Click here for photos of the Munster squad at Shannon Airport and coach Declan Kidney and captain Anthony Foley at the Heineken Cup final pre-match press conference.
Pictured above: Munster supporters get in the spirit before boarding their flight at Shannon airport. An estimated 70,000 Munster fans are expected in Cardiff for Saturday’s clash with Biarritz.
With less than 7,000 fans of the Basque side expected in the Welsh capital, Munster will certainly have the edge at Millennium Stadium in the ’16th man’ stakes.
The Munster ‘choir’ will be in full voice at the game with the Munster Rugby Supporters’ Club distributing 120,000 song cards to fans travelling to Cardiff. The cards have the words to the songs ‘Stand Up And Fight’ and ‘The Fields Of Athenry.’
Meanwhile in Limerick, the match will be broadcast live on a giant 45 square-metre TV screen at the junction of Shannon Street and O’Connell Street.
Ireland and Lions lock Paul O’Connell signs autographs for fans at Shannon Airport. The Limerick giant has been passed fit to start the final after his recovery from an ankle injury. The 26-year-old said of Munster’s French oppoents: “We certainly rate Biarritz very highly. What impresses me about them is that they can play both types of games. In some games it’s necessary to play it all up front, and they can do that – then in other games they have let it out wide and given themselves great width. They can play the precentage game which makes them very dangerous.”
Biarritz captain Thomas Lievremont and Munster skipper Anthony Foley pose with the Heinken Cup at the Millennium Stadium.
Asked if his side can win the title after final failures against Northampton (2000) and Leicester (2002, Foley said: “We have no divine right to win it. We have a 50-50 chance and we’ll give it our best shot. We are treating it as just another game, and hopefully we can get the performance and result.
“I don’t think what has happened to us in the past really matters coming into this game. If we get caught up in all the buzz and hype and don’t focus on our jobs, then we could find ourselves a lot of points behind.”
Thomas Lievremont was quick to talk up the province and their qualities, saying: “We clearly have to inspire ourselves from what Munster have achieved in this competition. They are one of the greatest European sides.
“Their strength is their forwards, and they also have great half backs, but we should not feel scared by them. It is no bluff that we have reached the final. Our president Marcel Martin has been claiming for two years that Biarritz must play the finals in Europe and the French league.
“Last year we won the French Championship final and we failed in the semi-finals in Europe. The Heineken Cup is our prime objective this season, and we’ve never been so close to getting it.”
Speaking at Friday’s press conference, Munster coach Declan Kidney said: “Tomorrow has all the makings of a great game, and all we can do is focus on ourselves. It is a pretty daunting task coming up against a side like Biarritz, and you never really know how it is going to pan out – it is just a brilliant opportunity for everyone involved.”
Declan Kidney fields questions from the press in Cardiff. Speaking to Sky Sports ahead of the final, Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan opined: “I hope this will be the end of the long wait for Munster but it is not as simple as that and more importantly, the Munster players realise that too.
“It would be a very romantic way to look at it but the bottom line is that the tournament will be decided by 90 minutes on Saturday and what has happened before, and what happens in the future, has no bearing on it. Sport is cruel and we would all romantically like to believe that it is Munster’s time, but the Munster players realise that it doesn’t work like that.
“My heart says Munster but my head is split in two on the basis that I do have respect for Biarritz. This a bloody good Biarritz side. I know they haven’t played the champagne rugby but the bottom line is they got to the final and if you look through their team from a purely rugby point of view, they are extremely talented.”
**All photos by Billy Stickland of Inpho Photography**