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
Spurs have resumed pre-season training with their Wales international still very much part of the squad, despite continued rumours of a £30million move to Real Madrid. The north London club are reportedly set to offer Bale – who won last season’s PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year accolades – a new, lucrative £130,000 week contract. Andre Villas-Boas signed Paulinho and Dawson feels more improvements can show Bale that Spurs can deliver his ambitions. “We all know how good Gaz was last year, he was world class and of course we have got plenty of other world-class players, so we have to make sure we keep hold of them all,” Dawson said at the launch of Spurs’ new Under Armour kit. Press Association “Gaz will be the first to admit he cannot do it without the rest of the team. He thoroughly deserved winning both awards last season, it was a great honour for him, he was amazing. But if we keep bringing players in, it is only going to make us better as a squad, that is what we want to do. “We have a fantastic squad with a great manager and good staff – everyone at the whole club is hungry to do well. Every player wants to be in the Champions League, we have just made a great signing and improvement is the key, bringing in players like Paulinho is only going to make the club better. “With the squad we have, if we keep improving that, it is going to take us to the next level.” Dawson added: “You want to keep your best players and also keep improving. We have already improved (the squad), I am sure we will continue to look to do that over the summer. As players, we will take that onto the pitch and then hopefully this time next year we can start talking about being in the Champions League again. “We have to go out there and perform to make sure we are in there again, because it is only ourselves to blame if we are not.” For much of last season, Spurs looked well set to qualify for the Champions League again, only to falter over the final few weeks as rivals Arsenal rallied to snatch fourth and with it secure a two-legged play-off berth in August for another crack at elite level European football. Dawson, though, sees no reason why Spurs should not feel confident for 2013-14. “The new season will start with a fresh campaign, and it is one we are looking forward to, when hopefully we will be able to achieve being back in the Champions League again,” he said. “We will keep fighting and have made some new signings, we all want to achieve things, so we are going in the right direction.” Captain Michael Dawson maintains Gareth Bale would be the first to admit he could not have achieved anything without the support of his Tottenham team-mates, as the club look to take it to “the next level” in the 2013-14 season.