Munster can cause an upset against record-breaking Harlequins in the Heineken Cup

Rob Penny's Munster shouldn't be discounted against the all-conquering Harlequins after a marked improvement in recent weeks

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With the Heineken Cup pool stage reaching its dramatic conclusion last weekend, there's now four mouth-watering fixtures to look forward to in April, particularly Munster's clash against Harlequins.

On paper, it looks a relatively straight-forward assignment for the London side, who are flying high at the summit of the Aviva Premiership table, while Quins navigated their Heineken Cup pool with a 100 per cent record.

Meanwhile, in stark contrast, Munster, who have won the Heineken Cup on two previous occasions, limped into the last eight courtesy of a victory over Racing Metro which sealed the final of the two best-placed runners-up spots at the expense of Leinster.

However, it would be foolish to write off Munster against Harelquins.

The Limerick-based have endured a difficult season of transition following the arrival of Rob Penny from Canterbury, where he won the ITM Cup national provincial title for four successive seasons, last summer.

It's been a bumpy start to the New Zealander's reign at Thomond Park. Munster are 15 points adrift in the RaboDirect Pro12 table, languishing in mid-table. Meanwhile, the two-time Heineken Cup winners just about scraped into the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

But Munster could be finally turning a corner. While the Limerick-based side were expected to beat a significantly weakened Racing Metro, Penny's men can take confidence from reaching the last eight in a season which has had many lows.

It should relieve the pressure on the under-fire Penny - and his squad - something which he was acutely aware of, saying after the Racing win: "Look if we hadn't [won], obviously people would be in the long grass. There would be a lot of bullets fired."

Munster are still coming to terms with Penny's management and his preferred playing style. There seasons has been hampered by basic mistakes - with an alarmingly high error count - but there are signs Munster are improving. Just in time for the business end of the season too.

Reaching the quarter-finals is a feather in Penny's cap and a sign that his methods are working. With expectations grounded this season, it is a chance to gain further experience which would stand Munster in good stead in future seasons.

So, the pressure is off with Harlequins already the clear favourites to edge into the semi-finals. But the London side aren't quite as invincible as their results in the top tier of European club rugby may suggest.

The reigning Aviva Premiership champions navigated the pool-stage with ease, boasting a 100 per cent record. Of course, the calibre of opposition was far from testing. Harlequins managed an average of 45 points ahead of their final 16-9 victory over Biarritz.

The French side are a shadow of their former selves, while Connacht are the undisputed minnows of Irish rugby, with Italy's Zebre losing all six games at the expense of 224 points.

Furthermore, Conor O'Shea's side have limited experience in Europe's top tier themselves - the three-time Amlin Cup winners are yet to lift the Heineken Cup. And Quins will approach the quarter-final fresh form back-to-back away trips to second-place Saracens and Gloucester.

With the support of the Munster faithful roaring their side on, Penny's men will be inspired to cause an upset against Chris Robshaw and co at the Twickenham Stoop. Let's not forget, Munster have European pedigree, and even if they're reputation has diminished somewhat, the club's stature stands firm as a European powerhouse.

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