To the mass acclaim of their fervent supporters on a sunlit afternoon at Lansdowne Road, Munster reached their third Heineken Cup final with as clinical and professional a demolition of Leinster Lions, their f ted rivals from Dublin, as you could hope to see.
They will meet Biarritz at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on May 20 and must surely have a glorious chance of securing Europe s most glittering prize, one that to date has so painfully eluded them. Not that they will take anything for granted. There is no such thing as destiny, Paul O Connell, the man of the match, said
Through the domination of their forwards and particularly O Connell s heroics, Munster s superiority was never in question. Restarts apart, it took Leinster 15 minutes to enter Munster territory. They were suffocated at the breakdown and struggled in the set-piece against, but it is to their credit that they hung on and life was extinguished only with two late tries as Munster finished with a flourish.
Starved of possession and territory, Leinster s stars rarely had an opportunity to show their ability. Having been disrupted so effectively at source, there was little that Felipe Contepomi, of whom so much was expected, could do.
The Argentina fly half and playmaker became rattled. His restarts went too far, his penalty kicks went astray and his decision-making was poor. On one occasion, he kicked away a four-on-two advantage with Shane Horgan screaming for the ball to be kept in hand. Playing off the back foot, he found the pressure intolerable.
In contrast, Ronan O Gara, his counterpart, enjoyed an armchair ride behind the Munster pack. He looks a different player in the red of his province rather than the Ireland green, and there are few better players at controlling a game of this type.
His try in the 77th minute, when he broke past Malcolm O Kelly from a ruck on the 22, was justifiable reward. In all, the fly half collected 20 points.
The tone was set in the first minute, when O Connell pounced on O Kelly s failure to collect the kick-off and headed a charge that ended in Munster s first penalty. O Connell s clean catch from a penalty kicked to the corner then led to a trademark drive from which there was only going to be one result, Denis Leamy touching down.
O Gara s conversion put Munster ten points to the good in as many minutes, a position that even at that early stage looked unassailable. With quick ball off the top of the lineout, they built momentum and took the game to Leinster at every opportunity.
Contepomi s penalty was soon cancelled out by two successful responses from O Gara as Munster eased into half-time 16-3 ahead. Leinster s only threat had come from speculative cross-kicks by Contepomi to unleash Denis Hickie.
For all their ascendancy, however, it was another 50 minutes before Munster scored again. Partly that was down to the bravery of the Dubliners rearguard action, not least in a five-minute spell around the hour mark when a succession of lineouts, mauls and tapped penalties were somehow repulsed. Contepomi added his second goal and, until O Gara embarrassed O Kelly and hurtled over the try line and the advertising hoardings behind to be greeted by jubilant supporters, Munster could not afford to relax.
They could, however, when Trevor Halstead intercepted Guy Easterby s pass to run 50 metres and score under the posts.
SCORERS: Leinster Lions: Penalty goals: Contepomi 2 (19min, 69). Munster: Tries: Leamy (9), O Gara (77), Halstead (80). Conversions: O Gara 3. Penalty goals: O Gara 3 (1, 21, 26).
SCORING SEQUENCE (Leinster first): 0-3, 0-10, 3-10, 3-13, 3-16 (half-time), 6-16, 6-23, 6-30.
LEINSTER LIONS: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O Driscoll, G D Arcy, D Hickie; F Contepomi, G Easterby; R Corrigan (rep: R McCormack, 69), B Blaney, W Green, B Williams, M O Kelly, C Jowitt (rep: E Miller, 56), K Gleeson, J Heaslip.
MUNSTER: S Payne; A Horgan, J Kelly (rep: R Henderson, 12; rep: J Manning, 65), T Halstead, I Dowling; R O Gara, P Stringer; F Pucciariello (sin-bin, 73), J Flannery, J Hayes, D O Callaghan, P O Connell, D Leamy, D Wallace, A Foley (rep: F Roche 75).
Referee: J Jutge (France).