We went minute-by-minute as Munster took on the reigning champions in Marseille.
The sun is shining, Munster are in the south of France and there is an English team waiting in the Heineken Cup final. Is the stage set for a brilliant final act to Munster’s Heineken Cup era?
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Today’s the day, Munster fans. The hardest game of the season, the toughest possible opponent at a stunning and imposing venue.
Bienvenue a Stade Velodrome de Marseille. Get ready to Stand Up and Fight.
Are your nerves jangling as much as ours? The sight of the players heading for the dressing room just turned the anticipation for this game up a few notches.
There’s still plenty of time to get yourself comfortable of lathered up in sunscreen before we kick off.
You might just be able to fit in Murray Kinsella’s pre-match analysis in that time.
Et voila, mes amis… eh, that’s as far as my French goes… here are the teams.
Can Munster stop this man controlling the breakdown?
Toulon: Delon Armitage; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana; Jonny Wilkinson (c), Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Craig Burden, Carl Hayman, Danie Rossouw, Jocelino Suta, Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage.
Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Alexandre Menini, Martin Castrogiovanni, Virgile Bruni, David Smith, Maxime Mermoz, Michael Claassens, Konstantine Mikautadze
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha; Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell; CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.
Obviously, there are lots of Irish rugby fans milling about Marseille this weekend, but none appeared to be enjoying themselves quite as much as this pair.
Thank goodness for that tactically positioned table. Who knows what kind of Speedo nightmare lurks beneath.
Rob Penney speaking to Sky Sports about the positive influence Ronan O’Gara has been to his squad in recent hours. The legendary 10 has been in and around the team hotel to pass on his wisdom and experience of occasions like this.
Okay, deep breaths. Five minutes to go before the opening whistle.
Sadly, I can’t see a positive outcome for Munster. I’m going with a 28 -15 outcome by the 80th minute.
I love being proven wrong.
But enough of my cynicism. Stade Velodrome is awash with red from both sets of supporters and the teams are on their way to the field.
Stu Barnes stokes the flames by saying only two Munster players would make the Toulon XV. Yeah, Bring. It. On.
The tunnels are extremely quiet, the clacking of studs making more noise than either set of players, but outside… it’s deafening.
Munster win a scrum on the Toulon five metre line, but the penalty goes against them and Toulon are able to set a platform in midfield.
The French voices in the crowd find their voice as Mathieu Bastareaud finds the ball with Ian Keatley the direct defender. The big centre shakes off the 10 and runs a diagonal 30 m towards the right touchline.
Barnes awards another penalty against Munster, this time a breakdown offence and Wilkinson has a chance from 45 metres on the angle. Tough one..
PENALTY: Toulon 3 Munster 0 (Wilkinson ’4)
But he makes it look ridiculously easy.
Munster making a definite attempt to pin Toulon deep in their 22 and the defenders earn their corn to force a turnover and a penalty. Brilliant work from Varley to steal and Botha with a massive clearout.
PENALTY: Toulon 3 Munster 3 (Keatley ’8)
Another brilliant effort from the Munster pack, unleashing the choke tackle and winning a turnover as they create a maul and send the red shirts into retreat.
No shortage of positive signs for Munster to cling to. Another early skirmish goes their way with a free kick won in the scrum and a lovely little grubber in behind forcing Drew Mitchell into an error and allowing Munster attack from the line-out.
Keatley, so far with ball in hand, doing a superb O’Gara impersonation; poking and prodding the ball around the final third to constantly frustrate the hosts by turning them on their heels.
“You must hit straight and fight to stay straight” Is Wayne Barnes’ message to Dave Kilcoyne after the scrum penalty goes Toulon’s way.
Tillous-Borde makes a brilliant snipe inside Munster’s half and advantage comes as Murray’s desperate tackle goes a little high on his opposite number.
PENALTY: Toulon 6 Munster 3 (Wilkinson ’19)
Toulon lead, but certainly being made to work extremely hard for everything they’re getting.
23 mins: We’re a quarter way through the second semi-final. And Dave Kilcoyne is coming under increased pressure because of Wayne Barnes’ discontent with his scrummaging angle.
From the resulting penalty, Munster appear to have dealt with the line-out maul well, but Barnes blows it up for collapsing and JW has a third chance to keep that scoreboard ticking up and up in multiples of three…. BUT HE’S MISSED!
Sean Dougall is playing above and beyond himself to counteract Armitage, but after a turnover is won, Simon Zebo is called offside and Wilkinson pops over a more difficult kick than his last miss.
PENALTY Toulon 9 Munster 3 Wilkinson ‘ 28)
Back in opposition territory and Munster are determined to make these moments count.
Keith Earls picks a loose pass off the turf and makes 10 metres through a gap that didn’t appear to be there. In the following phases Murray gives a backhand pass to Zebo on the charge and the penalty comes as Juan Smith comes through the ruck and stops Munster in their tracks.
Correction, we said it was Smith, but it’s Lobbe.
Barnes calls for the TMO and decides on a yellow card for JMF Lobbe for ‘unintentionally’ contacting Murray’s face with his shoulder on the way through.
Harsh, but a more than welcome call.
PENALTY Toulon 9 Munster 6 (Keatley ’30)
Just when Munster get a lifeline like that, the restart is dropped and JW doesn’t need a second invitation to slot a gorgeous 28 metre drop-goal.
DROP GOAL: Toulon 12 Munster 6 (Wilkinson ’32)
BOOM! Another restart, another big Munster shove and this time Killer gets the credit and Hayman is penalised.
