Munster 6 Leicester 13: Thunderous Tigers storm citadel

Humphreys leads Leicester into legend at Thomond Park and exorcises ghost of O'Gara's kick
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The Independent Online

The wrecking ball will arrive at this historic ground within the next few weeks, although the spectators here might have thought it had already arrived in the form of Leicester. The Tigers did what no other club has come close to managing in the Heineken Cup, namely beating Munster at their spiritual home, Thomond Park.

Munster, the reigning Heineken Cup champions who were beaten by Leicester in the final in 2002, had won 26 ties out of 26 but in their final appearance at the ground, which will be redeveloped over the next year, doubling its capacity to 26,000, they were outplayed by a Leicester team paying their first visit to Limerick.

This little ground is claustrophobic, deafening and intimidating but the Tigers were immune. Thrown into what seems to be a bear pit inside a nuclear bunker most teams subside in the face of the red, raucous and rampant support generated by the Munster following. Not Leicester, who before the start had thrown down the gauntlet when their Australian coach, Pat Howard, described Thomond Park as "just a field''. This was like an Irishman describing the Sydney Opera House as a village hall.

Leicester, who were beaten at home 21-19 in the opening match of Pool Four in October, scored the only tries of the match through Geordan Murphy and Ollie Smith - a late replacement for Daryl Gibson - and their historic victory has earned them a home quarter-final. Munster had already qualified for the last eight for a record ninth successive season but they must hit the road for their quarter-final.

Leicester made a cool, calculated start and took the lead after just three minutes. It provided a considerable boost to the confidence of Ian Humphreys, their 24-year-old stand-off. The brother of Ulster and Ireland's David, Humphreys joined the Tigers in 2005 and is only just beginning to get a run in the first team, following an injury to Andy Goode. But the club likes what it has seen and last week offered him a new contract. After Mick O'Driscoll infringed at a line-out, Humphreys landed the penalty and did a fine job in judging a fierce crosswind.

Eight minutes later O'Gara, vastly more experienced than his opposite number and the record points-scorer in the Heineken Cup, failed with a penalty attempt although he was on target with a subsequent kick after featuring in a typical combined assault between backs and forwards.

It was a foul night - torrential rain, an icy wind - and in more ways than one. Munster lost their wing John Kelly after 20 minutes. He had his ribs strapped but found he could not continue and was replaced by Tomas O'Leary. Kelly was hurt at a ruck where he was stamped upon by Louis Deacon and the Leicester lock might well find himself at the receiving end of a citing.

A couple of minutes after Kelly's departure, Leicester struck a blow with a beautifully engineered try. Awarded a free-kick, Martin Corry elected to go for a scrum. From a rock-solid platform the scrum-half Harry Ellis broke to beat David Wallace and O'Gara through pace and aggression and there was another outstanding piece of work by Lewis Moody, who took out a couple of defenders before offloading to his right to Murphy. The full-back finished well.

What made this all the more impressive for Leicester is that they had won the toss and Corry chose to play into the wind and rain, the strength of which could be gauged when, on the stroke of half-time, O'Gara kicked a penalty, setting the ball way to the left of the posts for the wind to bring it in. The Tigers sought the warmth of the dressing room with a two-point advantage, but it must have seemed a lot more.

The crowd had witnessed nothing but Munster success in Europe. This was different. The Tigers were not taking a backward step and at the scrum the power and experience of their pack, particularly the front row, had Munster in all sorts of trouble. It was apparent when Leicester won a penalty, but Humphreys' long-range effort drifted wide on the wind; it was apparent when a frustrated Marcus Horan threw a punch at Julian White, who merely smiled in response; and, crucially, it was apparent after Munster had finally mounted a potent attack.

O'Leary was released on the right and his little cross-kick had Leicester scrambling on their line. Munster were awarded a penalty but their captain, the lock Paul O'Connell, instead of asking O'Gara to kick at goal opted to take a scrum. Crazy. Leicester turned them and were able to clear the danger.

A Humphreys break was thwarted by Shaun Payne but Leicester were not to be denied, and after 67 minutes Smith beat O'Leary on the outside and Denis Leamy on the inside for a marvellous try which went to the video official; he had an easy decision.

Munster: S Payne; J Kelly (T O'Leary, 20), B Murphy, L Mafi, I Dowling; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan (J Flannery, 49), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), M O'Driscoll (A Foley, 49; J Coughlan, 80), D Leamy, D Wallace.

Leicester: G Murphy; C Rabeni, D Hipkiss (L Lloyd, 71), O Smith, A Tuilagi (S Vesty, 79); I Humphreys, H Ellis; M Castrogiovanni (M Ayerza, 65), G Chuter, J White, L Cullen, L Deacon, L Moody, M Corry (capt), S Jennings.

Referee: J Jutge (France).

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