Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rugby Union at the Millennium Stadium: Heineken Cup Final-Munster defeat Toulouse in a Titanic Struggle

Munster displayed skill, grit and panache to secure their second Heineken Cup triumph in three years, defeating a wonderful Toulouse team by 16-13.
This game -attended by 80,000- was an epic and epitomised everything that is best in Rugby Union. It was a wonderful advertisement for the game.

The atmosphere was electric. The intensity was far greater than that of the Southern Hemisphere’s Super-14.

Toulouse dominated the opening quarter and exerted extreme pressure on Munster.Yet the men from the South of France had very little to show for their efforts. Elissalde missed an early penalty kick but scored a drop-goal after eight minutes. He failed with a second drop goal attempt.It is arguable that Toulouse’s failure to register more scores in this period cost them the game. Byron Kelleher was caught with his hands in the ruck. Munster now launched a ferocious attack, which went through many phases. Denis Leamy went close to scoring but the TMO ruled correctly that he failed to touch the ball down.In the resulting scrum the Munster forward power came to the fore. Toulouse buckled and Leamy was driven over the line for a try. O’Gara now converted. Sustained pressure for about eight minutes from the Munster pack had yielded dividends.
O’Gara converted a penalty. Elissalde converted a penalty for Toulouse just before half- time -Quinlan having infringed.

In the first five minutes of the second half Paul O’Connell twice saved Munster. He stole a line-out metres from his own line. He also stole a ball from a maul as the Toulouse juggernaut trundled towards the Munster line. Today O’Connell answered his ill informed critics in no uncertain manner. Doug Howlett crossed the Toulouse line but the score was disallowed for a forward pass.
Fabien Pelous was sent to the sin bin for a kick to Alan Quinlan’s backside.
O’Gara kicked the penalty and Munster now led by seven.

Toulouse now rose to the challenge and Cédric Heymans took a quick line-out throw to himself inside his own half and instigated a wonderful move. Heymans crafted a beautiful chip, which he gathered and then outwitted two Munster backs before kicking. Yannick Jauzion kicked the ball forward. Donguy finished this stunning move by touching down for a try. After 62 minutes a fine Toulouse move broke down when Elissalde kicked the ball over the Munster goal line. This was a seminal moment as Toulouse had come forward in waves and looked likely to score. After 65 minutes O’Gara scored a penalty. The Munster forwards maintained the high intensity level required. Toulouse- the team of all the talents- was beaten.

All Munster players were heroes. O’Connell, Quinlan , Denis Leamy, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi and Ian Dowling in particular stood out. Cédric Heymans was man of the match for Toulouse.
Declan Kidney, Jim Williams and the backroom staff have masterminded another stunning success.

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