Munster 7 Biarritz 18
THE Irish dream of yet another Heineken Cup perished on a disappointing weekend 10 years ago, not only for the 2006 and 2008 champions, but Leinster, as well.
They relinquished their grip on the trophy, when losing to Toulouse, 24 hours earlier, leaving all hope resting on Munster in Estadio Anoeta, San Sebastian.
But, Munster were totally outplayed in the second-half by a rampant Biarritz side, which took full advantage of Paul O’Connell’s absence to dominate the line-out.
Munster did have the satisfaction of scoring the game’s only try through Keith Earls with Ronan O’Gara converting in the 28th minute.
It inched Munster in front and they held that slender advantage until mid-way through the second-half only for the wheels to fall off the wagon.
Biarritz gambled on the fitness of star number eight Imanol Harinordoquy, who played with a grotesque face mask to protect his broken nose and for the 65 minutes he was on the pitch, Harinordoquy made light of his own personal situation to be a major influence on the outcome.
He was an inspirational figure, helping skipper Jerome Thion, hooker Benoit August and flanker Magnus Lund to wrestle control and provide a steady platform for scrum-half Dimitri Yachvilli.
He had all the time in the world to pick his options and on top of that Yachvilli took a leaf out of O’Gara’s book to kick all six penalties.
Biarritz’s forwards generally gave the Munster eight a proverbial roasting, notably out of touch, where O’Connell’s absence was felt far more than had been expected to be the case.
In the circumstances, the backs were rarely given a chance to show what they were capable of and even O’Gara was denied the opportunities to keep the scoreboard ticking along.
Earls and centre Jean de Villiers looked the most potent backs on the pitch, but suffered from a lack of quality ball with which to work while the conditions were difficult enough, too.
A greasy ball didn’t lend itself to an expansive approach though Jerry Flannery’s mazy 50-metre run at last brought the tie to life even if his intended pass to O’Gara went behind the number 10.
It gave Munster renewed hope, however, and they duly made the most of a rare attack through the hands just before the half-hour mark.
Alan Quinlan stole possession on the half-way line before Tomas O’Leary and David Wallace made important inroads to the Biarritz 22.
Donnacha O’Callaghan also played a significant role in keeping the move alive as number eight James Coughlan sent Earls on his way with a perfect scoring pass.
The signs were ominous, however, because not only were the French side dominant in the line-out, but they regularly sent the Munster scrum backwards at a rate of knots, as well.
Yachvilli reduced the deficit with a couple of penalties either side of the interval and but for despairing tackles by Denis Hurley and Mick O’Driscoll, Biarritz would have breached the Munster try line.
The pressure told eventually as Munster coughed up kicks to Yachvilli, who, gleefully, accepted the opportunities to put his side in front for the first time and then wrap up the tie.
Biarritz edged in front with the scrum-half’s third penalty after 64 minutes and moments later Yachvilli kicked his fourth goal for 12-7.
It was all Biarritz at this stage with Yachvilli converting a couple of late penalties to ensure it would be an all-French final.
MUNSTER: P Warwick; D Hurley, K Earls, J de Villiers, L Mafi; R O’Gara, T O’Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll; A Quinlan, J Coughlan, D Wallace.