MUNSTER V PERPIGNAN, Thomond to Aime Giral; this is just one of those fixtures in European rugby.
A game to bring the dim hazy memories of those first few Heineken Cup years into slightly clearer view. The pride-filled province from the south versus, erm, Munster.
Games like this are reason we began to love the Heineken Cup in the first place and this coming fortnight the well-matched provinces will meet for the eighth and ninth time in the history of this under fire competition.
Here’s a quick glance back at the previous meetings.
October 10 1998: Perpignan 41 Munster 24
It was days like this that made ‘going to France’ such an imposing prospect: Stade Gilbert Brutus witnessed a first-half demolition job as the hosts took a 29- 3 lead into the interval.
Tries from Mick Galwey, Barry Everitt and Killian Keane would put some respectability on the scoreboard, but the damage had already been done with Raphael Ibanez among six try-scorers for Perpignan.
October 31 1998: Munster 13 Perpignan 5
Backed up against the wall, Munster are rarely found wanting and the return fixture at Musgrave Park duly witnessed them return the overpowering first-half favour to the Catalans.
Peter Clohessy’s try and Keane’s kicks put the southern province 13 – 0 to the good after 40 minutes and Cork was content enough to see only one score in the second half, albeit from USAP’s Canadian lock Mike James.
October 19 2002: Munster 30 Perpignan 21
When the sides met again three years later, Munster had made themselves a mainstay of European rugby. Beaten by Leicester in the final earlier in ’02, the campaign started with another low as Gloucester inflicted a heavy defeat in Kingsholm.
The road to the miracle match started with a Thomond Park thriller. Though tries from John Kelly, John Hayes and Alan Quinlan were matched by the visitors, three conversions and three penalties from Ronan O’Gara made all the difference.
January 11 2003: Perpignan 23 Munster 8
To the Stade Aime Giral then, where the French side again had too much for Munster and this four try to one (from Anthony Foley) victory would eventually send the Sang et Or through as pool winners… with Munster’s miracle earning them second place.
April 1 2006: Munster 19 Perpignan 10
By 2006, Munster had more than enough of being the bridesmaid. And the aisle to the moment they had always dreamed of led them to Lansdowne Road.
First up in Dublin came the quarter-final and Perpignan wing Matthieu Bourret scored all 10 of his side’s points in the first half to cancel out Paul O’Connell’s 20th minute try.
With news of Leinster’s stunning win in Toulouse coming through before kick-off, Munster were never going to be denied the inter-pro semi-final they craved and three O’Gara penalties put them out of harm’s reach and on course for destiny.
December 11 2009: Munster 24 Perpignan 23
The visitors came to Thomond Park, they scored three tries to Munster’s nil, two in the opening 12 minutes; but still, it was not enough.
On one of those magical nights down by the Shannon, Ronan O’Gara kicked all 24 points including a drop-goal and a 73rd minute penalty – his seventh of the night – just four minutes after a wonder-try from Philip Burger looked like it just might end the southern province’s qualification hopes.
YouTube credit: hcup2009
December 20 2009: Perpignan 14 – 37 Munster Rugby
Munster may have begun the downward phase of their 21st century curve, but they had more than enough quality in the ranks to prove doubters wrong in Stade Aime Giral.
Having left Thomond Park with a bonus point and no tries conceded, USAP were bullish about their chances back in southern France where they had not been beaten for 16 consecutive games.
What the Stade Aime Giral hadn’t counted on was a Munster squad feeling the pain of defeat despite having won. After conceding the opening penalty, the visitors went to work and Denis Fogarty’s try helped them take a 9 – 10 lead into half-time.
After the break they really took off, claiming their second try through Denis Hurley despite Ronan O’Gara dwelling in the sin-bin.
Once back to 15, the guests in Catalunya had their dander up and sensed something more than just a commendable win, They would keep pushing until the bonus point was theirs and thanks first to replacement Jean de Villiers and then Doug Howlett, it was.
YouTube credit: hcup2009
Just a shame their next trip to the Spanish/French border region (in the semi-final encounter with Biarritz) was not so successful.
Wins: Munster 5 Perpignan 2
Tries: Munster 13 Perpignan 19
Conversions: Munster 12 Perpignan 9
Penalties: Munster 21 Perpignan 8
Drop-goals: Munster 1 Perpignan 0