Wallace stirs revival but Basque blockade holds

Biarritz 19 Munster 10
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The Independent Online

This was not a great match, but it was a wonderful occasion that stirred the entire Basque country into a riotous celebration of colour and noise at Real Sociedad's football ground in San Sebastian.

This was not a great match, but it was a wonderful occasion that stirred the entire Basque country into a riotous celebration of colour and noise at Real Sociedad's football ground in San Sebastian.

Biarritz's expected victory was never the stroll some had envisaged, but it was never seriously in doubt.

The presence of three French teams in the Heineken Cup's last four for the first time indicates a significant shift in European rugby fortunes. Surveying the fall-out from a magnificent weekend, the rugby men of Ireland and England will confront a sober reality. Leicester excepted, the others have simply not been good enough.

Munster were brave and spirited to the end, stretching every sinew in their attempts to rupture the physical and well-organised Biarritz defence. Paul O'Connell, Marcus Horan, Anthony Foley and David Wallace worked tirelessly to turn the tide and they had plenty of possession, especially after half time. But they made critical errors and had precious few variations behind the scrum.

Biarritz's smothering defence, in which Serge Betsen was again admirable, was breached only once. That happened early in the second half as Munster enjoyed their best spell. Shaun Payne was held just short of the line and, from a scrum, Wallace brushed aside Dimitri Yachvili's tackle for the try.

That trimmed Biarritz's half-time lead of 16-0 and their ambitions for the second half. They could never cut loose, but nor did they seriously attempt to. The security they enjoyed in defence, allied to Munster's tendency to turn over possession, meant Biarritz held out.

Foley, the Munster captain, said: "We have come so far but again come up short. The penalties we gave away in the first half and the turn-over for their try let them off the hook. We needed to be more patient.''

The only Biarritz try came from a dropped Munster pass in midfield. Imanol Harinordoquy kicked ahead and the fly-half Paul Burke was caught by Philippe Bidabé as he tried to run clear. From the turn-over, Martin Gaitan crossed unopposed.

Yachvili's kicking did the rest, with three penalties and a conversion before half-time. He and Burke exchanged penalties in the final quarter but the door against which Munster were left to batter was closed with solid efficiency. At least Munster's second-half revival stirred the soul, and was entirely in keeping with their great Heineken Cup heritage.

Biarritz: Try Gaitan; Conversion Yachvili; Penalties Yachvili 4. Munster: Try Wallace; Conversion Burke; Penalties Burke.

Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bidabé, M Gaitan, D Traille, J Marlu; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan (B Lecouls, 58), B August (J-M Gonzalez, 79), D Avril (P Balan, 79), J Thion, O Olibeau (D Couzinet, 67), S Betsen, I Harinordoquy, T Liévremont (capt; T Dusautoir, 77).

Munster: S Payne; J Kelly, M Mullins (P Devlin, 79), R Henderson, A Horgan; P Burke (J Holland, 73), P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, A Quinlan (J Williams, 76), D Wallace, A Foley (capt).

Referee: C White (England).

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