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Munster withstand Gloucester, reach Euro last-4 yet again

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

And if this was their coach’s audition tape for the Ireland job, well it’s hard to see how the IRFU would want to bother looking at anyone else’s. Sometimes serendipity insists on having its way and on Saturday everything Declan Kidney tried hit paydirt. Denis Hurley had a faultless Heineken Cup debut at full-back; Tom_s O’Leary looked like he’d been the one playing at scrum-half for a decade; even the enforced switching of Tony Buckley and Federico Puciariello for a half-shift each worked a treat and compensated for losing Marcus Horan to a back spasm 10 minutes before kick-off.
His tried and trusted did their damnest for him too. The back row was herculean all round but Alan Quinlan was everywhere, doing everything, tackling everybody. And Ian Dowling had a stormer on the left wing as part of a killer three-quarter line, all three of whose New Zealanders did their adopted state immense service. By the end, it was hard to see just who is going to be able to find a way to stop them winning their second European Cup.
“Right now, I’m just delighted,” Kidney beamed afterwards. “Like, imagine – that pool, this match and we’re still in it… Let’s see what happens tomorrow. If you don’t enjoy this, it’s no good. I think that’s the thing that enthused me most about today — I think they were enjoying themselves out there. That’s what sport is — it’s there to be enjoyed. You have good days and you have to enjoy them.”
Munster owed at least a little of their win to the unusually shaky boot of Gloucester wing Chris Paterson. Accepted by all and sundry that he wouldn’t be in the side but for his place-kicking, he chose the wrong day to have a brain freeze and his three first-half misses – two of them from laughably easy spots right in front of the posts meant that he was sitting on the bench long before the end. It meant, too, that instead of the sides going in barely separable at the break, Munster took an 8-0 lead with them to their tea. It was harsh on Gloucester, especially given that they’d kept Munster pinned in their own half for practically the whole of the first 10 minutes.
“Defense at this level is massive,” said Paul O’Connell. “You can talk about everything you want to do in the dressing-room or in the weeks beforehand about what you’re going to do, but they are all very good teams at this level and so you’re not going to have the ball for 80 minutes. Teams have purple patches and you have got to be calm and master those purple patches, and we did that early on. Apart from the few penalties we gave away, I think we defended quite well and were calm.”
Their first try came from Dowling three minutes from half-time, the result of a prolonged spell of pressure as the half came to a close. Doug Howlett’s swivel and pass to put him away made a fool of Lesley Vainikolo – hardly the only time that happened all day either – and Dowling, who had been hugging the touchline with nobody near him for the guts of a minute by this stage, slid in. It was there, right there and then, that you pretty much knew Munster were going to carry the day. They knew it, the crowd knew it, Gloucester knew it. It was Winning 101 – take all your opponent has to throw at you and don’t spare the knife when you get your chance.
Munster were relentless in the second half. Their defense was awesome at times and some of the tackling – from Quinlan, O’Connell and Rua Tipoki especially – drew shudders from the stands. Ronan O’Gara, who was for the most part quiet through the afternoon, kicked them into an 11-0 lead on 49 minutes and you just couldn’t see where a Gloucester try was going to come from. Little surprise then that the only other five-pointer of the day came from the visitors.
A thing of beauty it was too. Donncha O’Callaghan robbed an intercept in midfield and flipped it to Quinlan and two passes later Howlett had open country in front of him. A flick inside to Hurley drew Vainikolo and so when Hurley kicked inch-perfectly to the corner, nobody was home to stop Howlett putting the tin lid on the afternoon. Gloucester kept at it but they looked like a man obstinately trying to fold his newspaper in a hurricane. Any time they got close to a breakthrough, a Munster body would materialize to repel them.
So on they go, Saracens next. They’ve played out two of the competition’s epic matches in the past but regardless of history, on this evidence, Munster will win. That’s just how it is.

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