Leinster 6 Munster 30: O'Gara leads red hordes to promised land

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The Independent Online

Munster rolled on to their third Heineken Cup final in seven years with as convincing a victory as they could have hoped for over much-fancied Leinster.

The red tide that had surged into Dublin over the previous two days finally spilt over into rapturous celebrationwhen first Munster's fly-half Ronan O'Gara and then the centre Trevor Halstead breached the Leinster line for two late tries.

Perhaps Leinster's captain, Brian O'Driscoll, was right when he said: "The scoreline very much flatters them. They were in a far tougher game than it suggests." But it was still the biggest semi-final winning margin in the last eight years of the competition and Munster definitely wanted that final place more. O'Driscoll added: "You'd be mad not to bet on Munster beating Biarritz in the final."

Europe, after all, has become Munster's stage. This was their sixth semi-final appearance since 2000 and their coach, Declan Kidney, was a happy man afterwards.

"It is great to be in the final," he said, "but I think we were very fortunate to come through today, we had the rub of the green."

It was Census Day in the Republic of Ireland yesterday and history will record that Munster was depopulated, while in Leinster there were reds everywhere - in the bars, on the streets, but none in or under the hotel beds. There was too much craic for that. The streets of Dublin were packed.

Trains had brought them from Cork and Limerick through Saturday and again yesterday morning. The blue of Leinster was engulfed. There looked to be far more than Munster's expected 21,000 in the crowd and the noise they generated was unnerving as their heroes moved closer to a trip to Cardiff for the final on 20 May.

Leinster's fly-half, Felipe Contepomi, had a nightmare with his kicking out of hand, even fluffing one of four restarts in the first half. There were some brave counter-attacks by the backs outside him, but it was always from too deep, as quick as Denis Hickie was. Every time Leinster created a promising opening they would either spill the ball, pass it carelessly, knock it on, turn it over or give away a needless penalty.

That said, Munster's first try arrived like so many of their tries have throughout the season, through the immense, intense work by their magnificent forwards.

A line-out was collected by Paul O'Connell, Denis Leamy took it up and he was driven over. O'Gara, who had knocked over a second-minute penalty, added the conversion. Two further O'Gara penalties sandwiched a solitary effort by Contepomi, who had to wait until the 72nd minute before scoring the rest of Leinster's points with his second penalty, having missed two along the way.

Even when Munster were reduced to 14 men by a yellow card for their Italy prop Federico Pucciariello, Leinster could not find a way through.

Munster could. First O'Gara skipped past Malcolm O'Kelly. Then, a couple of minutes later, Halstead intercepted Guy Easterby's telegraphed pass to Gordon D'Arcy and it was all over, bar the Munster fans' shouting and singing.

Leinster: Penalties Contepomi 2. Munster: Tries Leamy, O'Gara, Halstead; Conversions O'Gara 3; Penalties O'Gara 3.

Leinster: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, D Hickie; F Contepomi, G Easterby; R Corrigan (R McCormack, 72), B Blaney, W Green, B Williams, M O'Kelly, C Jowitt (E Miller, 58), K Gleeson, J Heaslip.

Munster: S Payne; A Horgan, J Kelly (R Henderson, 14; T O'Leary, 68), T Halstead, I Dowling; R O'Gara, P Stringer; F Pucciariello, J Flannery, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, D Leamy, D Wallace, A Foley (capt).

Referee: J Jutge (France).

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