It's 20 years since Munster marked their arrival as a rugby force in Europe

It's 20 years since Munster marked their arrival as a rugby force in Europe
Peter Stringer, Munster, in action against against Toulouse in the 2000 Heineken European Cup semi-final in Bordeaux. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Munster 31 Toulouse 25

IT’S arguable Munster came of age as a serious Heineken European Cup contender with this memorable semi-final victory over the French aristocrats on May 6, 2000.

3,000 fans, from all over the province, journeyed to the Stade Lescure stadium in Bordeaux more in hope than expectation.

This was a serious Toulouse outfit, particularly in the forwards, where the likes of Christian Califano, Fabien Pelous and Christians Labit threatened to cause havoc.

Out wide, then, the French had a wing of the calibre of Emile N’Tamack, a powerful finisher given any sniff of an opportunity.

It was one of those oven-hot days in the south of France, where included in the travelling fans was one dressed up as Santa Claus and how he must have suffered in the heat.

One of the abiding memories happened even before the kick-off, when Munster coach Declan Kidney had the temerity to send his players to the end occupied by massed hordes of Toulouse supporters to warm-up.

Typically, this cheeky bit of business didn’t go down well with the French, who roared their disapproval and loudly jeered any slight Munster mistake.

Munster coach Declan Kidney and hooker Keith Wood enjoy a quiet embrace after their victory over Toulouse. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Munster coach Declan Kidney and hooker Keith Wood enjoy a quiet embrace after their victory over Toulouse. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

The game adopted an expected pattern from the start, Toulouse dominating possession, but finding Munster’s defence well up for the challenge.

And most surprising of all, the French began dropping passes and taking wrong options, most unlike them, with the result that Munster stayed in contention.

They were helped by a John Hayes try after a Ronan O’Gara break, carried on by Dominic Crotty and at 11-15 down at half-time, Munster were still very much in the contest, despite losing Keith Wood to injury.

Toulouse were restricted to five penalties, all kicked by Michel Marfaing, Munster’s defence holding firm which offered further encouragement.

Munster had reduced the deficit to the minimum, 17-18, when, just before the hour, they conjured one of the great moments in European Cup history with THAT try.

It was one of greatest ever by any Irish team, starting with an attack from a scrum outside their own 22 and finishing with O’Gara crossing between the posts.

Mike Mullins made the first incision in the Toulouse defence before Jason Holland, Crotty and Anthony Foley carried the move on.

Anthony Horgan played a huge role before Mullins and Crotty again handled with O’Gara touching down in front of the disbelieving Toulouse fans, some of whom even applauded.

A third try followed soon after with Holland reading a pass from scrum-half Jerome Cazalbou and intercepting, running in from 25 metres for the killer score.

O’Gara converted for 31-18 and it hardly mattered that Toulouse grabbed a consolation try of their own from Cazalbou in stoppage time.

Munster rugby team players Jeremy Staunton and John O'Neill salute the fans. Picture: AP Photo/Bob Edme
Munster rugby team players Jeremy Staunton and John O'Neill salute the fans. Picture: AP Photo/Bob Edme

In the early hours of Sunday morning over 2,000 supporters greeted the team’s arrival at Shannon Airport.

Munster’s epic journey was underway!

Scorers for Munster: Tries: J Hayes, R O’Gara, J Holland; Cons: R O’Gara (2); Pens: R O’Gara (4)

Toulouse: Try: J Cazalbou; Pens: M Marfaing (5), S Ougier; Con: M Marfaing

MUNSTER: D Crotty (Garryowen); J Kelly (Cork Constitution), M Mullins (Young Munster), J Holland (Midleton), A Horgan (Cork Constitution); R O’Gara (do), P Stringer (Shannon); P Clohessy (Young Munster), K Wood (Garryowen), J Hayes (Shannon); M Galwey (do), captain, J Langford (do); E Halvey (do), A Foley (do), D Wallace (Garryowen).

Subs: F Sheahan (Cork Constitution) for Wood injured half-time, M Horan (Shannon) for Hayes injured 74, D O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution) for Galwey 78.

TOULOUSE: S Ougier; E N’Tamack, C Desbrosse, L Stensness, M Marfaing; A Penaud, J Cazalbou; C Califano, Y Bru, T Tournaire; F Pelous, F Belot, captain; D Lacroix, S Dispagne, C Labit.

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland)

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