Full-back Lee Byrne dubbed it ‘the toughest game of our season’ after Clermont Auvergne fought their way past Munster and into their first ever Heineken Cup final. Clermont had to produce a character-building final 10 minutes to resist Munster’s late rally and finish as 16-10 winners of an absorbing semi-final clash in Montpellier. Delighted with Clermont’s progress to the Aviva Stadium final on Saturday, May 18, their Welsh back Byrne said: “It is a dream come true to finally reach a Heineken Cup final. It was the toughest game we’ve had all season and you’ve got to hold your hands up to Munster for that. They wore the famous red jersey with real pride.” He added: “We fully deserved to come through with the win. We had a few opportunities (to score a second try), but the ball didn’t stick. We got a bit nervy, but hopefully we will come back stronger for the final. “Whoever we face it will be another very tough challenge. We will do our homework and come out firing,” he added, with Saracens and Toulon meeting in the second semi-final on Sunday at Twickenham. Ronan O’Gara, the record points scorer and most-capped player in Heineken Cup history, would not be drawn afterwards on whether this was his final outing at this level. The Munster out-half had kicked the visitors in to an early lead and it was his perfectly weighted grubber kick that teed up Hurley for the only try of the second half. The raw emotion was etched on the 36-year-old’s face after the final whistle as the Irish province bowed out at the penultimate stage. “Defeat is extremely hard to take after you have put so much into a game like that. But it is winner takes all in a semi-final,” said O’Gara. Press Association
Press Association Eleven days on from beating the Blues on penalties at the Britannia Stadium in the Capital One Cup, Hughes’ side added to the London outfit’s woes on Saturday with a 1-0 triumph over them at the same ground in the Barclays Premier League. Marko Arnautovic volleyed home in the 53rd minute to condemn Chelsea – whose manager Jose Mourinho was absent from the ground due to his one-match stadium ban – to a third league defeat in a row, and seventh of the campaign. And Hughes said after the game: “(That was a) good day in the office. “We played really well and knew we would have to. Obviously at the moment they are not getting positive results but we had to work exceptionally hard against them in the cup and we knew we’d have to again. “We did, and as a consequence we got the three points, which was massive for us. “You know at some point they will ask questions of you – they have fantastic individual talent within a great team. “So you have to stick at it, and we have been able to go up the other end and score a great goal ourselves. “We showed great qualities once again and there were big performances by everybody – I am delighted.” Chelsea had plenty of possession over the course of the contest and went close to levelling when Pedro struck the post. There was also a scare for Stoke late on when Blues substitute Loic Remy hurdled a challenge from goalkeeper Jack Butland and stumbled as he tried to shoot, with the effort missing the target and referee Anthony Taylor awarding no penalty. Hughes – whose side are up to 12th in the table – said of that incident: “Credit to Remy at the end. “He could have looked for a penalty and time and time again you see Premier League players flailing legs behind them just to get contact. “He didn’t do that – he hurdled Jack and credit to him, he was looking to score a goal, as all strikers should. “He could have been a little bit more cynical and looked for the penalty, and who knows – at that stage it probably would have been given.” Hughes admitted it had been strange not to have his opposite number Mourinho alongside him on the touchline and felt sure Chelsea would have missed the presence of their manager. “I haven’t experienced it before where the opposition manager is not standing in the technical area next to me,” Hughes said. “In terms of the influence you can have on your team, most of the work is done beforehand. “But obviously half-time is a key time of the match and sometimes you can affect things in the correct manner. “It is dependant on the manager. And with a manager the quality of Jose, I would suggest yes, they would have missed him to be perfectly honest – to give him credit for his standing in the game.” Stoke boss Mark Hughes praised the hard work his players had produced once again after they outwitted Chelsea for the second time in the space of a few days.