O’Gara hails Munster character as Leinster loom large

RONAN O’GARA hailed the character of the Munster squad after clawing their way to a Magners League semi-final showdown with Leinster.

A second-string Munster team did enough to clinch a place in the play-offs, despite going down 13-12 at Cardiff Blues. The outcome – if not the result – helped lift the gloom just a week after Munster crashed out of the Heineken Cup. And O’Gara, who scored all his team’s points, praised the spirit within the camp.

O’Gara said: “To get into the semi-finals of the Magners League is very pleasing and showed the character within the club. I’m not going to lie and deny that Heineken Cup finals are something special for Munster. It’s the top competition because you have the French and English clubs involved. We set out standards against the best in Europe and it’s the competition you are measured by. But we now have the chance to salvage something from the season and it’s going to be a great semi-final against Leinster.”

Munster used a staggering 51 players in the Magners League and were without 10 regulars at Cardiff City Stadium.

Now the likes of O’Gara must haul their bruised bodies around the RDS for a place in the inaugural Grand Final.

O’Gara said: “The pitches are getting firmer so the tempo is increasing and I felt like an old man out there towards the end of the game trying to get around the field. But we have quite a few injuries and we need to have everyone out there who is fit.”

Munster regroup at UL today in the build-up to their semi-final clash with Leinster at the RDS on Saturday night (ko 8pm). They do so under an injury cloud, with up to half of their favoured side either ruled out or extremely doubtful to make the starting line-up. Denis Leamy, Donnacha Ryan and Paul O’Connell remain long-term victims while Keith Earls, Doug Howlett, Ian Dowling, Jerry Flannery, Denis Fogarty and Mick O’Driscoll are also battling to prove themselves fit for the trip to Dublin.

Earls was originally picked to play against Cardiff but suffered a recurrence of his groin ailment in training on Friday morning and had to pull out. Howlett and Dowling are recovering from hamstring and knee trouble, hookers Flannery and Fogarty are hampered by calf strains and O’Driscoll is bidding to shake off the effects of ankle ligament damage sustained in the Heineken Cup semi-final defeat by Biarritz.

Meanwhile, Munster remain the top seeded side going into the 2010-11 Heineken Cup campaign. They are followed by Toulouse, Leinster, Leicester Tigers, Biarritz and Cardiff and all six will be kept apart in the draw for the qualifying rounds.

* The following are those who have qualified so far: England (6): Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints, Saracens, Bath Rugby, London Wasps, London Irish. France: (7): Perpignan, Toulon, Clermont Auvergne, Toulouse, Castres, Racing-Metro 92, Biarritz. Ireland: (3): Leinster, Munster, Ulster. Italy (2): Benetton Treviso, Aironi Rugby. Scotland (2): Glasgow Warriors, Edinburgh. Wales (3): Ospreys, Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons.

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