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Last Updated: Monday, 28 April, 2003, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Gallic joy as Gaels stutter
By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport

Leinster's Aiden McCullen is tackled by Perpignan's Stephane Besbombes
Perpignan disrupted Leinster's usual rhythm

Au revoir Leinster and Munster. Bonjour Perpignan and Toulouse.

At the end of yesterday's turgid Heineken Cup semi-final, Bono and U2 broke the solemnity at Lansdowne Road when they blasted out 'What a Beautiful Day' over the loud speakers.

However, it was would not have been sweet music for the European Cup organisers.

Instead of some input from the 32 counties, it will be two French teams doing the Irish jig in Dublin on 24 May.

It was not what the good doctor ordered, and certainly not expected as Toulouse and Perpignan bulldozed their way into the Heineken Cup showdown.

ERC, Ltd are now left to lift a tournament north of the Dover Straits that usually thrives on a little bit of Irish in the ingredients.

There will now be talk of moving the game to Paris, but the machinations are all in place. The organisers will now have the job of trying to sell a game that will not catch the imagination of the locals.

Tickets would normally be at a premium for such an event, but trying to entice a capacity 48,000 crowd into a creaking old stadium could be hard going in mid-May.

Toulouse are expected to bring 10,000 fans and Perpignan 4,000. So far 6,000 tickets have already been sold so there is going to be a hard sell elsewhere with the corporate sector a major target.

However, one cannot take away from the fact that the French teams just had more nous that than the Irish. End of story.

Munster just failed to take it the extra yard on French soil in losing 13-12 to Toulouse - not totally unexpected.

Munster fly-half ROnan O'Gara
O'Gara's kicking kept Munster in the game

But Leinster's 21-14 demise at the hands of their French visitors was definitely not in the script.

Perpignan just frustrated Leinster into submission. In effect, Leinster bottled it.

The French just slowed the game down, played it to their own stop-start pace and never allowed Reggie Corrigan's side a chance to build-up the rhythm that saw them rumble unbeaten to the semi-final stage.

As a game, it would not interest rugby purists as it rarely rose above the mediocre.

Errors abounded, the kicking out of hand was atrocious, and there was little structure to be seen.

But that only suited Perpignan, who despite suffering the wrath of referee Nigel Williams as they lived on limit, won handily in the end with Manny Edmonds again their inspiration.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Munster's problem was that they appeared happy not to lose the game, rather than win it.

In the end Toulouse made their point in inching to their second final following their success over Cardiff in the inaugural competition back in 1996.

It was disappointing for the southern province and their faithful ''Red Army'', but they just did not appear to have the wherewithal to go that extra yard.

Munster relied too heavily on their pack to do the business up front, make the hard yards, and then set up position for Ronan O'Gara to apply his educated boot.

Frederick Michalak started at scrum-half then switched to fly-half
Frederic Michalak was Toulouse's match-winner

O'Gara did just that with a couple of penalties and a brace of drop goals from the pocket.

O'Gara's right boot was simply superb with his kicking out of hand a delight for his pack as he continually pushed the Toulouse side back with rasping torpedoes.

But when they chips were down, and no sign of Toulouse wilting, Munster had no overdrive.

Instead it was Toulouse who stepped up the gears. They always looked to have numerous outlets to motor into attack from anywhere in the park.

But credit to Munster, they never allowed them out of the garage. That is, until the 74th minute when the pack mustered a series of rucks and mauls, and Frederic Michalak grabbed the all-important try.

And it was all credit to Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, too. The French scrum-half came on as a replacement for fly-half Yann Delaigue and immediately slotted over a penalty.

To come on cold in such a boiling atmosphere and split the uprights with his first penalty kick and then bisect them with the conversion for the winner, says a lot for his composure.

So despite the hopes that Munster had shouldered over the past three years, and Leinster this season, Ulster are surprisingly still the only Irish province to have lifted the European trophy.




SEE ALSO
Perpignan end Leinster dream
27 Apr 03  |  European Club
Toulouse edge out Munster
26 Apr 03  |  European Club
Heineken bid refreshes Edmonds
24 Apr 03  |  European Club

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