Horgan tramples on Bath

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The Independent Online

It was a thunderous atmosphere and a stupendous match. As bravely as Bath tried it was also one-sided, in that throughout it was 15 men of Bath against what seemed to be the whole of the province of Munster. Inevitably Bath folded emphatically as Munster, who have never lost at this venue in the Heineken Cup, eventually ran out comfortable winners.

It was a thunderous atmosphere and a stupendous match. As bravely as Bath tried it was also one-sided, in that throughout it was 15 men of Bath against what seemed to be the whole of the province of Munster. Inevitably Bath folded emphatically as Munster, who have never lost at this venue in the Heineken Cup, eventually ran out comfortable winners.

From the outset the sound emanating from the 14,000 or so shoehorned into the stands had acted like a giant hand shoving the red-shirted demonic Munstermen hard in the back. But the Bath defence was no pushover and they returned as good as they got.

The first quarter was fiery, and occasionally a stray spark in the forwards would flare up into something a more serious. It was not until the passion had settled into a white heat and the focus switched to possession and position that the match began to take shape.

Munster, having panicked in front of their posts as Bath pressed hard, rashly went over the top and Jon Preston broke the stalemate in the 17th minute. When, four minutes later, flanker Alan Quinlan was shown a yellow card after treating Bath hooker Mark Regan like a tap dancer's mat it looked sticky for the Irish side.

Oddly, though, it galvanised Mick Galwey's men and they piled on even more pressure, pinning Bath in their own half and forcing a couple of errors. Unfortunately, although both were within range Ronan O'Gara's second penalty was ruled to have slid outside the right-hand upright, but at least they were back on level terms.

Thus spurred on they began to pose their own threat through the middle and out wide. Left wing John Kelly was particularly prominent and especially adept at cutting through the Bath lines at will and at speed. Centres Mike Mullins and Jason Holland were rugged and ready for anything. Munster appeared to be taking charge, slowly but inexorably asserting their will on their dangerous opponents. Bath's cause was not helped when Regan emulated Quinlan and was himself dispatched to the sin bin almost on half-time for illegal footwork on a Munsterman. O'Gara left the touch judges in no doubt about the accuracy of this penalty.

There was to be no let up after the interval. The red shirts streamed into enemy territory, and if Bath breathed a little more easily when Ian Balshaw managed to break the shackles, it was but a brief flirtation with freedom.

Bath infringed and John Langford, a tower in just about every phase took a tap penalty and for the next two minutes or so the crowd was treated to a spellbinding passage of play as backs, hookers, props all combined brilliantly; there was a sharp break by Holland, a stunning little shimmy and telling switch from O'Gara then, with all Bath drifting right, it swung left again and Anthony Horgan steamed over.

Having shown what they could do in the fancy goods department Munster then moved on to the hardware section, their ferocious forwards driving hard and true into the core of the Bath defence. The West Country side had by then reduced the arrears with Preston's second penalty, but it was a token. They fell foul of the law again and presented O'Gara with the simplest of penalties. From the restart Phil de Glanville dropped a pass behind his line.

The resulting five-metre scrum had to be reset twice before, at the third attempt Munster got the ball in hand again Foley picking up, slipped it to Holland and David Wallace steamed through for the clinching score. O'Gara's late drop goal and Horgan's fourth try of the tournament were the marzipan and icing on the richest of cakes.

The sonic boom from the stands that greeted the final whistle could be heard in the distant Clare Hills.

Munster: D Crotty; J Kelly, J Holland (K Keane, 80), M Mullins (J Staunton, 80), A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; P Clohessy (M Horan, 80), F Sheahan, J Hayes, M Galwey (capt; M O'Driscoll, 80), J Langford, D Wallace (C McMahon, 80), A Foley, A Quinlan.

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, P de Glanville (A Adebayo, 77), M Tindall, K Maggs; J Preston, G Cooper; D Barnes, M Regan, C Horsman, M Haag, S Borthwick, A Gardiner (A Long, 41-49), D Lyle, B Clarke (capt).

Referee: J Dumé (France).

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