Biarritz beat Munster to set up all-French finale
May 2, 2010
Biarritz's Imanol Harinordoquy fends off Munster's Alan Quinlan
© Getty Images
Biarritz will play French rivals Toulouse in this season's Heineken Cup Final after battling past Munster 18-7 in their semi-final showdown at the Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastien.
A faultless kicking display from scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili carried the Basque side into their second Heineken Cup Final but it was a majestic forward effort that laid the foundation for their deserved victory with talismanic No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy leading by example. A try from centre Keith Earls and a conversion from Ronan O'Gara gave Munster a narrow half-time lead but they were eventually out-muscled and saw their hopes of capturing a third European title die.
In a physical opening there were minor victories at scrum time but very little ground given from either side with the boot of O'Gara taking a central role as he probed the Biarritz defence. The home side were happy to return the ball with interest rather than gamble from deep but their inaccuracy handed Munster strong field position although a wayward drop goal attempt from fullback Paul Warwick was all they could muster.
Errors continued to plague Biarritz with centre Ayoola Erinle guilty of several blunders but Munster were not immune with a big tackle from fly-half Karmichael Hunt stripping winger Denis Hurley of the ball. A timely intercept from centre Jean de Villiers then snuffed out a promising shortside move from Biarritz but the South African's reward was a crunching tackle from hooker Benoit August.
A superb pass from Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary released hooker Jerry Flannery midway through the half and the Irish international surged into a huge hole in the Biarritz defence. As defenders continued to stand off him, O'Gara loomed up on his team-mate's shoulder but could not take the pass and the chance was gone. Biarritz rallied and kept the ball tight but again made very little headway as defence continued to dominate.
Munster soaked phase after phase of Biarritz pressure before hitting their hosts with a classic counter punch. De Villiers turned the ball over in midfield before lock Donncha O'Callaghan galloped up to the 22 where the ball was recycled and worked wide to Earls who coasted over for the game's opening score. O'Gara added the simple conversion to cement the Irish side's lead.
Biarritz launched an immediate riposte with a short lineout move releasing August down the short side but he was forced into touch just short of the line by lock Mick O'Driscoll. Biarritz continued to lack the precision required against a disciplined Munster side and time and time again when they showed they had the muscle to create the opening they could not find the finesse to capitalise.
But the pack came up trumps before the break with a big scrum drawing the penalty from Munster that allowed Yachvili to put his side on the board and give the noisy home crowd something substantial to cheer about.
The sun returned to San Sebastien after the break but not for Munster with a late hit from Flannery on Hunt gifting Biarritz a kickable penalty that Yachvili duly slotted between the posts to make it a one-point game. Erinle paid the price for his indifferent form a couple of minutes later as he made way for the experience of Julien Peyrelongue but errors from both sides continued to blight the game as a spectacle.
The Biarritz set piece was increasingly dominant as the half drew on but the home side's pack eagerness got the better of them with prop Eduard Coetzee caught on the wrong side of the breakdown. Perhaps anticipating that scoring opportunities would be rare in the run in, O'Gara stepped up to try his luck from long range but his effort was some way short. A clever inside pass from Yachvili put Gobelet into space in the 22 as Biarritz lifted the tempo and the ball was worked wide to fullback Iain Balshaw who was bundled into touch in the corner by a scrambling O'Leary. Munster also played their part as the pace of the game increased significantly with a quick tap almost catching Biarritz asleep but they were made to pay for their bravery moments later when Warwick was brought down by a tap tackle in the shadow of his own posts with the penalty eventually going the way of the French side. Yachvili stroked the ball through from straight in front to give his side the lead for the first time in the game.
The warrior-like Harinordoquy was forced to bow out with a rib injury but his side ensured there was no let up in the intensity in terms of their application. The pack continued to inflict the most damage but a poor drop goal attempt was not worthy of the effort that had gone before it but they had a chance to redeem themselves when a Magnus Lund charge down led to a penalty against Denis Hurley for slapping the ball into touch. Yachvili faultless kicking form then edged Biarritz a little closer to the Paris finale.
Forced to go from deep, Munster found their path blocked by a Biarritz defence that showed no signs of fatigue as the game entered the closing stages. The home side's heroic pack heaped more woe on the desperate visitors as the clock ticked down allowing Yachvili to slot his fifth penalty and a simple crossing error from the visitors allowed Biarritz's show-stealing No.9 to set the seal on the victory with his sixth and final penalty.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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