Munster climb their Everest
Peter Stringer's try helped Munster to their first Heineken Cup in 2006
© Getty Images
Munster's joy was unlimited as they won their first Heineken Cup title. They beat Biarritz 23-19 in front of 74,534 - most of them Irish - at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium after losing out to Northampton and Leicester in the 2000 and 2001 finals. Tries from South African centre Trevor Halstead and Irish scrum-half Peter Stringer secured victory, with Sereli Bobo scoring an early try for Biarritz and scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili proving metronomic with the boot. "It's hard to say what Munster's secret is. It's something that comes from where we live. It's a special place to be," said Stringer. "You meet your friends in the street and you see how much games like this mean to them. It's hard to put your finger on what gives us success like this."
A record Heineken Cup Final crowd of 81,076 turned out at Twickenham to see the first all-English final in the competition. Wasps beat Leicester 25-9 thanks to tries by Eoin Reddan and Raphael Ibanez and 15 points from Alex King. Wasps were crowned European champions for the second time in four seasons as they destroyed arch-rivals Leicester's dream of a trophy treble at English rugby's HQ. The Tigers, Guinness Premiership champions and Anglo-Welsh Cup winners, finally met their match. Wasps prevailed despite fly-half Alex King missing five kicks at goal, with Leicester offering no response in head coach Pat Howard's final game in charge. King landed four penalties and a drop-goal, but tries from scrum-half Eoin Reddan and hooker Raphael Ibanez - both as a result of brilliantly-worked line-out moves - left Leicester reeling.
Harlequins lifted the Amlin Challenge Cup courtesy of a dramatic and highly controversial 19-18 victory over Stade Francais in Cardiff. The English outfit were trailing by six points with just four minutes remaining when Gonzalo Camacho crossed for the game's only try. Nick Evans then held his nerve remarkably well to edge Quins ahead. The game then ended in acrimony as Stade coach Michael Cheika took exception to the fact that his side had been ordered to use the ball by referee George Clancy as they attempted to get a push on in a scrum in injury time at the end of the game.
The late Karl Mullen's Lions tasted defeat in New Zealand for the first time, beaten 23-9 by Otago at Carisbrook. A feature of the home side's win was the new forward tactic of "rucking" to recycle ball at the breakdown.
New Zealanders Graham Henry and Gordon Hunter, it was announced, were on the short-list to take over as coach to the Welsh national side. Henry got the job and after leading Wales to 11 consecutive wins, and earning himself the nickname of "the great redeemer", he became the first foreign coach to supervise a Lions tour in 2001. An unsuccessful tour to Australia followed, with the Lions unable to capitalise after winning the first Test. Henry left his post as Wales coach in 2002 after seeing them slip to a record 54-10 defeat by Ireland in the 2003 Six Nations.
Harlequins picked up their first European title, defeating Narbonne 42-33 after extra time to win the European Shield - rugby's version of the UEFA Cup.
RWC Ltd announced at the draw for the 2003 tournament finals in Australia that the first country to win the title three times would be entitled to permanent possession of the Cup.