Rhapsody in Red: Munster’s finest European victories

Peter Stringer dives over to score an outrageously cheeky try in the 2006 Heineken Cup final.

Munster target their 100th European Cup victory at Allianz Park, the home of Saracens, tomorrow — and do so as underdogs: writes Charlie Mulqueen.

Nothing new there. Time and again, they have upset all calculations. In no particular order, we recall 10 of their outstanding achievements

October 1996: Munster 49 Wasps 22, Thomond Park

Professional rugby and the European Cup were still only 12 months old when a star-studded Wasps side came to Thomond Park on a very wet and windy autumn afternoon confidently expected to dish out a hammering to a Munster squad still without a full-time coaching set-up.

Wasps included forwards of the quality of Lawrence Dallaglio and Chris Sheasby of England, Mike Griffiths of Wales and Scotland’s Damien Cronin and the free-scoring Canadian back Gareth Rees. But their real danger man was the All Black Inga Tuigamala, a massive trunk of a man who could also run like the wind.

Somehow, though, this frightening character made little impact that afternoon simply because the Munster forwards led by captain Mick Galwey ensured that he saw little or nothing of the ball.

Instead, they kept it for themselves and used it brilliantly to create tries by Killian Keane, Ben Cronin, Dominic Crotty, Anthony Foley, Galwey himself and Richard Wallace, along with a penalty try. Keane landed four conversions and two penalties to complete a 49-22 rout of the pride of English rugby.

January 2000: Munster 31 Saracens 30, Thomond Park

This marvellous game captured the hearts and minds of Irish sportsmen and women everywhere.

The spirit displayed against the odds was unbelievable and rewarded in full when deep into stoppage time Keith Wood pilfered a try after a lineout on the Saracens line and Ronan O’Gara converted, via the upright, from the touchline.

Cue hysteria from a crowd believed to have been in the region of 18,000 when the maximum was supposed to be 5,000 less!

May 2000: Toulouse 25 Munster 31, Stade Lescure, Bordeaux

Few would argue that this was one of the finest and most significant of Munster’s mighty performances on the road over the last 20 years. Toulouse were very much the aristocrats of the European game and at the semi-final stage of the Heineken Cup and performing in the south of France, were deemed unbeatable. To this day, every Munster fan fondly recalls how coach Declan Kidney brilliantly masterminded the tactical plan and how tries by O’Gara (who also kicked four penalties and two conversions), John Hayes and Jason Holland ensured that it was executed to perfection.

April 2002: Quarter-Final, Stade Francais 14 Munster 16, Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

An Anthony Horgan try and two penalties, a drop goal and conversion by O’Gara gave Munster a good lead but such was the force of the gale at Stade’s backs on the turnover that a home victory looked a certainty, especially as they had a place kicker in the O’Gara mould in Diego Dominguez. But Mick Galwey’s men maintained their discipline in admirable fashion and magnificently held out for the kind of two-point win that filled all Munster men with pride.

January 2003: Munster 33 Gloucester 6, Thomond Park

The players were told early in the week that they needed to beat the reigning English champions Gloucester by 27 points and score four tries in the process.

By match day, all they were thinking of was winning the game by as wide a margin as possible and hopefully the pieces would fall into place after that. John Kelly scored two tries, Mossie Lawler and Mick O’Driscoll got one each and Ronan O’Gara knocked over13 points with his peerless right foot.

Even he didn’t realise that the late conversion he sent between the posts represented the two most valuable points of all. As it dawned on players and supporters alike that the desired result had been achieved, Thomond Park went berserk.

April 2003, Quarter-final: Leicester 7 Munster 20, Welford Road

Ronan O’Gara was so delighted with his try against Martin Johnson’s Leicester Tigers that he booted the ball out of the stadium and down Welford Road. Comprehensively beating the pride of England at what they liked to believe was a fortress of their own was some statement. Rog also contributed two penalties and two conversions and Peter Stringer went over for a try.

April 2006, Semi-final: Leinster 6 Munster 30, Lansdowne Road

It is doubtful if any other result delighted Munster fans more than this demolition of their greatest rivals in their own backyard. The Red Army took over Dublin 4 and their heroes on the field were just as ruthless, none more so than Ronan O’Gara who scored a cracking try and kicked three penalties and three conversions. Denis Leamy and Trevor Halstead also touched down as Munster cruised through to a final date with Biarritz.

May 2006, Heineken Cup final: Munster 23 Biarritz 19, Millennium Stadium

Peter Stringer’s outrageously cheeky try is just one of the blissful memories for Munster fans of a great day in the Welsh capital. Trevor Halstead also scored a try, Ronan O’Gara converted both and three penalties as well. Skipper Anthony Foley and his players clutched the Holy Grail that was the Heineken Cup and Munster rugby was never the same again.

May 2008 Heineken Cup final: Munster 16 Toulouse 13, Millennium Stadium

Alan Quinlan irritated the great French second-row Fabien Pelous sufficiently to earn himself a tap on the backside in full view of referee Nigel Owens. A yellow card ensued, Ronan O’Gara kicked the resultant penalty and that was the difference between the teams on another great day in Cardiff. Munster were European champions for the second time in three years. Rog also knocked over two other penalties and converted Denis Leamy’s try.

November 2011: Munster 23 Northampton 21, Thomond Park

The clock is in the red for four minutes, Munster are a point in arrears, have used 41 phases to get within drop goal range ... finally, Denis Leamy to Ronan O’Gara 40 metres out. The number 10 swings his famous right boot, the ball sails between the posts. Somehow, Munster come back from the dead yet again!

Ronan O'Gara's column

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