Munster players training at UL
Munster players training at UL
Munster's Climb to the Top
1 January 2010, 11:58 am
By Pat Geraghty
Hard to believe really. Three months and six games after the start of this season's Heineken Cup Munster emerge top seed with 24 points and secure for themselves a home quarter final.
So what's hard to believe? They've been doing it for the past 11 years in a row and the general perception is that when you've got an Italian side in your group then it's a given that a second side will emerge from that Pool?

Fair enough. But that Italian side put the French champions to the sword in round one and after 25 minutes of their clash with Munster - Munster who had lost in Franklin's Gardens - they were leading 10 points to zip.

And after Paul Warwick's try, it might have been 15 even 17 to the Italians had Doug Howlett ignored the pain of a torn hamstring to cover back and save what looked another certain try.

And how the prophets of doom began to circle. As they're wont to do. There was unhappiness in the camp we were told. Age was catching up with the players we were told. And if you think you had it tough against Northampton and Treviso wait till Perpignan arrive we were told.

Well they did and they scored three tries in Thomond Park and they led with ten minutes to go. And they lost.
They lost because the Munster players kept their belief in each other, kept their composure, forced the penalty for Ronan O'Gara to kick the winner.

Scary stuff right enough and yes a worrying enough display with a trip to France a week away. And no-one, or very few gave Munster a snowball's hope in hell of coming away from the Stade Aime Giral other than with their chances of qualification, if not in tatters, hanging on by a thread.

The Tommy Tiernan of rugby punditry delivered his Right Hook declaring he'd eat his tie if Munster claimed a bonus (losing) point. In fairness if the broadcasting clown prince were to eat an article of clothing every time he gets something wrong he'd walk this earth permanently nude.

No matter what happens this season or in the future, that performance in Perpignan will rank right up with the best that Munster have or will produce. It was sublime. They not only became just the third side to win a Heineken Cup game in Stade Aime Giral they kept the home side tryless and scored a late fourth try for a bonus point.

Treviso were quickly dispatched, three tries and O'Gara's boot leaving Munster 20 points up after 15 minutes. They had the bonus point in the bag before the break.

10 points from trips to France and Italy left them in pole position with Northampton last up and in line for qualification too.

If Aime Giral represented the ultimate in team performance, then the crowd performance in Thomond Park on that Friday night in late January was it's equivalent. The noise particularly in the second half and especially in the final quarter reached deafening levels and undoubtedly helped the side over the line.

Three points to spare, a home quarter final to look forward to, albeit as it turned out, against the same opposition and Munster can look back on a job well done!

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