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O’Connell leads charge for the Lions in monster Heineken Cup weekend

Paul O’Connell announced his Lions intentions display with a towering display for Munster in their quarter final Heineken Cup defeat of Harlequins.

Munster won 18-12 at the Twickenham Stoop in a display that was defined by the power and spirit of this much-criticised Munster side.

It was O’Connell though who was the totemic presence, leading his side in typically passionate fashion in front of the watching Warren Gatland. The Lions coach could be seen with a broad grin on his face after the game, no doubt because of the return to form after injury from the 2009 captain, and of the returning Simon Zebo.

Peter O’Mahony also did his Lions chances no harm with yet another hard working display, while for Harlequins Chris Robshaw, Nick Easter and Danny Care all found their chances to further press their claims hampered by the fact that they were largely on the back foot.

In the back three though, Mike Brown and Ugo Monye did their chances no harm, but with the Heineken Cup seen as the last real shop window for selection, missing out on a semi final spot will mean that their opportunities to impress Gatland from now will be very limited.

Following the Harlequins v Munster game, Leicester travelled to Toulon for the final semi final. Toulon won 21-15 with all of their points coming through the boot of Jonny Wilkinson, who also had a magnificent game in defence, laying down a serious marker to be considered as an option for the third fly half spot on tour.

Steffon Armitage also demonstrated his Lions credentials with some crafty work for Toulon at the breakdown, while Andrew Sheridan’s continued selection at tighthead ahead of Wales’ Gethin Jenkins makes it very hard to ignore his claims.

In the Leicester ranks Tom Youngs had a wonderful game and must now be considered a certainty to tour, while Dan Cole was his usual excellent self, bar a clumsy yellow card.

Geoff Parling was also in good form, while Tom Croft was looking back to his ’09 best before injury struck. Another player looking in fine form for Leicester was Matthew Tait at full back, who will perhaps be hoping to push for a place on England’s trip to Argentina this summer.

The weekend all kicked off though with Clermont Auvergne beating Montpellier 36-14 in what was undoubtedly the performance of the weekend, with two potential Lions in the side, Lee Byrne at full back and Nathan Hines in the second row, Warren Gatland will be glad to be able to cast his eye over this side in the semi final stages.

Saracens will be the only English side in the semi finals, they beat Ulster 27-16, with Chris Ashton making a return to try scoring form that will cause Warren Gatland to cast a glance his way in the semis.

Probably of more interest to him though was the axis of Farrell, Barritt and Tompkins in the midfield, with Farrell once again showing his steel in front of goal with seventeen points coming from his boot.

While Ulster are now out of the competition, Gatland will have still noticed the return of Tommy Bowe, introduced after 58 minutes, who showed some glimpses of his best form, while Craig Gilroy also impressed.

All in all there is plenty for Gatland to ponder after this weekend, with the remaining players still with one more weekend to impress the Lions Head Coach. The focus though will undoubtedly be on securing a place for their club sides in the Heineken Cup final, any thoughts of the Lions will be kept to themselves.

Heineken Cup Semi Finals:

Saturday 27th April – Clermont Auvergne v Munster 18.00 (Stade de la Mosson)

Sunday 28th April – Saracens v Toulon 15.00 (Twickenham)

Quarter Final Results:

Clermont Auvergne 36-14 Montpellier

Saracens 27-16 Ulster

Harlequins 12-18 Munster

Toulon 21-15 Leicester

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