Munster leave Gloucester shell-shocked
January 18, 2003
John Kelly celebrates his second and Munster's fourth try © PA Photos
The European dreams of Zurich Premiership leaders Gloucester disintegrated in Limerick today when they were crushed by Munster.
Munster, beaten European finalists in two of the past three seasons, outscored Gloucester 4-0 on tries after fly-half Ronan O'Gara masterminded their startling Pool Two success.
Gloucester's failure to breach the Munster defence meant they made an early exit from the tournament as John Kelly clinched Munster's place in the knockout stages with an 80th-minute touchdown, his second of the game which followed earlier scores by his fellow wing Mossie Lawlor and lock Mick O'Driscoll. O'Gara added 13 points from the boot, including a priceless final conversion which ensured Munster's overall points difference was better than Gloucester's after the teams finished 9-9 on tries.
Gloucester were a distant second-best, their only scores arriving through two Ludovic Mercier penalties.
Munster progress as one of the two best runners-up, meaning they will be away from home in April's quarter-finals. A capacity 12,500 Thomond Park launched into numerous renditions of the Fields of Athenry Munster anthem after French referee Joel Jutge sounded his final whistle.
But Gloucester headed straight to the dressing rooms, scarcely believing what had unfolded in front of them.
Munster were protecting a 12-match unbeaten European record at Thomond Park, their last loss in any competition being during the Irish inter-provincial championship against Leinster more than seven years ago.
Number eight Anthony Foley led Munster out, marking his 50th Heineken Cup appearance, and the noise was deafening as Gloucester kicked off.
Gloucester centre Terry Fanolua was penalised for a high tackle inside the opening four minutes, and Ronan O'Gara's touchfinder took Munster close to their opponents' 22.
Munster drove the resulting line-out, but Gloucester's midfield defence coped comfortably, and then gained a penalty after the first ill-tempered flashpoint.
They were let down by full-back Henry Paul in the eighth minute though, when he went AWOL under a testing O'Gara up and under. His uncertainty resulted in Gloucester conceding a penalty, and O'Gara found the target.
Gloucester's response was impressive, their forwards powering upfield and earning a penalty chance, from which fly-half Ludovic Mercier prospered to tie the scores.
Munster came desperately close to scoring the opening try on 13 minutes, when centre Mike Mullins broke through Mercier's weak challenge, but the supporting Foley was held up within touching distance of Gloucester's line.
Gloucester could not hold out for much longer though, and Munster broke through after they opted for two five-metre scrums in quick succession, instead of kicking for goal.
Scrum-half Peter Stringer broke wide from the second one, and Kelly squeezed over in the corner for a try that O'Gara only narrowly failed to convert.
The score stung Gloucester into action, and they established a territorial foothold, keeping Munster on the back-foot as they battled to wipe out their arrears.
Munster withheld the storm, but continued to annoy French referee Joel Jutge through their technical indiscipline, and Mercier landed a second penalty after 28 minutes, narrowing Gloucester's deficit to 8-6.
O'Gara slotted his second penalty four minutes before the break, which sparked another wave of attacking Munster play, and Paul was called upon to make a desperate defensive clearance when Kelly chased O'Gara's cleverly-placed kick.
Gloucester flanker Peter Buxton was sin-binned for pulling down a maul as the half drew to a close, and Munster immediately made their temporary one-man advantage count when centre Jason Holland's chip into space saw Lawlor touch down.
O'Gara could not convert, but Munster still enjoyed a healthy interval lead, 16-6 ahead.
Munster started the second half in blistering fashion, laying siege to the Gloucester line as they put the emphasis on scoring tries by sacrificing kickable penalties.
Gloucester were seriously weakened by Buxton's absence, and it required a huge tackle from centre Robert Todd on O'Gara to prevent Munster from scoring again.
The visiting scrum found itself under crushing pressure as Munster scented a victory approaching the emphatic margin they would require to fulfil an unlikely quarter-final dream.
Gloucester kept Buxton off when his 10 minutes elapsed, sending on Andy Hazell instead.
But Munster continued to bombard the visitors, and Paul was again found wanting under an O'Gara high ball.
Relentless Munster pressure had to tell, and Gloucester number eight Junior Paramore was fortunate to avoid a yellow card when he dived into an offside position as the home side looked for quick possession.
But O'Gara landed the resulting penalty, and Munster led 19-6 after 54 minutes.
It went from bad to worse for Gloucester as Munster struck again in the 55th minute, breaching their defence in simple fashion.
Holland was again the architect, kicking expertly into space, and unmarked Munster lock Mick O'Driscoll did the rest, collecting possession and touching down.
O'Gara converted from the touchline, and Munster were 26-6 ahead, further increasing quarter-final hopes that appeared so distant before kick-off.
Gloucester's firebrand French hooker Oliver Azam was sin-binned after 65 minutes for a technical offence as the visitors' day continued to disintegrate.
Visiting coaches Nigel Melville and Dean Ryan could hardly believe what they were watching. Gloucester just couldn't cope as Munster totally outplayed them.
Fanolua tried to spark the visitors during the frantic closing minutes, twice launching himself at Munster defenders, yet O'Gara's mighty boot kept the home side going forward in pursuit of an all-important fourth try.
Azam returned to the action five minutes from time, but Gloucester immediately lost a lineout on his throw and the Zurich Premiership leaders once again found themslves back-pedalling.
Another O'Gara touch-finder took Munster to within 10 metres of Gloucester's line, and Kelly claimed his touchdown in the final minute of normal time. O'Gara still had to convert, though, and he duly obliged - sending his kick sailing between the posts for a 33-6 win.