Munster 19, Wasps 3: McGeechan helpless as O'Gara conducts Munster masterclass

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The Independent Online

Munster have developed a prototype – the only ambush in history that arrives without an element of surprise. The Thomond Park factor is part of Irish folklore, and the beating of Wasps here adds to the legend. Wasps, who won the Heineken Cup so impressively last season, knew exactly what they were walking into, and yet were still powerless to prevent the mugging. Ian McGeechan, Wasps' director of rugby and one of the most experienced coaches in the game, is not one to cry foul, but he came pretty close to it. He kept talking about "tough calls".

First of all, he was not at all happy that his club, as the defending champions, found themselves in such a competitive pool. "The seedings were interesting," he said. "Whoever didn't go through was on the receiving end of a tough call.

"Marginal things went against us. I thought we had the stronger pack. Our scrummage was superb, but, for various reasons, we didn't see the benefit."

Needless to say, McGeechan was not impressed by the referee, Nigel Owens. Simon Shaw and Lawrence Dallaglio, who was making his last Heineken Cup appearance, spent time in the sin-bin.

"They were tough calls, and things like that become hugely significant. The penalty count was also against us. I spoke to the referee at half-time about the line-out. The competition in the air was quite interesting. We were going well in the first half, and the pendulum might have swung our way."

It didn't, for a number of reasons, and one was Ronan O'Gara, the Munster captain. Chastened by a miserable role in Ireland's World Cup capitulation, O'Gara was back to his best and very much in his element. "I thought his kicking in the second half was a masterclass," Shaun Edwards, Wasps' assistant coach, said. "If I hadn't been a coach of my team, I'd have stood up and applauded."

O'Gara, in atrocious conditions – that's just how he likes it – kicked four penalties out of four and converted Denis Leamy's try. The only touchdown of the match was created by O'Gara's dummy and was the climax to a phenomenal Munster siege, during which they battered Wasps with 22 phases of play. That too was a masterclass.

Wasps, who led after three minutes with a Danny Cipriani penalty, came within inches of a try, but David Doherty's kick and chase was foiled by O'Gara.

Otherwise Wasps, who travelled here as pool leaders with 18 points – they had beaten Munster 24-23 in Coventry – went the way of Sale and Gloucester, other English heavyweights, who were choked by the rarefied atmosphere of Thomond Park. This time Munster took a punt on staging the match here, but it paid off.

The ground is being rebuilt, and by completion in 2009, will accommodate 25,000 people. On Saturday 12,500 spectators stood in the middle of a building site in torrential rain to roar their heroes into the quarter-finals. Such a scene would not have been enacted anywhere else.

Munster, twice beaten finalists before becoming the champions of Europe in 2006, have reached the last eight for an unprecedented 10th successive year, and no other blue chip club can come close to that record.

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