Wood was in his pomp. Best, however, struggled to locate his radar at line-out time for Ireland – most notably when a overthrow against Italy led to a Sergio Parisse try. It is an area that Munster would hope to target but Damien Varley had similar problems against Leinster. Varley did well as a ball carrier but Mike Sherry’s throwing and general play  proved more dependable.

Out-halves

Conor Murray is back in training after his Six Nations’ ending injury in Paris but Tomas O’Leary will be expecting to retain his position. With O’Leary heading off to London Irish next year, the quarter-final could provide a perfect stage for Paul Marshall to stake his claim as an Ireland scrum-half of the future. Brian McLaughlin, however, looks set to entrust Ruan Pienaar to make things tick at the back of the scrum. Ian Humphreys, as out-half, has impressed immensely at Ravenhill but will need a big away-day performance. Ronan O’Gara guided Munster into the knock-out stages as top seeds with a string of nerveless kicking, from hand and tee, and the home forwards will eagerly grind into position if a late drop goal is needed to settle the tie.

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