Thursday 26 April 2018

Munster's 16 Heineken Cup Seasons


Did not qualify. Finished second in a threeteam Pool D, behind Swansea who were beaten by eventual champions Toulouse in the semi-final.


Did not qualify. Finished fourth in a six team Pool D behind Toulouse, Cardiff Blues and London Wasps.


Did not qualify. Munster finished third in Pool D behind Harlequins and Cardiff.


Munster made the quarter-finals for the first time by finishing second in the pool behind Perpignan. At that stage, the top two teams in each of the four pools were put through to the quarter-finals, where Munster were beaten 23-9 away by Colomiers. Ulster would beat the French side in the final.


With six pools of four, second place was no longer guaranteed a place in the last eight. It didn’t matter as Munster topped Pool 4 and dished out a 27-10 beating to Stade Francais in Paris. Toulouse were memorably beaten in the semi-final in Bordeaux before Northampton stopped the Reds in their tracks in Twickenham on an agonising 9-8 scoreline.


Munster again finished top of Pool 4 and beat Biarittz 38-29 in the quarter-final in Thomond. Munster then went 11 weeks without a competitive match; that allowed Stade Francais to dish out a small measure of revenge, winning on a 16-15 scoreline. Wing John O’Neill was denied a try in that match when referee Chris White adjudged that he touched a flag before touching down. TV replays suggest the try should have been given. Leicester beat the Parisians in the decider.


A second-place finish in Pool 4 behind Castres meant a difficult away quarter-final to Stade Francais. Munster left Paris with the win and then beat Castres in the semi-final in Beziers. That sets up a final date with Leicester, who won out on a 15-9 scoreline, with Geordan Murphy on the scoresheet. The closing stages will be best remembered for the “Hand of Back”. At a scrum five metres from the Leicester line, England international Neil Back knocked the ball from scrum-half Peter Stringer's grasp as he put it in and flipped it straight back to his own second-row. Heartbreak.


The year of the ‘miracle match’ when Munster needed to score four tries and beat Gloucester by 27 points in Thomond to progress to the last eight as one of the best runners-up. They pulled it off but the match went right down to the wire, with John Kelly getting the fourth try in the final minute. Munster then exacted some revenge on Leicester by storming Welford Road in the last eight. In the semi-final, they led Toulouse until the 74th minute but a late Frederic Michalak try brought the French side to within a point before Jean-Baptiste Elissalde's conversion sealed Munster’s fate for another year.


Finished top of Pool 5 along with Gloucester and after beating Stade Francais 37-32 in the last eight, their third win over the Parisians in the knockout stages, a ‘home’ semi-final at Lansdowne Road looked tailor-made for Munster. The province were involved in another epic encounter in their clash with Wasps but they came out on the wrong side on this occasion. They led by 10 points with 15 minutes left after tries by Anthony Foley and Jim Williams but with just seconds left Alex King converted Tom Voyce's try to level it at the death. Wasps hooker Trevor Leota had the final say when he burrowed over for a try which was awarded by the video referee despite some inconclusive evidence.


Munster topped Pool four again but, after making the last four for each of the past five seasons, they came up short in their last eight tie with Biarittz when the French side won out on a 19-10 scoreline in France.


Munster topped Pool One and beat Perpignan in the 19-10 in Lansdowne in the quarter final. Leinster had produced a wonderful performance in France to beat Toulouse and set up a interprovincial derby in the last four. Everything turned up red in Lansdowne Road as Leinster could manage only two penalties in response to Munster’s 30 point haul. Ronan O’Gara scored 20 points in Anthony Foley’s 75th Heineken Cup appearance. Biarritz provided the opposition in the final in Cardiff but it was a case of third time lucky for the province who had tries from Trevor Halstead and Peter Stringer as Munster took their first title.


Second place behind a Leicester was enough to see the province through to the last eight but in round six of the pool they lost their unbeaten Heineken Cup record at Thomond Park when the Tigers took the spoils. They were out of sorts against Llanelli in Stradey Park in the quarter final and trailed 17-0 at the break before eventually going down on a 24-15.


Top spot in Pool Four saw Munster paired with Gloucester in the quarter-final. The English side were put to the sword convincingly before Munster edged out Saracens by two points at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena. The final put two of the competition’s heavyweights against each other as Munster faced Toulouse in Cardiff. Once again, Munster came out on the right side of the result, as Denis Leamy’s try and 11 points from Ronan O’Gara saw them win out on a 16-13 score line. It was also Declan Kidney’s swansong at Munster before he left to take the Ireland coaching job.


Another dominant performance in the Pool stages saw Munster top Pool One and they carried that form into the quarter final as a fancied Ospreys team were dismantled in Thomond Park in one of the province’s most impressive displays in the history of the competition. That result set up a rematch with Leinster at Croke Park. And on the day the world record for attendance at a rugby club match was set, Leinster hinted at a changing of the guard when winning out 25-6 thanks to tries from Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald. Michael Cheika’s side also won the final, beating Leicester in Murrayfield.


For the 12th season in succession, Munster progressed to the knockout stages and beat Northampton in the last eight. With Leinster on the other side of the draw, an all Irish final looked on but Munster’s loss to Biarritz and Leinster’s defeat by Toulouse put an end to that notion. Guy Noves’ Toulouse were outright winners.


Widely regarded as the end of an era for Munster, defeats away to London Irish, Ospreys and Toulon mean Tony McGahan’s side fail to progress to the knock out stages.

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