Click here for photos from Munster’s three-try Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Leinster at Lansdowne Road.
Pictured above: Scrum half Peter Stringer shouts as he spots Denis Leamy’s opening try under a pile of bodies at Lansdowne Road. Leamy’s ninth-minute score – his fifth in 12 Heineken Cup starts – helped Munster into a 10-0 lead.
Afterwards, when asked about his side’s brilliant start, Munster coach Declan Kidney said: “I actually thought we might be a few points short (16-3 in front at half time) against a team with such talent, but the fact that we managed to hold it for so long and then build on it towards the end speaks volumes for our guys.”
With both outside centre John Kelly and his replacement Rob Henderson, who was playing in his first Heineken Cup game since last year’s quarter-final defeat to Biarritz, hobbling off injured and Barry Murphy currently recovering from a broken leg, Kidney added: “Maybe we should do away with the number 13 jersey altogether and have a 12 and a 12A! We had a bit of a struggle worrying about Peter Stringer’s fitness as well, but happily he came through the game okay.”
Leinster winger Denis Hickie charges up onto Munster’s Anthony Horgan after Felipe Contepomi had flashed a cross-field kick over to Munster’s right flank. Horgan was cearly targeted by Leinster, but 20-point hero Ronan O’Gara was delighted that his Cork Constitution club mate stood up to the challenge. O’Gara said: “I’m delighted for Hoggy. He played against the All Blacks (in November) and the All Blacks can make the best of players look very average – he got absolutely lambasted after that game because he was an easy target, and it was disgraceful.
“He’s a very capable player. You saw him there covering behind at times and beating the first man and I think the best is yet to come from him. He just needs a kick up the ass and he gets that from this squad. He’s learnt the hard way, but he’s a hugely valuable member of our team.”
Leinster captain Brian O’Driscoll, playing in his 40th Heineken Cup game, is tackled by Ronan O’Gara. The Munster number 10, who scored a try, three conversions and three penalties, spoke afterwards of his battle with his out-of-sorts opposite number Felipe Contepomi.
The Corkman said: “There was a lot of talk beforehand about the two out-halves and I felt I had a point to prove. I’ve played against Felipe a good few times and I suppose the one time he got on top was at the RDS at Crhistmas, and that kind of hurt. So I had a point to prove.
“I heard a lot about it during the build-up so I was keen to show what I was made of. It’s important to do your talking on the pitch.”
O’Gara let his feet do the talking in the first half as he kicked three priceless penalties to help his side go in at the break with a 16-3 buffer. Out on his own as the Heineken Cup’s all-time top points scorer, O’Gara’s mark currently stands at 751 points (7 tries, 103 conversions, 160 penalties and 10 drop goals). The 29-year-old Irish international has played 58 times in the competition since making his European debut against NEC Harlequins in September 1997.
Munster number eight and captain Anthony Foley is tackled by his opposite number Jamie Heaslip. Foley, who was incredibly starting his 75th Heineken Cup game since 1995, was delighted that his side won through to a third final, but wants more from them for the decider against Biarritz.
The Shannon clubman said: “Reaching the final is what we set out to do at the start of the season. It’s one of those things you believe you can do, so it’s nice to achieve it.
“Now we’re there, we’d like to give a good account of ourselves in Cardiff. We have a good chance of winning it.
“We played Biarritz last year so we know a great deal about them, especially as their personnel hasn’t changed too much. But that’s for another week.”
Munster lock Paul O’Connell, who was named as Heineken Cup man-of-the-match, halts the progress of Leinster’s Felipe Contepomi. The Argentinian is still the top scorer in this season’s Heineken Cup with 131 points (6 tries, 22 conversions, 18 penalties and a drop goal). O’Gara is on 102.
The Munster fans in the South Terrace salute their players. O’Gara returned the favour when he scored his 77th-minute try. He rounded it off with a soccer-style celebration, leaping over an advertising hoarding and hugging some fans.
The Munster out-half admitted of his try celebration: “If I could turn back the clock, I wouldn’t do it again! But your emotions get the better of you sometimes, and if I can’t enjoy that, I won’t ever enjoy any moment I’ve had. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a second line, and I was through.
“I could just see a sea of red in front of me (in the South Terrace) and that gave me an incredible buzz.”
Paul O’Connell tackles Felipe Contepomi as the Leinster number 10 tries to get his side back into the game.
Leinster winger Denis Hickie is enveloped by Munster’s David Wallace. Despite the deflating nature of the defeat, Leinster coach Michael Cheika was proud of the way his players kept battling until the final whistle.
The Australian said: “I feel pretty sick for the boys. They played with guts and conviction but it was not our day. We never developed any rhythm and that was because of the opposition. They took the ball away and didn’t let us play.
“It’s funny because a team known for its skill and not its guts hung in through sheer courage and I’m proud of the boys for that. We stood up to an onslaught which would have put any team away early in the second half. We hung in there and that gave us a chance. But we didn’t get a try and our game is about scoring tries.”
**All photos by Dan Sheridan, Billy Stickland and Morgan Treacy of Inpho Photography**