Munster are the champions of Europe once again, winning the Heineken Cup Final when the Irish province edged French club Toulouse 16-13 in a tense Final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on Saturday.
Munster, winners in 2006, will feel they deserved the victory – based on their greater composure under pressure.
Rugby 365 reports that it does not have to be fast and furious to be gripping and it does not have to be ELV-powered to bring in the fans. There were 19 000 in Christchurch to watch a fast-flowing, ELV-fuelled semifinal of the Super 14 and a full house of 60 000 at Millennium Stadium to watch a ponderous Heineken Cup Final.
It was ponderous. Ball from the tackle/ruck was agonisingly slow – designer slow at times as the heavies had to get mind and body in position for their next pick-’n-drive. A phase would have one pass to it, seldom more than one, and when they needed to make it slow enough to shut Toulouse out Munster plodded on and on and on. In the last 15 minutes Toulouse had less than a minute of possession and that well within their own half. And the Munstermen enjoyed it and sang their songs and will remember it for years and years to come.
It will be a famous victory.
Afterwards Paul O’Connell, who did so much to ensure victory, spoke about the agony in Munster since May 2006 – a tough European campaign last season and a tough World Cup. The agony of that will be gone in the massive outpouring of unified joy at this three-point victory, but the memory of it made the taste of success all the sweeter.
For Toulouse defeat was hard. Defeat is always hard but there was something about this akin to suicide, and the man who fired the killer shots was their captain Fabien Pelous.
First he became a annoyed by Alan Quinlan and aimed a booted nudge at the Irishman’s bum as he walked away. For that he was penalised and sent to the sin bin. For that petulance Ronan O’Gara kicked three points to make the score 13-6.
While Pelous was away, Toulouse got back to 13-all but his return heralded another indiscretion. He pushed his body over a tackled player and lay then before peeling partially away. For that he was penalised and warned. For that O’Gara kicked three points to make the score 16-13, the final score, the winning score.
It was not attractive save for some moments of brilliance from Yannick Jauzion and Cédric Heymans – not attractive, but gripping. The score made it so. The poet Roy Campbell wrote: “Still is beauty out of harshness bred.” It was true of the Heineken Cup Final of 2008.
Munster’s victory was built mainly on simply doing the ordinary things well. They protected the ball at the tackle well – slowly but securely, and they won vital turnovers, two of them in the last few minutes. They won the line-outs that mattered and they had the match’s most telling scrum.
Toulouse started so well. They were in charge and scored first. But then Munster ended the half well and truly on top and leading 10-6.
After Tomas O’Leary had knocked a long Heymans penalty back over his dead-ball line to conceded a five-metre scrum, Toulouse attacked and Maxime Medard was close to set up several bashing attempts but the Munster line held and Elissalde missed a penalty kick at goal after Denis Leamy had been penalised at a tackle.
Munster’s hopes leapt briefly when Quinlan intercepted a hurled pass from Byron Kelleher who had wobbly start to the game. But Toulouse got back into gear and Elissalde kicked a penalty goal. 3-0 after 8 minutes. The kick was straight in front and bout eight metres out.
Jauzion had two exciting moments, first when he leapt to catch and up-and-under and then when he shipped and caught his own chip. But Elissalde missed a drop attempt.
Then suddenly, from a line-out, Munster began running at speed with New Zealanders Lifeimi Mafi and Rua Tipoki prominent. It was almost the only bit of free backline running in the match and it may well have served to break the Toulouse hold on the match for then Munster laid siege to the Toulouse line.
They were over, but held up. Five-metre scrum. They bashed and Leamy was over and claimed a try but the television match official spotted that he had lost the ball forward. Munster destroyed the subsequent Toulouse scrum and drove Shaun Sowerby back into his in-goal for a five-metre scrum to Munster,. They based again 0- Leamy, O’Connell and they scored. Leamy was the one who got the try as O’Connell and Quinlan, one each side, drove him over..
Red flags flew in Cardiff. It might as well have been a home match to Munster. O’Gara converted. 7-3 after 33 minutes.
Back came the Irish and expensive Pelous was penalised at a tackle. O’Gara kicked the penalty. 10-3 after 36 minutes.
On half-time Quinlan was penalised at a tackle and Elissalde goaled to make the score 10-6 to Munster.
Doug Howlett raced over after some nifty work by Tipoki but the little pass was a little forward. That led to a scrum. That led to Pelous’s indiscretion, a yellow card and three points to Munster. It also got Munster spirits up. From now on they played with even greater intensity than before.
Pelous away, Toulouse performed better. So much better that they scored a try of rare individual brilliance.
O’Leary kicked a long kick out inside the Toulouse half. Heymans got the ball and threw in to himself. He moved up the touch-line and chipped. He just got to the bouncing ball first and shipped again, slightly infield this time where Jauzion beat O’Gara to the ball and footed it into the Munster in-goal where Yves Donguy had no pressure in scoring the try. Elissalde converted. 13-all after 54 minutes.
Pelous came back, and Toulouse had their only period of dominance in the game. They went right and Heymans, Yannick Nyanga, Medard and Maleli Kunavore set up a powerful attack near the Munster line but Elissalde destroyed the promise with a poor diagonal kick to his left.
That was it for Toulouse.
Pelous was penalised and O’Gara goaled. 16-13 after 64 minutes.
This was the time Munster wrestling as the minutes ticked away with ponderous seconds till the referee blew the final whistle.
Then the medals were presented, Toulouse getting the ones they did not want, Munster what they wanted in the dark with just the stage lit up – their medals and then the Heineken Cup which O’Connell, and O’Gara held aloft ads fireworks were chucked into the night sky.
Man of the Match: Cédric Heymans provided the sparkle whenever he got the ball but a final is about victory and the man who did most to achieve that victory was Paul O’Connell with his obvious leadership. his power in the scrums, the line-outs he stole and two great turnovers which he won.
Moment of the Match: We are going with all that Cédric Heymans did to create the try for Yves Donguy.
Villain of the Match: This one is easy – Fabien Pelous – sadly. Second prize goes to Alan Quinlan for his performance in making the most of the nudge to his backside.
Pens: O’Gara 3
Yellow card: Fabien Pelous (Toulouse, 51 – foul play, boot on player)
Munster: 15 Darragh Hurley, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Lifeimi Mafi, 12 Rua Tipoki, 11 Ian Dowling, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Tomas O’Leary, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Paul O’Connell (captain), 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Frankie Sheahan, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Mick O’Driscoll, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Paul Warwick, 22 Keith Earls.
Toulouse: 15 Cédric Heymans, 14 Maxime Médard, 13 Yannick Jauzion, 12 Maleli Kunavore, 11 Yves Donguy, 10 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Thierry Dusautoir, 7 Shaun Sowerby, 6 Jean Bouilhou, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Fabien Pelous, 3 Salvatore Perugini, 2 William Servat, 1 Daan Human.
Replacements: 16 Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Romain Millo-Chluski, 19 Yannick Nyanga, 20 Florian Fritz, 21 Manu Ahotaeiloa, 22 Grégory Lamboley.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch judges: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales), Hugh Watkins (Wales)
TMO: Derek Bevan (Wales)