Munster. In the words of Captain Mick Galwey, Munster can only hope to make it “third time lucky”.
The Heineken Cup Final kicked off at a dramatic pace. The electric atmosphere in the stadium added to the sense of occasion that this final espouses, and the emotional rendition of The Fields of Athenry seconds before the team emerged from the tunnel will be a poignant memory that will remain forever etched to white matter.
With immediate pressure on the Munster backs, Leicesters Freddie Tuilagi attempted to score an early try, only to be offside, much to Munsters relief.
The opening score came from a Ronan Ogara penalty with seven minutes gone. A second penalty was scored from 40 metres by OGara 25 minutes in the game. However continued pressure from Leicester saw the Munster backs come under attack. This concluded with a try from Lecister star, Kildare-man, Geordan Murphy, with 15 minutes to go in the half. The attempted conversion by Man of the Match Stimpson went wide of the Munster posts.
Munster continued to battle on with some excellent play at midfield by the Ronan OGara and Peter Stringer partnership, but despite these concerted efforts, Munster defences continued to come under the extreme pressure of Stimpson and Murphy.
The score at half time was 6-5 to Munster.
But this lead was not to be enough and Munster conceded another try in the second half, with 58 minutes of play gone. Austin Healey’s pace proved to be more than Munster could handle. The subsequent conversion by Stimpson boosted Leicesters score to 12-9. With more than 20 minutes of play left, Munster may have been down but they were certainly not beaten. Add another 3 points from the foot of Stimpson, and Munsters date with destiny seemed to be falling to pieces.
Two missed penalties by Ronan OGara, one in the 73 minute, and another in 78 minute, coupled with the scrum fiasco in the dying minutes of extra time, sealed Munsters fate, and once again Munster will have to accpet their secondary position. Optimism is needed. Third time lucky perhaps.
Munster may have lost but they are not beaten. Their spirit and resolve will come through this defeat. Munster were on the crest of the wave in the lead up to this final, yet this crest suddenly turned and drowned their efforts. As Munster coach, the effervescent Declan Kidney stated in the post match press conference, “Munster rugby has been around for more than 100 years and hopedully we havent made too much of a mess with it, and it will be around for another 100 years.” Positive on that one Declan.