Glory at last for Munster

Former Springbok centre Trevor Halstead scored a try as Munster finally lifted the European Cup, beating Biarritz 23-19 in a pulsating final.

After suffering heartbreaking defeats in the 2000 and 2002 finals (the latter thanks to the cheating hand of Leicester flank Neil Back), the Irish province finally got their hands on the silverware in front of 73,000 fanatical fans at the Millennium Stadium.

Natalians have reason to feel proud this evening. Apart from Halstead, former Sharks winger Shaun Payne played his part for Munster at fullback and must now be very close to a call-up for the Ireland national side.

An absorbing final got off to an explosive start when Biarritz No 13 Philippe Bidabe handed off John Kelley and found Sereli Bobo on his outside. The left wing seemingly appeared to stay inside the field of play before scoring in the left-hand corner, but TV replays showed his right foot had stepped on the touchline. To really rub it in, Dimitri Yachvili slotted the conversion to make it 7-0 after two minutes.

Ireland flyhalf Ronan O’Gara put Munster on the board with a penalty, as they began to dominate possession and territory.

Their intense pressure finally paid off when Halstead rounded off a slick backline move by crashing over in the left-hand corner. O’Gara cooly slotted the conversion to give his team a 10-7 lead after 18 minutes.

Yachvili levelled the scores with a penalty, before scrumhalf and man of the match Peter Stringer went blind from a 5m scrum for Munster’s second touchdown. O’Gara’s boot was on song again from a difficult angle to make it 17-10.

O’Gara and Yachvili exchanged penalties soon after half-time, and the Biarritz scrumhalf added another to reduce the gap to just four points.

As the game got tighter, the French side grew in confidence and when Yachvili kicked his fourth penalty it became 20-19 with just 10 minutes to go.

O’Gara gave Munster some breathing space three minutes later when his third penalty restored the four-point advantage, and while Biarritz maintained the pressure, the Irish side hung on for a famous win.

Horror in 2000 and 2002. Heaven in 2005.

Munster - Tries: Trevor Halstead, Peter Stringer. Conversions: Ronan O’Gara (2). Penalties: O’Gara (3).
Biarritz - Try: Sereli Bobo. Conversion: Dimitri Yachvili. Penalties: Yachvili (4).

By Simon Borchardt