CARDIFF (Reuters) - Munster won the Heineken Cup for the second time when they edged triple champions Toulouse 16-13 in a fearsomely competitive Heineken Cup final that more than lived up to its billing at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The Irish province, champions in 2006 when they beat Biarritz in the same stadium after twice losing in the final, recovered from a slow start against the European competition’s most successful team.
The game was perfectly poised at 13-13 with 25 minutes to go but Ronan O’Gara, as so often before, proved the decisive player when he landed a 65th-minute penalty.
His team, helped enormously by their remarkable supporters, then forced themselves to the finish against the mighty French side seeking an unprecedented fourth European title.
The first half was split in almost perfect symmetry as Toulouse dominated the opening 20 minutes only for Munster to flip the game on its head by controlling the next 20.
From kick-off, Toulouse starved Munster of possession and constantly were probing, but they managed only three points from a Jean-Baptiste Elissalde drop goal after the flyhalf had missed with another drop attempt and an early penalty.
Munster eventually began to get some ball, with former All Black wing Doug Howlett a constant darting presence.
Some slick handling then set up a ruck five metres out from which Denis Leamy reached over the line only for the video referee to rule he had lost the ball before touching down.
However, the determined number eight was not to be denied and five minutes later, after some heroic Toulouse defence on the line had repelled half a dozen assaults, he was bundled over for the opening try, converted by O’Gara.
Elissalde reduced the deficit to 10-6 with a penalty to end the first half but it was Munster trotting off with a spring in their step.
Things were tighter after the break, and though Howlett had a lovely try ruled out for a forward pass, the game appeared to edge Munster’s way after 50 minutes.
Toulouse captain Fabien Pelous was sin-binned for a petulant kick at Leamy and O’Gara landed the penalty to make it 13-6.
Toulouse though, had an ace in the pack in the shape of fullback Cedric Heymans. Taking a quick throw-in in his own half he chipped ahead, collected the ball and chipped again. Centre Yannick Jauzion outpaced the Munster defence to hack it over the line and Yves Donguy gleefully fell on it.
Elissalde converted and the 14 men were level.
Elissalde kept Munster on the back foot with a series of spiralling kicks into the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium but Toulouse got a little over-confident on a couple of occasions and failed to make it tell.
Instead, Munster regrouped and forced their way forward, getting their reward with another offence by Pelous. Jauzion fatally back-chatted the referee to make O’Gara’s job 10 metres easier and the flyhalf made no mistake to make it 16-13 with 25 minutes to go.
As the clock ran down, the din increased and the roof was almost lifted off when the final whistle blew.
Editing by Rex Gowar