Disappointment in equal doses in Galway and Dublin on Sunday as Connacht and Munster failed by a single score to reach the finals of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup and Heineken Cup
Disappointment in equal doses in Galway and Dublin on Sunday as Connacht and Munster failed by a single score to reach the finals of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup and Heineken Cup respectively.
Ironically both sides were in similar positions as the games entered the final quarter. A 57th minute Eric Elwood try converted by Mark McHugh had Connacht 13 points clear on the day and four on aggregate and they held that advantage until the 79th minute when Will Greenwood scored his side’s second and decisive try.
It was a disappointing end for the team and their supporters but they can be immensely proud of their exploits this season.
At Lansdowne Road, Jason Holland’s conversion of Jim Williams’ 61st minute try pushed Munster 10 points clear but they conceded two tries, the second in the 77th minute, to lose by a single score.
In those closing minutes of an epic encounter, Munster were reduced, at one stage to 13 after first Donncha O’Callaghan and then Mike Mullins had been yellow carded. The incident involving O’Callaghan was grossly unfair and came at a crucial stage and although Henderson can have no complaints about his sanction, Munster might claim they should have been awarded a penalty for a stamp on one of their players – under the nose of the touch-judge – in the moments prior.
And those Munster supporters who might blame referee Nigel Williams for his part in their side’s departure from the competition are wrong. Williams didn’t referee the game. He allowed Lawrence Dallaglio that privilege. The big number 8 intimidated the Welsh official from the start to such an extent that the Wasps captain somehow seemed to talk his way out of receiving a yellow card.
The final try count of 5-2 in Wasps’ favour proclaims them deserving winners and there can be little argument with that. However, they were able to impose their game-plan without interference whereas Munster were not. The English side killed ball, fringed offside and obstructed all afternoon and were allowed do so by the match officials. Munster will rue the loss of Ronan O’Gara after just 29 minutes but they will also rue the soft defence that ceded at least two of those five tries.
The one huge positive of the afternoon was the occasion itself which saw the oldest international stadium in the world transformed into a sea of red by the extraordinary phenomenon that is the Munster supporter. They managed to re-create the Thomond Park atmosphere in a stadium four times the size and made this a unique occasion, one that will not be witnessed again.
Until Munster visit again.
It’s a pity that such a marvellous occasion, the contribution of the superb Munster support and a brave and courageous Munster team, could not elicit some some degree of graciousness from the Wasps coach Warren Gatland.
“I don’t feel anything for Munster, you take your chances and your opportunities in this competition. It’s easy for Munster to qualify for the Heineken Cup every year.” he said of a side that had contributed to what French star Thomas Castaignede claimed was ” perhaps the finest European Cup match ever.”