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Doug Howlett, centre, celebrates Munster's fourth try against Perpignan in 2009 with Keith Earls and Paul Warwick.
Doug Howlett, centre, celebrates Munster's fourth try against Perpignan in 2009 with Keith Earls and Paul Warwick.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

On this day in 2009... Munster recorded one of their greatest European triumphs

Tony McGahan’s side ended Perpignan’s five-year unbeaten streak at home in the Heineken Cup with a bonus-point win at the Stade Aime Giral.
Dec 20th 2014, 12:05 AM 5,775 6

THE HISTORY OF Munster Rugby in European competition is littered with momentous performances and results, and five years ago today saw one of the southern province’s most memorable victories.

As has so often been the case, Munster went in to the second part of their back-to-back series of Heineken Cup pool games against Perpignan with the odds stacked against them.

Despite defeating the French side by the narrowest of margins at Thomond Park nine days earlier, for the most part Munster were out-played and, at least in terms of tries, out-scored by three-to-nil.

Twenty-four points from the boot of Ronan O’Gara, including a late match winning penalty, were the difference. But with Perpignan having won 16 consecutive European ties on home soil, the signs were ominous for Munster heading into the return game in the south of France on a chilly Sunday afternoon, 20 December, 2009.

But not even the sin-binning of Ronan O’Gara early in the second half could prevent Munster from emerging with the full five points, which ultimately gave them top spot and a place in the quarter-finals of the 2009-10 Heineken Cup.

Munster’s win in Limerick had been a feisty affair, after which Perpignan flanker Yoann Vivalda claimed that the game was no more demanding than an academy runaround. The comments weren’t well received in the Munster camp. Vivalda had thrown down the gauntlet.

Jean de Villers scores a try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Backboned by French internationals such as Nicolas Mas, David Marty and Maxime Mermoz, Perpignan took control early on and kept their vocal Catalan support content.

A penalty from David Mele gave the hosts a fifth-minute lead, and Keith Earls came to Munster’s rescue shortly afterwards when Mermoz booted the ball ahead in pursuit of a try, but Earls reacted quickest to keep three points between the teams.

Ronan O’Gara then levelled the scores with a penalty, before Denis Fogarty crossed for a try – which O’Gara converted – in the 23rd minute. Mele responded with two penalties for Perpignan, but Munster were in the ascendancy with a 9-10 lead at the break.

Source: hcup2009/YouTube

After the restart, O’Gara stretched Munster’s advantage with two further penalties, but the Corkman was then yellow-carded as a result of a late tackle on David Marty. O’Gara joined Perpignan prop Jerome Schuster in the sin bin, after he was given a short break five minutes earlier by referee Dave Pearson, following an apparent head-butt on Denis Leamy.

With Schuster back on the field and O’Gara still to return, Munster received a huge boost when Denis Hurley went in for their second try in the 58th minute. Paul Warwick, who delivered a man-of-the-match display, added the extras to give the visitors a commanding 9-23 lead.

Guilhem Guirado responded in the 67th minute with what would transpire to be Perpignan’s only try of the game, because Munster romped home from there.

Springbok centre Jean de Villiers came off the bench to grab one of his eight Munster tries for the season, and in the final minute of the contest, Doug Howlett crossed for a fourth try and a bonus-point triumph which former Munster captain Mick Galwey still ranks as the province’s greatest ever success on French soil.

“We knew coming down here exactly how big a challenge we faced, but we also knew we had what it takes to put in a performance and get the result we wanted,” Munster captain Paul O’Connell said afterwards.

Munster went on to defeat Northampton Saints in the quarter-finals, but missed out on a place in another Heineken Cup decider when Dimitri Yachvili kicked Biarritz to an 18-7 semi-final win in San Sebastian.

Paul O'Connell and Denis Fogarty applaud the Munster fans after the game Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s a big ask and, unless they improve radically, I don’t think they’ll win,” Wood said.

Although the campaign ultimately didn’t yield silverware, Munster had once again silenced their critics. With their current European aspirations hanging in the balance, Munster will hope for a similar display and outcome against Saracens in London on January 17.

Munster: P Warwick (1 con); D Howlett (try), K Earls, L Mafi, D Hurley (try); R O’Gara (3 pens, 3 cons), T O’Leary; W du Preez, D Fogarty (try), J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (capt), A Quinlan, D Wallace, D Leamy. Replacements: D Varley for Fogarty, D Ryan for Quinlan (both 60 mins), J de Villiers (try) for Mafi (62 mins), T Buckley for Hayes (68 mins), M O’Driscoll for O’Callaghan, P Stringer for O’Leary (both 76 mins), N Ronan for Wallace (77 mins). Yellow cards: O’Gara (53-63 mins).

Perpignan: P Burger; F Sid, D Marty, M Mermoz, C Manas; G Hume, D Mele (3 pens); J Schuster, M Tincu, N Mas (capt), O Olibeau, R Tchale Watchou, Y Vivalda, B Guiry, O Tonita. Replacements: G Guirado (try) for Tincu, P Freshwater for Schuster, J Porical for Manas, Y Parent for Tonita (all 60 mins), N Durand for Mele (68 mins), R Alvarez Kairelis for Vivalda, J-P Grandclaude for Marty (both 71 mins), K Pulu for Mas (74 mins). Yellow cards: Schuster (48-58 mins).

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)

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