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O’Gara reigns supreme in battle of the champions

Monday 9th October 2006

12:00 am (GMT)

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- 04/01/2007 16:27

- 04/01/2007 16:27

Heineken Cup champions Munster kick-off their defence at Welford Road – taking on Leicester Tigers, winners of the competition in 2001 and 2002.

Leicester, also finalists in 1997, currently stand fifth in the Guinness Premiership, and will be hoping to continue their Heineken Cup form that has seen them win 47 out of their 67 ties so far.

Munster have a remarkable record in the Heineken Cup, playing in every competition since its inception, reaching three finals, three semi-finals and winning 53 of their 77 matches, scoring 204 tries.

Tigers coach Pat Howard has made four changes to his team  following the win over Northampton Saints in the Guinness Premiership last weekend.

Head coach Howard welcomes back Daryl Gibson, Martin Castrogiovanni, Tom Varndell and Paul Burke to his starting XV. Harry Ellis and Seru Rabeni are also named on the bench on their comeback from injury.

Gibson sat out the win over Saints due to the one-foreigner rule in domestic league rugby, but two overseas players are permitted in the Heineken Cup.

Varndell returns after a short loan spell with Bedford and following his recovery from a knee injury.

Burke gets the nod at fly-half against his former club and prop Castrogiovanni regains his place after two weeks away with the Italian national squad for the World Cup qualifying wins over Portugal and Russia.

On the decision to go for Varndell and Burke, Howard said: “It is very tough on Johne Murphy, who has had three good games for us in the last few weeks, but Tom has recovered from a slight knee injury and at his best he offers good finishing power.

“Burkey has had three solid games. The competition is very tough at number 10 but he has won through for this game.”

And Howard is also delighted to have England scrum-half Ellis and Fiji’s Rabeni back in the frame after injury.

“It is tough on other guys but it is a competitive squad and it is great to have them back,” he said.

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O’Gara reigns supreme in battle of the champions

Monday 9th October 2006

12:00 am (GMT)

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- 04/01/2007 16:27

- 04/01/2007 16:27

Munster outside half Ronan O’Gara had been ion the headlines all week in the build up to this clash of the Euro titans at Welford Road and he ensured he stayed top of the news agenda with a match winning 52m penalty on the stroke of time.

That monster kick enabled Munster to snatch victory for the jaws of defeat and ensure their defence of the Heineken cup title got off to a winning start.

The champions were dogged, determined and very direct in the first half and were full value for their 15-6 interval lead.

They conjured up two tries, the first coming from a remarkable 50m dash from lock Donncha O’Callaghan.

That try opened the scoring in dramatic fashion after only nine minutes and then Paul Burke and O’Gara swapped penalties.

Then, as half the half time whistle loomed Munster converted a tail of the lineout take on the home 22 into a try close to the posts for David Wallace.

O’Gara’s inside pass to wing John Kelly completely split the Tigers defence and Kelly fed Trevor Halstead who carried the ball up to the line.

Wallace was on hand to pick up the ruck and twist and turn his way over for a try which O’Gara converted

While Munster made the most of their chances in that opening periods, the Tigers frittered away theirs. A second Burke penalty on the stroke of half time improved their position, but the former Munster man who had missed with two other penalty attempts, found himself replaced for the second half by Andy Goode.

Goode’s prodigious boot enabled the Tigers to turn the battle for territory into their favour and his penalty after 52 minutes raised the stakes for the home side and their vociferous fans.

O’Gara replied with his second penalty on the hour to keep Munster two scores ahead, but the Tigers front five turned up the pressure, and the game on its head, when they made a mess of the Munster scrum to earn a penalty try with 10 minutes to go.

Goode added the extras and then finally his side’s nose in front with a 40m penalty after 73 minutes following another power scrum display.

Surely it was all over for the champions – not a bit of it! Munster simply don’t know the meaning of defeat, they didn’t panic, worked their way up field and when they were awarded a penalty on their own 10m they looked set to kick for the corner.

But Tigers replacement back row Shane Jennings aired his views on the penalty to Welsh referee Nigel Owens and all of a sudden the kick was in O’Gara’s range as Leicester were marched back a further 10 metres.

With the clock ticking, the rain thundering down and his team-mates heart’s pounding, O’Gara kept his head and kicked Munster back into the lead.

It was dramatic edge of seat stuff, which meant that Munster stripped the Tigers of an unbeaten home run dating back to January 2005. It also means the heat is already on the other teams in the champions’ pool.


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