Classic cup semi when Red Army bested Chicago Bulls of rugby

A Toulouse team calendar, the visiting press officer throwing down the gauntlet on the eve of the match and a half-time lesson in messing with opponents’ heads.
Classic cup semi when Red Army bested Chicago Bulls of rugby
The Munster team celebrate their win over Toulouse from left Ian Fleming, Frank Sheahan, Anthony Horgan, Tom Tierney, David Wallace, and Alan Quinlan. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

A Toulouse team calendar, the visiting press officer throwing down the gauntlet on the eve of the match and a half-time lesson in messing with opponents’ heads.

Such were the ingredients 20 years ago when Munster beat the French giants in Bordeaux in their first Heineken Cup semi-final appearance, delivered with a taste of Toulouse’s own stylish medicine.

“Twenty years ago? That’s scary,” Frankie Sheahan told the Irish Examiner as the former hooker recalled a match in which he was not expecting to play. Sheahan, now 43 and CEO of Pendulum Summit, would come on at half-time for the injured Keith Wood and see out a famous 31-25 victory against the inaugural champions playing their fourth semi-final in just the fifth year of the competition.

“Toulouse were fully professional, they were a cosmopolitan team. They had a massive budget, they were the Chicago Bulls of rugby.

“They were commercially ahead of everyone and they had the talent. They were the kings. They had the best of everything.

“We’d been beaten by Toulouse in the very early days on the road, 60-19 (in 1996-97) and that was a real awakening but that squad had come of age by this point.”

Munster had already laid to rest some ghosts en route to the last four, notching first wins in both England and France against pool rivals Saracens and Colomiers and claiming a maiden home quarter-final draw that saw them beat Stade Francais 27-10. The prospect of Toulouse in France was different gravy, though, as wing John Kelly recalled.

“Declan was a mastermind at that, putting a target on being the first team to do these things,” Kelly said. “So to go and beat Toulouse in France, I remember being at home when the draw was made and seeing us being pulled out against Toulouse away was the absolute worst possible draw we could get. It was totally deflating, I felt ‘oh well, that’s the end of it’, initially. And then you start to practically gear up to it.”

By the time they landed in Bordeaux, Munster felt primed but Toulouse’s superiority seemed to be everywhere, Sheahan said.

“I’ll never forget on the night before the match, a Toulouse calendar found its way into the Munster team room at the hotel and we were looking through it, all their players were naked, the lot of them, apart from a strategically-placed ball. They were all very much manicured, perfect hair, tanned skin, six packs and we were all looking at this and the Claw walked in and started looking through it. You probably couldn’t have had more of a contrast!

‘There’s some shape on them,’ he said, ‘but we’ll see about that tomorrow!” Well, I couldn’t repeat exactly what he said, you couldn’t print it anyway.

“At the walk-through at the stadium earlier, there was a disagreement between (the late Munster press officer) Pat Geraghty and an official there by the pitch. Pat was a fiery guy, he took no prisoners with this fella to the extent they started pushing each other as we all watched.

“On the bus back to the hotel we were singing ‘There’s Only One Pat Geraghty’. He was laying down the gauntlet early on that we wouldn’t be taking any backward steps.”

Game day would see similar bravado pre-match, as Kelly described Munster warming up on Kidney’s orders in front of Toulouse’s hardcore supporters. “They went bananas, it was non-stop.”

Munster had plenty of support themselves, a travelling red army that Sheahan believes surprised the home side.

“I think Toulouse were a bit shocked by that, the number of fans who travelled, like ‘who are these guys?’, ‘this isn’t supposed to happen like this.’”

That feeling will have intensified when Ronan O’Gara kicked Munster in front after a series of Toulouse errors led to an opening penalty. Munster scored the only try of the half, finished by John Hayes after an excellent line and offload from full-back Dominic Crotty but it was the boot of Michel Marfaing that kicked Toulouse into a 15-11 half-time lead.

Sheahan had become used to watching Wood’s heroics from the bench that season, including all five games of the 2000 Six Nations.

There was within him, he admitted, an “ambition and bit of resentment that suits any sport... so when Woody went down just before half-time, I got that rush of fear and excitement.

“Woody had pulled his calf and I knew I was going on so I’d stayed out on the pitch during half-time and Tom Tierney, who was on the bench with me, gave me a bit of encouragement, ‘you’re going to take this in your stride, this is a club game, you’re an international player’. It was very powerful.”

While Sheahan was getting his pep talk, Kelly recalls the half-time ploy that got under Toulouse skins.

“The dressing room is 300 metres away from the pitch but,” Kelly said, “we decided to go back to the dressing room.

“It was a really hot day and both teams really went at it in the first half and I remember we all jogged off the pitch. The whistle went and we were totally in tune, we jogged off the pitch as they walked and we jogged all the way back to our dressing room. This was all planned. We got back and there was ice, face cloths and towels full of ice and tried to cool down. We went through our stuff for five minutes and then we got back up and jogged back through the tunnel.

“As we jogged back, the Toulouse players were on the ground, thrown against the wall, they looked exhausted. They had seen us running down the tunnel and the next thing they saw was us running back out onto the pitch right through the middle of them. I’d say that was a moment where, psychologically, they just knew they were gone.”

The second half would see Kelly proven right but not before the incoming Sheahan had given himself a further gee-up.

“I think when (his team-mates) came out they were looking at me thinking ‘oh f***, Woody’s gone, Frankie’s in’ but I was determined to do my bit. I told myself, ‘we’re trailing, you’re not going to win this by yourself but don’t be the reason that we don’t’. So I just went out and gave it everything I had.”

So did every Munster player. Though they trailed 18-17 midway through the second period, a knock on from Toulouse’s Lee Stressness with an overlap beckoning on the Munster 22 proved pivotal. Munster struck from deep off the scrum, all the backs and Foley making significant contributions before fly-half O’Gara took another fine Crotty offload to score under the posts.

It was thrilling stuff, made sweeter when Jason Holland intercepted a pass for a second try in four minutes to open up a 13-point lead.

A consolation try at the death from Jerome Cazalbou barely interrupted the Munster celebrations and though disappointment would follow in the Twickenham final at the hands of Northampton later that month, Kidney’s men had served notice they were a team to be reckoned with.

Heineken Cup Semi-Final, May 06, 2000

Toulouse 25 - Munster 31

Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux

Half-time: 15-11

TOULOUSE: S Ougier; E Ntamack, C Desbrosse (P Bondouy, 70), L Stensness, M Marfaing; A Penaud, J Cazalbou; C Califano (C Soulette,70), Y Bru, F Tournaire; F Pelous, F Belot - captain; D Lacroix (M Lièvremont, 64), L Labit, S Dispagne (H Miorin, 70).

MUNSTER: D Crotty; J Kelly, M Mullins, J Holland, A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; P Clohessy, K Wood (F Sheahan, h-t), J Hayes; M Galwey - captain (D O'Callaghan, 76), J Langford; E Halvey, D Wallace, A Foley.

Referee: Jim Fleming (Scotland).

Attendance: 28,000

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