PENALTY! Toulon 12 Munster 9 (Keatley ’34)
That’s a sickener. Munster are naive again on the restart, just showing a slight absence of focus and allowing Toulon set up a cheap penalty. Bread and butter for JW.
PENALTY: Toulon 15 Munster 9 (Wilkinson ‘ 36)
That yellow card has only served to force Toulon into doing the basics perfectly well. They force Keith Earls into holding on 55 metres from his own line.
Not kickable? Tell that to Delon Armitage. The fullback lands an absolute monster of a penalty to give the 14 men a nine-point lead.
PENALTY: Toulon 18 Munster 9 (Armitage ‘ 40)
And that’s half-time.
Apologies for the delay in some updates folks. It appears that the sun has frazzled some of our finely tuned technical apparatus. Any way, here comes the second half. Can Munster Stand up and Fight for more than just the following 40 Heineken Cup minutes.
Can they muster their finest half of rugby in the past 15 years and reach their fourth Cardiff final.
We’re about to find out.
Heart in mouth time as Bryan Habana finds a big gap on the right wing. He looks a sidestep away from a sensational try, but James Downey gets an ankle tap in and halts the progress.
TMO! After a super Toulon attack.
Try denied thanks to an uber-comitted Zebo tackle on Steffon Armitage. The opportunity came after Habana collected a dropped ball in midfield and Toulon found a big overlap on the right.
Credit Zebo for forcing the much bigger man into the error of putting his foot in touch before grounding the ball.
Munster earn themselves a reprieve, but you just feel that Toulon’s momentum is building and building.
A line-out and maul carves through Munster with ease and they’ll fly into the 22 again.
Habana hits the line at pace again, but his countryman Russouw spills the ball five metres from the line.
Just when Munster think they’ve dealt every threat, Toulon start to empty the bench. Habana is replaced by David Smith.
52 mins: And still Munster are in with a shout in this game. Keatley drills a penalty from halfway to the 22 and the maul will attempt to rumble on.
Penalty against Hayman for collapsing that move and Keats kicks for the corner.
TRY! Toulon 18 Munster 16 (Zebo ’53)
Typical Munster, eh.
Murray bursts down the short side and feeds Zebo who powers through Drew Mitchell’s tackle and over the line.
Barnes and his touch judge confer and find no need for a TMO.
Game well and truly ON!
Here is the Zebo try:
Here comes the cavalry! Tommy O’Donnell is on in place of Sean Dougall. Munster are within two points and have kept Toulon off the scoresheet in this half.
Ah, the ball just slips off the tee as Keatley lines up a 50 metre penalty. And the 10′s effort is off target.
Still, Munster are on a roll here. I take it all back!
60 mins: We’re into the final quarter. Winning time. Who’s got what it takes to take the next score and the driving seat in this game.
Toulon’s response is to again go right back to basics. A maul deep in their own half sends Munster backpeddling and Armitage runs at Murray from the back of it.
There is a mad scramble though in open play and Zebo comes close to stealing the loose ball before Armitage seeks out the space behind him with a kick. It dribbles into the dead ball area though. Mistake from Jones in not letting it go dead so he can take the scrum back, but a 22 is a decent return.
YELLOW CARD: Keith Earls
The winger is binned for taking down David Smith after hacking the ball forward.
PENALTY! Toulon 21 Munster 16 (Wilkinson ’63)
Toulon’s first score of the second half puts them in a commanding position, up 15 men to 14.
Munster are chasing the game now, and so JJ Hanrahan is in the game. Downey withdrawn.
Can Double Jesus work a miracle in the last 14 minutes here?
Even with 14 men, Munster are attacking with verve and belief. An excellent Laulala offload takes them over the gainline on the left wing and they’ll attempt to take the red shirts back the other way again.
Toulon managing to keep a solid D line after that break, Munster getting frustrated and Hanrahan chips in a speculative grubber. Drew Mitchell can’t hold it, though and he has to scramble a poor kick into touch.
Munster line-out, 15 metres from the try-line.
How are the fingernails?
Ah, disappointment. The line-out puts Toulon under the kosh, but Munster are just not patient enough attacking from five metres and they lose possession.
Armitage blasts the ball to halfway and the chase is good enough to stop Zebo making any ground on the counter.
GET RID OF IT, DENIS. Shouts a province in unison, but Hurley attempts to beat the defenders from his own try-line.
The line-out that followed is horribly overthrown, but when Wilko lines up his drop goal he doesn’t account for JAMES COUGHLAN FLYING THROUGH THE AIR and blocking the effort down.
Sensational from the Corkman.
We don’t want this game to end. It’s an incredibly absorbing contest. Only Munster can serve up drama like this..
*hangs head in resignation*
Keith Earls is back on the field and his first act is to knock the ball on. Two phases later, Barnes’ arm is oustretched. Penalty to Toulon.
PENALTY! Toulon 24 Munster 16 (Wilkinson ’80)
And so ends Ireland’s love affair with the Heineken Cup. We’ll miss ya buddy.
Munster will play out their last attack, 22 metres from the Toulon line, but the champions will go to Cardiff and attempt to make it back to back titles.
Only Saracens stand in their way now.
FULL-TIME Toulon 24 Munster 16
An incredible game of rugby comes to an end. Toulon have survived a magnificent Munster resistance.
That’s it from our liveblog folks. We’re off to cry into our wooly Munster hats before bringing you all the reaction from players and coaches in Stade Velodrome.
Thanks for joining us, safe home, and remember: Toulon are the lesser of two evils in the Heineken Cup final.