The day Peter Stringer pulled a fast one as Munster finally got over the line

The 2006 Heineken Cup final is poised at ten apiece. Peter Stringer is poised at the base of a scrum. This week's 'Moment In Time' sees Brendan O'Brien revisit one of the most famous scores in the history of Irish sport.
The day Peter Stringer pulled a fast one as Munster finally got over the line

The 2006 Heineken Cup final is poised at ten apiece. Peter Stringer is poised at the base of a scrum. This week's 'Moment In Time' sees Brendan O'Brien revisit one of the most famous scores in the history of Irish sport.

Peter Stringer dives over to score Munster’s try against Biarritz during the 2006 Heineken Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Peter Stringer dives over to score Munster’s try against Biarritz during the 2006 Heineken Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium. Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Coaches and players like to remind us that no one moment can decide a game. Reason tells us that this has to be true across any contest involving multiple actors and countless acts but emotion couldn't give a stuff about all that. Not when it comes to sport and not when it comes to something as emotive as Munster's quest for the Holy Grail.

Thomas Lievremont was Biarritz skipper the day Munster finally claimed their first Heineken Cup back in 2006. It was his take immediately after the game in the Millennium Stadium that a defensive error in the lead-up to Trevor Halstead's 17th-minute try had been the key score.

A similar claim could be made for Ronan O'Gara's third and final penalty in the dying minutes which brought to an end a 31-minute scoring drought for Declan Kidney's side and called a halt to a Biarritz surge that had reduced a ten-point deficit down to one.

Neither of those claims ever get anywhere in this court of public opinion.

The moment that came to symbolise Munster's transformation from nearly men to champions came just after the half-hour mark when Peter Stringer did what nobody on the pitch, in the crowd of 74,534, or tuning in on TV expected by darting in for the cheekiest of tries.

The score itself burns as brightly as ever in the mind's eye but the context may need some bellows.

Peter Stringer celebrates with the Heineken Cup. Photo: David Davies/PA.
Peter Stringer celebrates with the Heineken Cup. Photo: David Davies/PA.

There were only three minutes played when John Kelly missed a tackle and Sireli Bobo went over for the opening try. If it looked like the Fijian's right foot brushed the sideline on the way over then the touch judge on that side, Dave Pearson, didn't seem to notice.

First the hand of Back, now's Bobo's boot. This could have gone very wrong. Again.

Halstead's try and a penalty each left the scores at ten apiece before a concerted period of Munster pressure established them in the Biarritz 22 and with a scrum about ten metres out from the defending side's left-hand sideline.

O'Gara wrote in his autobiography a few years later that Stringer would have fed the ball in and passed it out the back to him 999 times out of a thousand but his half-back partner was concocting a different plan and it was one all of his own making.

He'd had a dream only the night before that he had scored a try in the final but this was a score borne of more than wishful thinking. It started with some video clips formatted onto his fancy Nokia 6230i by George Murray, the team analyst.

Stringer showed the clips to some of the others on the team bus the day before the game but he didn't share everything. Among the nuggets pocketed was the fact that Bobo had a tendency to inch infield from the blindside at scrums. He thought nothing more of it. Until now.

Sure enough, the winger drifted off his mark as Stringer shuffled around to the base. He saw as much out of the corner of his eye but couldn't risk a more concerted sweep for fear of triggering alarm bells. His body positioning and body language had to sell the scene.

“For all I knew, Bobo had gone back to the short side and was eyeballing me through the back of my head,” he explained in Pulling The Strings. “But I couldn't risk checking. Those couple of seconds at the back of the scrum seemed like an eternity.”

Bobo had over seven inches and four stone on him. The consequences if he was caught didn't bear thinking about. The other concern was Serge Betsen, the brilliant and effective blindside flanker who could have detached himself from the setpiece.

It could have been the moment that turned the game in Biarritz's favour but as Stringer wheeled around with ball in hand he found the path clear. The sting was on. “An unbelievable feeling,” he said of the moment. “One of the best feelings of my life on a rugby pitch.”

Anthony Foley lifts the Heineken Cup. Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Anthony Foley lifts the Heineken Cup. Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

It was a curate's egg of a score. If the analysis that spawned it was in keeping with modern rugby then the absence of any collective input and the instinctive solo run was utterly at odds with so much of the scripted game played in the professional era.

There were no Xs or Os, just one's man's eye and intuition. The Munster players would call the move 'Braveheart' in honour of the man who scored it. All the more fitting for the fact that Stringer was named man of the match and silenced more than a few critics in the process.

Among those eating humble pie was Jeremy Guscott.

“Last week I said that Stringer sometimes reminded me of a schoolboy in his eagerness and naivety,” said the former Bath, England British and Irish Lions centre. “Yesterday he graduated to become governor of the school.”

It was a poor analogy for a player who was by then 28 years of age and had already won 66 caps for his country but it was Stringer who had the last say that mattered, launching the ball into the Millennium Stadium rafters after Chris White blew the final whistle.

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