Munster go down in Heineken Cup to Biarritz

The 15th Heineken Cup final will be contested by Biarritz and Toulouse after Biarritz beat former champions Munster 18-7 in their Heineken Cup Semi-final.


Double champions Munster were firmly in control after a try from Keith Earls which was converted by Ronan O’Gara and at half time they led 7-3.

 

In the second half however Biarritz took a step up and left Munster behind scoring 15 unanswered points.

Dimitri Yachvili kicked six penalties at the Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastian.


Biarritz will now meet Toulouse in the third all-French final at the Stade de France on May 22 after the three-time winners defeated reigning champions Leinster 26-16 on Saturday to reach their sixth European Cup trophy match.

 

Toulouse were the inaugural champions in 1996 since when they have added two crowns – in 2003 and 2005 – while they lost the 2004 and 2008 finals to Wasps and Munster respectively.

Munster coach Tony McGahan was disconsolate after the loss.


“It’s difficult to put into words what we feel after a second consecutive semi-final defeat,” he conceded.


“Biarritz played very cleverly in the second half. Their set-piece was excellent and they kicked to the corners very well.


They put us under a tremendous amount of pressure and shut up shop.


“We tried to defend our way back into their half which didn’t give us any platform whatsoever.


Biarritz, for whom Imanol Harinodoquy played with a mask to protect a broken nose, were strongly favoured to get past the Irish.


But until Yachvili was allowed opportunity to find his range, it was Munster who were quickest out of the blocks against a side who missed out on a top six finish in the French Top 14.


Irish centre Keith Earls went over on 28 minutes, set up by lock Donncha O’Callaghan and a David Wallace final pass, and Ronan O’Gara converted for a 7-0 lead and the game’s only try.


But a Yachvili penalty deficit reduced the arrears moments before the interval after Biarritz piled the pressure on the visitors’ scrum with prop John Hayes penalised.


Three minutes after the restart the boot of Yachvili was again unerring, bringing the Basques to within a point of parity against a side who saw off Sunday’s hosts in their last meeting in the 2006 final.


The Irish also lifted the trophy two years later but this time, Yachvili’s accuracy was their downfall.


His trusty boot swung the hosts into a 64th-minute lead with a third penalty after O’Gara had first missed the target for the Irish as an ambitious effort from just inside his own half fell short.


Yachvili then promptly kicked three more penalties in the last eight minutes to see off the final vestiges of Irish resistance.


“This is very emotional – we left everything out there,” said Yachvili afterwards.


“I am very proud we’ll be able to take everyone up to Paris for the final.


“We were in a bit of bother in the first half – but we realised that our mental strength, solidity and team spirit could get us through and we proved our mettle,” the man of the match told French television.


Harinordoquy, who suffered a rib injury and was replaced in the second half, expressed similar sentiments.


“The lads did a fantastic job – group spirit brought us through.


” We want to win it now as Toulouse have been champions before and we haven’t.”


Biarritz – who included English trio Iain Balshaw, Ayoola Erinle and Magnus Lund – were doubly happy to have Harinodoquy in their ranks for the bulk of the encounter having lost international centre Damien Traille after he injured his right forearm in a league loss to Clermont.


That injury is set to rule him out of the final.


Munster missed skipper Paul O’Connell with groin trouble as well as former All Black winger Doug Howlett and Ian Dowling, meaning call-

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