Munster’s reign as European champions ended in the famous Stradey Park when they went down 24-15 to a Llanelli Scarlets side who built up a 17 point first half lead that Munster could not peg back.
Munster played against a stiff breeze in the opening half and although the Scarlets produced the more entertaining fare they were just 10 points in front with the end of normal time approaching. And it didn’t seem too serious when Munster conceded a penalty 50 metres but Stephen Jones called up Barry Davies and the full-back launched a massive kick that went over off the crossbar.
Munster might have survived that and were lucky minutes later when the Scarlets squandered a four on two but four minutes into added time Gavin Thomas survived John Kelly’s desperate tackle to score the try that effectively sealed Munster’s fate. Jones’ conversion of that score left Munster trailing by 17 points and what had been a hill became a mountain.
Those expecting an immediate Munster response from the restart were disappointed to see the Scarlets start as they had ended the first half and Mark Jones sped clear only to be whistled back for a forward pass. It had to have been a lose call. And minutes later Davies was also just denied before Ronan O’Gara opened Munster’s account with a penalty in the 62nd minute.
Munster’s best spell yielded a try for Ian Dowling but O’Gara’s conversion from wide on the left drifted left and wide to leave Scarlets in a two score lead. That became three when Jones added the extras to Davies’ try in the 73rd minute and although Munster never gave up, that score ended their reign as Heineken Cup champions.
Lifiemi Mafi’s late run was halted short of the line but replacement Donnacha Ryan was on hand to grab the try, O’Gara finding his range with the conversion. Unfortunately it was too little, far too late.
To the victor the spoils and no complaints from a Munster point of view.
Munster: Christian Cullen; John Kelly, Lifeimi Mafi, Trevor Halstead, Ian Dowling (Tomas O’Leary 75 min); Ronan O’Gara (capt), Peter
Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes; Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll (Donnacha Ryan 78 min); Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Llanelli Scarlets: Barry Davies; Dafydd James, Regan King, Gavin Evans, Mark Jones; Stephen Jones, Dwayne Peel, Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees, Deacon Manu; Vernon Cooper (I Afeaki 60 min), Scott MacLeod; Simon Easterby (capt), Gavin Thomas, Alix Popham (Daffyd Jones 75 min).
Referee: Chris White (England)
Touch judges: Tony Spreadbury (England), Peter Huckle (England)