the business end

Power ranking the 9 best Heineken Cup semi finals

Time for the Champions Cup to add to the list.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT semi-finals. Maybe it’s the heat of a spring day, the tired bodies reaching the end of a season or maybe the pressure is slightly less constricting than in a final – whatever it is, it makes them churn out instant classics year after year. 

Below are our favourites from the old Heineken Cup era. What will the Champions Cup deliver?

9. Saracens 12 Toulon 24, 2013

Two teams at a similar point in their journey, but with very different levels of experience at number 10. This game wasn’t so much a great spectacle – we won’t mention the absence of tires – but the narrative of the old master Jonny Wilkinson schooling his supposed heir Owen Farrell in Twickenham was nothing short of enthralling.

Rugby Union - Heineken Cup - Semi-Final - Saracens v Toulon - Twickenham Stadium Owen Farrell's tackle wasn't in time to stop JW slotting a drop goal to compliment his 7 penalties.

8. Clermont 16 Munster 10, 2013

Another game without a spectacular score, but impossible to ignore due to the influence of two of the Heineken Cup’s greatest players. With the crowd baying for his blood, Paul O’Connell set about levelling the playing field between the recongnised best team in Europe and a Munster side deemed long past their best.

Tommy O'Donnell and Paul O'Connell after the match Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The game was Ronan O’Gara’s last, and he signed off with a beautiful assist to Denis Hurley’s second half try which made Clermont sweat before they reached their only final.

7. Clermont 15 Leinster 19, 2012

Just one installment in an absorbing rivalry between Joe Schmidt’s former clubs. On home soil, Clermont considered themselves unbeatable, but despite trailing at the break a Rob Kearney powerplay move was finished off by Cian Healy and gave Leinster a perilously close lead. How perilous? The difference between Wesley Fofana dropping and not dropping the ball after crossing the line.

Blacklion1192 / YouTube

6. Leinster 6 Munster 30, 2006

It was supposed to be Leinster’s moment in the sun, when they finally wriggled free of Munster’s shadow and took their own seat at European rugby’s top table in front of an adoring crowd on Lansdowne Road.

Donncha O'Callaghan celebrates after beating Leinster 23/4/2006 Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Instead, Munster showed their rivals of the standard needed to become champions of Europe and viciously honed in on Leinster’s weakness before tearing them asunder.

5. Munster 6 Leinster 25, 2009

Lessons learned, a Grand Slam under their belts and with another semi-final in Dublin, Leinster players headed to Croke Park with a bit between their teeth to take on the champions.

Gordon D'Arcy celebrates his try with Shane Horgan and Luke Fitzgerald James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

They looked doomed when Felipe Contepomi suffered a knee injury after 25 minutes, but the Argentine’s misfortune was Leinster’s gain in the short and long term and Jonathan Sexton showed his appetite for the big game by kicking a penalty with his first touch in the game.

4. Toulouse 25 Munster 31, 2000

A year on from Ulster’s European success, Munster had well and truly caught the bug. They took up the baton on Ireland’s behalf and ran with it in every sense.

This try from O’Gara was the stand-out move from a game which saw Munster defeat Toulouse by a score of 10 – 20 in the second half.

Mildy Mac / YouTube

3. Leinster 32 Toulouse 23, 2011

A masterclass of rugby from two sides intent on playing an expansive game.

As things stand, these are the two teams who have won the competition more than anyone else and when they met in Dublin, Leinster were the ones approaching their peak. They would share four tries: Florian Fritz, Jamie Heaslip and Louis Picamoles grounding before Brian O’Driscoll put the game beyond Guy Noves’ boys.

Fergus McFadden shouts after Brian O'Driscoll scores Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

2. Cardiff Blues 26 Leicester Tigers 26 AET, 2009

Away from Ireland’s involvement (crazy, I know) Cardiff and Leicester followed up that bloodthirsty Croke Park encounter with an absolute thriller in the Millennium Stadium.

The hosts trailed 12-13 at half time, penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and Ben Blair keeping them in touch before the Tigers cut loose with Geordan Murphy’s try and Julian Dupuy penalties extending the lead to 12 – 26 before Jamie Roberts made all hell broke loose in the 74th minute.

With the scores still 26 apiece after Murphy’s sin-bin expired, we were treated to a sudden death penalty shoot-out.

rallyfreakwrc / YouTube

Poor Martyn Williams.

1. Munster 32 Wasps 37,  2004

Leaving aside the crushing heartbreak in the Dublin sun, this was a game that redefined the word clash and set the bar for physicality in rugby for the rest of the decade. Wasps came to face Munster in Lansdowne Road with their English stars reeling from defeat in Twickenham.

Wasps made hay after Ronan O’Gara was forced off injured having kicked three penalties, but despite Jason Holland stepping up and adding to tries from Jim Williams and Anthony Foley with five successful kicks, the Premiership club’s power told on the score-sheet with tries from Mark Van Gisbergen, Josh Lewsey, Tom Voyce, Paul Volley and the crucial late winner, with the score 32 apiece, from Trevor Leota.

Ruddy Darter / YouTube

The42′s heart is just about ready for another game like it.

Brian O’Driscoll wants off ‘The Good Wall’, will Andy Lee oblige?

Familiar stage, but an unfamiliar feeling for underdogs Leinster

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