Leamy has hunger for redemption
Published 11/04/2011 | 08:33
There were fears that Munster might not embrace the Amlin Challenge Cup in quite the same way as their legendary exploits in the Heineken Cup over the past decade and a half, but in the end their supporters needn't have worried.
The Munster DNA ensured that when it mattered most in this extraordinary quarter-final at Stade Amedee Domenech on Saturday afternoon, Tony McGahan's men produced the moments of class required to set up a semi-final against Harlequins on Saturday, April 30, at Thomond Park.
And they may well go on and become only the third side in history to win both the Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup, following in the footsteps of Wasps and Cardiff Blues.
Flanker Denis Leamy admitted that while their premature exit from the Heineken Cup is still raw, Munster have now turned their sights on winning the secondary competition as the perfect compensation.
"I think it would go a good bit of the way towards putting right not qualifying for the latter stages of the Heineken Cup," said Leamy.
"It is still a bit of a bugbear not making it into the final stages of that competition, but look, that's what happened and unfortunately we have not got to that stage. We want to win this competition and it would be great if we could do that."
He paid tribute to his men, who survived the intense heat -- 28 degrees at kick-off -- and everything Brive had to throw at them, and Leamy was particularly pleased with the contribution of full-back Felix Jones and wingers Doug Howlett and Keith Earls.
"Our back three were excellent. They have so much pace and guile and their finishing is just a great weapon to have," added Leamy.
"This is a tough place to come and they have beaten some of the best sides in France. They are certainly a team that has a lot of pride, you can see that. I think we were up about 19 points at one stage, but they just kept coming at us and kept coming at us and they were not giving up.
"When a side does that against you it can be very difficult, but we worked very hard in the second half and I think we got our reward."
McGahan said it was their intention to hit Brive with an early barrage and he was thrilled with the way they struck for two tries inside six minutes.
Howlett broke from deep to create and finish the first after just two minutes, with the midfield partnership of Lifeimi Mafi and Sam Tuitupou handling to send the former All Black over. Three minutes later Munster repeated the dose for their hosts when a Mafi and Jones counter-attack sent Earls over in the left corner.
Ronan O'Gara missed from the sideline but Munster held a 12-0 lead after just six minutes.
Brive fly-half Mathieu Belie slotted a 10th-minute penalty as the home side finally got moving and when South African lock Retief Uys finished off a flowing move in the 17th minute, which Belie converted, Munster's early lead had been reduced to 12-10.
A minute later, Munster were facing a deficit when Fabrice Estebanez waltzed through two missed tackles from Tuitupou and O'Gara for Brive's second try in four minutes.
But, astonishingly, the game swung in Munster's favour once more four minutes later when Howlett bagged a terrific breakaway try, which O'Gara converted to give them a 19-17 lead.
But the home side went in 20-19 ahead at half-time thanks to Belie's second penalty of the half and he added another just after the restart. Earls bagged Munster's fourth try of the game in the 47th minute after Howlett's break split the Brive defence and a superb conversion from O'Gara from the left touchline pushed Munster three points ahead.
The try-fest continued four minutes later when Stringer -- who had just been introduced -- gathered a stray pass from Scott Spedding to touch down with ease behind the posts.
O'Gara converted and three successful penalties from the Irish fly-half saw Munster hold a significant 42-23 lead with just 11 minutes left.
Brive, forced to line out without former Irish U-21 and Connacht lock Damien Browne who had a back injury, hit back with tries from an Alexis Palisson intercept and Shaun Perry to set up a nailbiting finish, but Munster held their nerve.
Brive -- S Spedding; G Namy (R Lespinas, 54), J Noon, F Estebanez (S Perry, 70), A Palisson; M Belie, A Figuerola; D Kinchagishvili (P Barnard, 48), B Cabello (J Bonrepaux, 48), P Cardinali (V Kakovin, 48); T Dubarry (A Mela, 54), R Uys (F Domingo, 59); G Vosloo, A Claassen, J Le Devedec (S Azoulai, 62).
Munster -- F Jones; D Howlett, S Tuitupou (J Murphy, 50), L Mafi, K Earls; R O'Gara, C Murray (P Stringer, 48); W du Preez (M Horan, 50), D Varley (M Sherry 54), T Buckley (J Hayes, 59); D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll; D Leamy, D Wallace (N Ronan, 66), J Coughlan (D Ryan, 60).
Ref -- D Pearson (England).