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Heineken Cup: Munster edge Harlequins 18-12 to earn semi spot
Munster produced a typically rugged and robust display to grind out an 18-12 Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday.
In a game of fine margins and relentless physicality, the boot of Ronan O'Gara proved decisive as he kicked six penalties to the four of Quins counterpart Nick Evans, earning his side a semi-final showdown with Clermont Auvergne.
The game swung decisively in the opening minutes of the second half as the Irish outfit, superbly-marshalled up front by inspirational skipper Paul O'Connell, raised their game to turn a three-point deficit into a six-point lead they would never relinquish.
Harlequins started well and served notice of their attacking intentions with a short drop-out from the opening kick-off that was collected by a rampaging Ugo Moyne and, after Munster were penalised at the scrum three minutes in, they got an early reward for their endeavour as Evans slotted his first penalty.
Quins were relieved and probably somewhat surprised to see O'Gara strike a regulation penalty opportunity against a post shortly afterwards and went on to double their lead on 18 minutes when Evans again bisected the posts having missed from range himself just a couple of minutes earlier.
With the match developing into a tight arm-wrestle of a contest, O'Gara drew groans from Munster's travelling support as he dragged a second penalty attempt wide of the uprights, but it was third time lucky for the experienced fly-half on 25 minutes as he found the target after Quins had been penalised for coming in at the side.
The kicking war of attrition continued as Evans and O'Gara swapped further penalties to make the half-time scoreline 9-6 and, although the first half ended which neither side having managed a real attacking break of note, the intensity and physicality of the clash ensured it remained an intriguing and delicately-poised spectacle.
But it was Munster who wrested the initiative in the opening minutes of the second period as they injected a real sense of urgency into their work, winning three quick penalties which O'Gara clinically dispatched to open a six-point lead.
At this point Quins were hanging on and required some desperate last-ditch defence to protect their try-line from the swarming sea of red that was coming at them, but Munster were able to secure another penalty on 57 minutes which O'Gara again fired over to put them nine points clear at 18-9.
Quins managed to regroup and, after an incisive break from wing Tom Williams in midfield, were awarded a penalty of their own on the Munster 22 from which Evans obliged to reduce the deficit to just six with 15 minutes remaining.
But try as they might, the hosts were simply unable to make any inroads on a determined and resolute Munster defence in the closing stages and, having finished the stronger, the Irishmen saw out the game convincingly to earn another semi-final date.
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