Munster’s unbeaten Heineken Cup record came to a shuddering halt in the final pool game when Leicester Tigers emerged 13-6 winners and in the process earn themselves a home quarter final spot against Stade Francais.
Leicester Tigers were fully deserving of this victory and if there is to be any consolation for the beaten Munster side it is that they managed to remain within a score by the end despite playing second fiddle for most of the game against a fired up Tigers outfit.
Right from the kick off Leicester made their intentions clear. The went after Munster in the air and in the set scrum. They tackled like dervishes throughout and they maintained the intensity of their challenge for the entire match, Even then, at the end Munster might have snatched a draw when they laid siege to the Leicester line but once again the Tigers defence was simply massive.
If there was a decisive moment it possibly came on the hour mark after Tomas O’Leary’s chip ‘n chase had alarm bells screaming in the Leicester defence. The penalty was conceded but instead of going for the posts and the possibility of a 9-8 lead they opted for a scrum and lost that and then shortly after they conceded a try. So from being a point up they found themselves seven points in arrears but psychologically the damage was far greater.
Leicester took the lead with an early Ian Humphreys penalty that was cancelled out by a similar O’Gara strike in the 25th minute after Leo Cullen had conceded a penalty.
Three minutes later Geordan Murphy knifed through the Munster defence for the game’s opening try but in injury time O’Gara knocked over a penalty to leave Munster two points down at the break (8-6). As it turned out that was to be their last score of this match.
Nine minutes after the restart Declan Kidney sent on Anthony Foley and Jerry Flannery for Mick O’Driscoll and Frank Sheahan respectively and while Munster enjoyed good territorial advantage they were finding the Tigers defence aggressively unyielding. Their best chance came on the hour when Marcus Horan’s ‘soft hands’ pass sent O’Leary scampering up the right touchline. He opted to chip ahead infield and in the scramble to save a try Leicester conceded a penalty.
Cue THAT decision.
Munster called a scrum. Leicester heaved them off and the chance to take the lead was gone.
Seven minutes later Ollie Smith rounded O’Leary and the Tigers had sight of the finish line.
Still there was time and in those closing minutes. Munster set up a series of drives for the Leicester line but were unable to get across. When they swept the ball wide Munster knocked on and as far as the home side was concerned the game – and the record – was up.
MUNSTER: S Payne; J Kelly (T O’Leary 22 min), B Murphy, L Mafi, I Dowling; R O’Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan (J Flannery 49 mins), J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (capt); M O’Driscoll (A Foley 49 min) (J Coughlan 84 mins), D Wallace, D Leamy.
LEICESTER TIGERS: G Murphy; S Rabeni, O Smith, D Hipkiss (L Lloyd 73 mins), A Tuilagi (S Vesty 79 mins); I Humphreys, H Ellis; M Castrogiovanni (M Ayerza 67 mins), G Chuter, J White; L Cullen, L Deacon; L Moody, S Jennings, M Corry (capt).
Referee: Joël Jutge (France).