Connacht became the first Irish side to advance to the semi-finals of the Celtic Cup after they narrowly beat Llanelli Scarlets 12-14 at Stradey Park on Friday night.Llanelli outscored the visitors by two tries to one, but yet again the boot of full back Mark McHugh proved to be the difference between the sides. The Drogheda man claimed a try and three penalties to earn him the Man-of-the-Match award.
Connacht started brightly, putting the Llanelli set piece under pressure form the kick off. However, it was the home side that were first to score when Salesi Finau ran onto a great chip from scrum half Dale Burn. Outhalf Gareth Bowen failed to convert and his inaccurate kicking was to prove crucial late on. Connacht hit back soon after when a loose pass from Burn to Bowen saw Mark McHugh tumble over to level the score. He too was wide of the mark with the extras.
With half time approaching Connacht came close on two occasions, through Ray Hogan and Darren Yapp, only to be denied on the line. After the break it was Llanelli who looked the stronger side. However, Bowen's poor kicking left the Scarlets with nothing to show, after he missed three penalty chances - one of which came from a foul by Conor McPhllips that saw the St. Mary's spend ten in the bin. Then, deep into injury time, Connacht won a penalty. McHugh then did what he does best; he stepped up, slotted it over and clinched the tie.
Full Details at: www.connachtrugby.ie
Meanwhile in Glasgow, the home side pulled off the shock of the round, by beating Munster 18-14 to book their semi-final place. Simon Kerr opened the scoring for Munster after a counter attack and a series of mauls gave the prop a tough drive over the line, and Jeremy Staunton converted to extend the lead.
Glasgow then lose Gareth Maclure to the bin for dissent, but Munster failed to capitalise, and on his return he almost made amends only to be denied a try by spilling forward on the line. Munster's night got worse Staunton missed to easy penalties to extend their lead, and it was Glasgow who were next to score.
Scotland hopeful Rory Kerr made up for missing out on the World Cup squad by scoring his side's first try, and Dan Parks levelled the scores with the conversion.Glasgow started the second on the same foot and Cammy Mather and Dave Millard both came
Take the lead they did, when Kerr passed inside to Paul Dearlove, who then skipped over for the try. Parks failed with the conversion but made amends with a penalty soon after. Munster staged a late comeback with a try from Mike Mullins and conversion from Staunton, but it was too little too late, and Glasgow join Ulster and Connacht in the last four.
Full Details at: www.munsterrugby.ie
Finally, a superior try count earned Ulster their semi-final spot after a close contest left them and Leinster tied on 23 points each at Ravenhill. An injury time penalty from outhalf Matt Leek levelled the sides at 23 all and brought the match into extra time, but five minutes a side was not enough for either side to score any additional points, so it was decided on tries scored.
Leinster dominated the first half, notching up two tries for their effort from centre Gary Brown and another moments later from Brian O'Riordan, both of which Matt Leek converted. Leek then added a penalty to give Leinster a 17-0 lead. Ulster were then awarded a penalty try after Leo Cullen was sin-binned for killing the ball in a ruck. Larkin added the extras, before Leek hitback with another penalty.
After the break, Larkin closed the gap with a penalty, and so began Ulsters comeback. Ward came close, before Ben Gissing became the second Lion to see a card, and the home side capitalised on the man over. Matt Mustchin won the subsequent line out, Ulster mauled closer to line and Neil Best touched down. Larkin missed the conversion, which would have levelled the score.
Four minutes later they made amends, taking the lead when Tyrone Howe ran onto a great chip from Kieran Campbell. Again Larkin failed with the conversion, and then Leinster forced the extra time when Leek slotted over another penalty. There was some confusion over the extra period's format, but with no score to speak of, it was all in vain.