Munster rise above Saints
Northampton fall short in Thomond Park cauldron
Last Updated: 11/04/10 9:47am
Howlett: deadly finishing
Munster extinguished English interest in this season's Heineken Cup with a 33-19 victory over Northampton Saints in the quarter-finals.
The Thomond Park faithful witnessed yet another masterclass from the men in red, tries from Paul Warwick, Doug Howlett (2) and Jean de Villiers supplemented by 13 points from Ronan O'Gara's boot.
It was not, however, entirely plain-sailing as Stephen Myler kicked Northampton out of an early funk and into a half-time lead.
Jon Clarke crossed for the Saints' only try in the 39th minute and Myler's conversion, part of the fly-half's 14-point haul, put the visitors 16-13 in front.
But de Villiers' try, Munster's third, in the 53rd minute turned the tide and the win was confirmed late on when Howlett completed his brace.
Munster captain Paul O'Connell failed a fitness test on a groin injury, Mick O'Driscoll coming in to start in the second row and O'Gara taking over the armband.
O'Gara was in the thick of the action immediately as Northampton made a mess of dealing with the opening drop-out to present him with a three pointer from in front of the posts.
The Irish team's early dominance resulted in a try on five minutes, the ball being spun from right to left before Keith Earls sent over full-back Warwick, entering the line on a straight angle.
O'Gara narrowly failed with the extras and the Saints were finally able to get their hands on the ball and regroup after a nightmare start.
Over-exuberance from the home pack at the breakdown allowed Myler to land a pair of penalties to reduce the visitors' deficit to 8-6.
Munster hit back immediately, a period of forward dominance capped by a blindside move, O'Gara delivering the scoring pass to Howlett, who dived in at the corner under the challenge of his fellow Kiwi Bruce Reihana.
Myler kept Northampton in touch with a third penalty, flanker Quinlan fortunate to avoid further sanction for killing the ball on the floor to halt a promising attack.
And on the stroke of half-time Saints went in front for the first time thanks to Clarke's converted try, which came as the result of slick handling from Reihana and Ben Foden to exploit a gaping overlap on the left.
Munster forced the pace after the break and were finally rewarded in the 53rd minute when de Villiers' went over for their third try. The South African centre barged in after number eight James Coughlan combined with scrum-half Tomas O'Leary at the base of a scrum.
O'Gara landed the conversion and a quick exchange of penalties between the respective fly-halves left the hosts 23-19 up entering the final 20 minutes.
Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder threw caution to the wind, throwing on England international Shane Geraghty to play stand-off for the last quarter-of-an-hour in place of the near-faultless Myler.
Another O'Gara penalty, this time slotted from close to the left touchline in the 67th minute, padded the lead to a converted try at 26-19.
Geraghty almost provided the necessary spark, instigating a flowing move involving Chris Ashton that ended with lock Juandre Kruger being bundled into touch just before the line.
That was as close as they came, Munster seeing out the victory without further alarm.
Howlett put the finishing touches on the win with his second of the contest with four minutes remaining, and his side now face a semi-final trip to take on Biarritz in San Sebastian.