Click here for more photos from Munster’s historic Heineken Cup semi-final defeat of provincial foes Leinster.
Pictured above: Leinster centre duo Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy combine to bring Trevor Halstead, who was Munster’s heaviest starting back (15st 4lbs) on show on Sunday, to ground.
Leinster’s backline failed to fire against the men in red and coupled with an off-day from out-half Felipe Contepomi, there was not much for the blue legions to cheer.
Coach Michael Cheika said: “They’re (Munster) the better team and I think they wanted it more. I think the criticism (of Felipe Contepomi) is unwarranted because at the start of the season nobody was giving Felipe the time of day. You have days when it’s on and days when it’s off. But the criticism is very harsh.”
Gordon D’Arcy is the meat in a sandwich between Munster’s Federico Pucciariello and David Wallace. The 26-year-old D’Arcy started all eight of Leinster’s Heineken Cup ties this season – four in the number 13 shirt, and four at number 12. He scored 3 tries in consecutive games against Glasgow and Bourgoin (at the RDS and Stade Pierre Rajon).
Leinster flanker Eric Miller, who came off the bench for what was his final Heineken Cup apperance before his retirement from rugby, is hassled for the ball by munster’s Tomas O’Leary, Donncha O’Callaghan and Trevor Halstead.
Miller’s Heineken Cup record, which includes spells with Leicester Tigers (1996-98) and Ulster (1999-2000), stands at 52 appearances (43 starts) and 6 tries. He scored his last European try in the 92-17 demolition of Bourgoin by Leinster at Lansdowne Road in December 2004.
Munster out-half Ronan O’Gara slips through the tackle of Leinster’s Malcolm O’Kelly on the way to scoring his side’s second try. He will not need reminding, but O’Gara’s effort was his first Heineken Cup try since April 2003 – when he scored in the second half of Munster’s 20-7 quarter-final win over Leicester Tigers.
O’Gara dots down his try before racing towards the South Terrace in celebration. The 2005 Lion’s contribution to Munster’s win was described as “massive” by coach Declan Kidney afterwards.
Kidney conceded: “It was a strange sort of game where everybody knew each other. A lot of pride was at stake but the respect was all but tangible. We were fortunate to have a few moments where we came out on top. In other years, that would have gone against us.
“The scoreline made a nonsense of the game, but we stuck in there all day. Ronan O’Gara’s contribution was massive, given what he went through (with a knee injury). He directed the thing out there. He said at half time: “the less I get the ball, the better!” But these games don’t come around too often. Thank God.”
Munster fans begin to celebrate as O’Gara’s try puts them 23-6 clear. Despite a tremendous personal performance, man-of-the-match Paul O’Connell was quick to pay tribute to the Munster backs in the aftermath.
The Limerick man insisted: “I don’t know who we finished up with in the back line, but it just shows you that a back line which hasn’t played or trained together, can manage to hold the best back line in world rugby at bay.
“Little details can work for or against you and if we had been receiving the first kick and let them get possession – who knows what might have happened. It’s only bragging rights and we’ll have to play these guys again next year when they’re sore.”
Disappointed Leinster fans come to the realisation that their team’s Heineken Cup run is over for another year.
O’Connell admitted that he felt Munster were not home and dry until Trevor Halstead had gotten over for his 80th-minute try. The giant lock said: “Credit to Leinster, they were very gracious when they beat us at the RDS (in December) and that’s the way we have to be. There’s a great respect between the two teams and I think that showed at the end of the match.
“Near the end, when ROG (O’Gara) scored his try and we saw there were 37 minutes on the clock, we thought there was going to be loads of extra time, and when you’re up against guys like Drico (O’Driscoll), Darce (D’Arcy), Contepomi and Denis (Hickie), you know that a try can come out of nowhere. So it wasn’t until Trevor’s score that we felt we had it won.”
Munster players converge on Trevor Halstead after the South African centre’s intercept try. It was Halstead’s second try of the Heineken Cup campaign – he also scored on his European debut against Castres Olympique in October.
The scoreboard flashes up congratulations to the Munster team after a job well done.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, a tired but hugely satisfied Anthony Foley said: “It’s great for us country folk to come up here and get a result! In fairness, the scoreline at the end of the game didn’t reflect how tight it was out there. When we put them under pressure they coughed up one or two balls at the end, but, sure we’ll take that result.”
Asked about his physical well-being, European rugby’s most experienced player conceded: “I feel quite tired at the moment. It was a tough game. I thought both sides gave it everything they have. The difference was we got scores at vital stages – we won it playing rugby though. We went out there and attacked them from all over the pitch.
“We had a solid set piece, and although people talk about our back line, our backs proved themselves (today). They had a go from everywhere. That’s the rugby we like playing and that’s the type of rugby we’ve always played.”
**All photos by Dan Sheridan, Billy Stickland and Morgan Treacy of Inpho Photography**