Leinster and Munster in tight Heineken Cup race

Irish provinces Munster and Leinster have proud records in the European Cup but both are involved in tight races to top their respective pools this season and will be looking to open up a gap on their rivals this weekend.


However, both two-time winners Munster and 2009 champions Leinster have tough tasks beckoning with the former travelling to classy Welsh outfit Ospreys – who they edged in a thrilling encounter last weekend – whilst the latter will be looking to avenge defeat by French champions Clermont when they host them at Lansdowne Road.


Ospreys are packed with talent from Irish Grand Slam winning winger Tommy Bowe to Welsh centre James Hook and it is one of the surprises of the competition that they have not managed better than three successive quarter-final appearances.


However, even getting through to that stage will all but disappear if they lose to Munster at their Liberty Ground as they could end up trailing their opponents by eight points with just two matches remaining.


That is not a scenario envisaged by Ospreys Director of Coaching Scott Johnson, who bases his confidence on beating the Irish side on his team only having lost one game at home in the past five years.


“People talk about impressive European records and places being a fortress,” the Australian told the Western Mail.


“But I don’t think that we sometimes get the credit we deserve for that.”


Munster, who may well be without Ireland and Lions lock Paul O’Connell as he goes before a disciplinary hearing on Thursday after being redcarded in the match last Sunday, are fully aware of the challenge facing them, though, it doesn’t frighten winger Johne Murphy one iota.


“I really love these type of games. They’re brilliant, they really are,” enthused the former Leicester star.


“Personally I love intimidating atmospheres and that’s exactly how it’s going to be on Saturday,” he told his club’s website.


Should Munster lose to Ospreys then French big spenders Toulon could go top at their expense if they repeat last weekend’s victory over London Irish when they host the ailing English Premiership outfit on Saturday -the visitors are on a six game losing streak.


Leinster put up a solid display against Clermont in their first meeting, gaining what could prove to be an invaluable defensive bonus point, and could be boosted by the return of Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll, who has been out with a jaw injury, and No8 Jamie Heaslip, who has an ankle problem.


Both will be given a workout on Friday before a final decision is taken as to whether they can run out in front of over 40,000 fans – which is a record home attendance for an Irish team in the competition.


Clermont have yet to really make an impression on the competition but having at last broken their French championship jinx last season they are keen to make more of an impact on the continental club showpiece.


Their New Zealand coach Vern Cotter says his team are going to work to deprive Leinster of possession and thereby frustrate their running game and he says that while the Irish side have a rich history in the competition his players were not intimidated by that.


“The European Cup is very important to Leinster, and they know that with one win, they are virtually assured of qualifying,” said the 48-year-old, who has been in charge since 2006.


“If we want to play in the quarter-finals and relive the same experience as last season, it is imperative we win in Dublin.


“The Irish teams have a lot of experience in the European Cup, they have a winning culture in this competition.”


Such is the tightness of Pool 2 that Leinster may not be leaders come their kick-off as another French side Racing-Metro will have that honour should they beat English outfit Saracens at home on Friday – though most interest will centre on what Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter says or d

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