Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Heineken Cup: Irish displays help restore feelgood factor

Trust the Heineken Cup.

After a month of demoralisation and drabness following Ireland's World Cup exit - a month that issued fresh injury clouds to hover over Brian O'Driscoll and Keith Earls and a couple of joyless inter-provincial derbies - up steps the Heineken Cup to provide Irish rugby with the lift it craved.

It began with Connacht on Friday night, standing up in the face of widespread dismissal to make English Premiership acolytes reassess.

Then came Leinster, forcing a draw in Montpellier through a combination of guile, grit and the nerve of Jonathan Sexton.

Next up was Ravenhill, the scene for a dose of typical Ulster indomitability that ripped the guts out of Clermont.

And, finally, a glorious conclusion in Limerick, where Munster reached deep into their rugby souls to produce one of the most dramatic finishes in the competition's history and win a game they could have lost several times over against Northampton.

Munster, with three 22-year-olds making their tournament debuts, were beginning a new chapter.

With Northampton a point up and the last play of the game signalled, the home side set up a drop goal attempt and Ronan O’Gara delivered yet again.

“The plaudits... where do you stop? He's a special person,” said McGahan. “It was an amazing kick at the end of 80 minutes in what was a fast-paced game.

“We've seen other 10s push themselves out of that position but he put his hand up and said he wanted to do it and it was one of the sweetest strikes we've seen for a long time.

“You really want a strong mental conviction and a strong mental toughness to do that and he's been been like that throughout his whole career.”

McGahan's appreciation was echoed by captain Paul O'Connell.

“If Ronan could orchestrate every game to end like that, he'd do it. It's a lovely feeling to have a guy around for that long and still be as hungry as he is, to be that willing to fight,” he said.

In yesterday’s games, Saracens made the ideal start to their Heineken Cup campaign with a bonus-point 42-17 victory over Treviso.

Richie Gray scored the match-winning try in Glasgow's Pool Three 26-21 defeat of Bath.

And Gloucester were denied a famous Heineken Cup win on French soil as a late Clement Poitrenaud try salvaged a 21-17 victory for Toulouse.

l Wales are due to announce today that Shaun Edwards has signed a deal to remain as their defence coach for at least another four years.

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