On November 1, 1995, Richard Wallace touched down at Thomond Park to score Munster's first points in European Cup competition. This Saturday at the much-changed stadium, barring a complete disaster from Johann van Graan's new charges, someone from the province will pop up and grab the 4,000th. We recall some of the landmarks in between.
When Ian Keatley nailed the 70th-minute conversion of Andrew Conway’s try to seal Racing 92’s fate in the Champions Cup round two pool game on October 21, the fly-half sent the Munster points total for 22 seasons and two games in the continent’s premier club rugby competition to 3,994.
There have been some memorable scores on a European journey that has taken in two Heineken Cup wins and plenty of heartache besides. Many are etched in the memory of thousands, recalled for the pivotal moments they created, such as those final victories over Biarritz in 2006 and Toulouse a couple of seasons later.
Yet others are long forgotten and as the 4,000th point beckons at Thomond Park this weekend, we look back at the previous milestones Munster reached and wonder how many will remember these landmark scores?
The 1st Point, November 1, 1995
In front of a Wednesday afternoon Thomond Park crowd estimated to be around 6,000, Munster’s European odyssey began, a day after Toulouse had got the inaugural Heineken Cup up and running 3,600 kilometres east of Limerick against Farul Constanta on the shores of the Black Sea.
Welsh side Swansea were the visitors and took the lead with a penalty from Wales fly-half Aled Williams. Munster’s first points came in the 18th minute when wing Richard Wallace pounced for the opening try, converted by fellow Garryowen wing Ken Smith and the home side went on to win 17-13.
The 1,000th, November 3, 2001
It took 2,195 days to reach four figures and back when European games were also played in Cork, it was Musgrave Park that was the scene as hometown hero Ronan O’Gara notched number 1,000 with the final score of the game, converting a 69th-minute Mike Mullins try to complete a 40-6 hammering of Bridgend, one year after a first final appearance at Twickenham against Northampton.
It had been a feisty affair, with the Welsh team losing three players to the sin bin before Jason Hewitt was dismissed for stamping in the 67th minute, while Marcus Horan and Jim Williams also received yellow cards in a game that saw Rob Henderson make his Munster debut.
The 2,000th, October 22, 2006
By now, Munster were reigning champions and their regular appearances deep into the knockout stages meant they reached the 2,000-point mark in just 1,815 days. The landmark point came in a humdinger of a game and at Welford Road no less, as Munster landed an opening-night win in the pouring rain over Leicester Tigers. Once again it was that man O’Gara who got Munster over the line, with the first of two late penalties that edged them home for a famous 21-19 win.
The sweetest moment would come with the game-winning penalty as the Irish fly-half, who had caused a stir with pre-match comments about the English game being put on an undeserved pedestal. Come game time, he would let his boots do the talking, and the deciding penalty, with Leicester leading 19-18, was conceded by their Irish flanker Shane Jennings, whose remonstrations cost his side a further 10 yards to bring O’Gara within range just
inside the home half.
The 3,000th, December 18, 2011
O’Gara yet again, 1,884 days after the 2,000th and 10 years after notching Munster’s 1000th Heineken Cup point, it is a penalty in the 44th minute of a Thomond Park pool game against Scarlets. It was a Munster team that had the previous season done the unthinkable and failed to qualify for the knockout stages, but they were firing again in their pool. A week after winning in Llanelli, they welcomed Scarlets back to Limerick to score a fourth straight pool win, the 3000th point coming courtesy of O’Gara’s third penalty of the game in what would be a 19-13 victory.
The veteran fly-half had sealed dramatic wins over Northampton Saints and Castres with last-kick drop-goals in the first two rounds but this was a routine affair that landed another milestone for the player named European rugby player of the decade for the noughties.
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