10 Years On: How a Scarlets win paved the way for Munster’s second Heineken Cup win
After years of heartbreak, Munster Rugby finally got their hands on the coveted Heineken Cup in 2006, defeating Biarritz in Cardiff.
Heading into the 07′ campaign, Munster for once were not seen as the underdogs, they were now the scalp everyone wanted to take.
A first loss at Thomond Park in European competitons in 12 years in January 07′ to Leicester Tigers signalled something was not right in the Province. That loss meant Munster would play The Scarlets away in the Quarter Final in the competition.
Ian Dowling, a 24 year old winger at the time reflects on the clash in Llanelli.
“The Scarlets were the better team on the night. They ran us ragged. They were a very fast outfit. That’s probably known as a golden generation of Irish rugby but I think it was the same for the Welsh.”
“That Scarlets team just oozed class and it was full of Lions — Matthew Rees, Dwayne Peel, Stephen Jones, Daffyd James. Simon Easterby was their captain as well and he was a class act.
“They were always a serious team but they probably didn’t have the success that people might have expected. We always had good battles against them. They were always there or thereabouts.”
Scarlets had racked up a 17-0 lead at half time which Munster never got near to. Despite Dowling going over in the corner mid way through the second half, the Scarlets continued to find gaps in the Munster rear-guard.
“It was probably just another sign that we needed to be better,”
“When you have success, every year you need to tell yourself that the teams behind you are going to get better. That’s something Mark McCall [Saracens’ director of rugby] was saying recently too.”
“For one reason or another, we didn’t reach the heights or meet our expectations on the pitch that season. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where it went wrong, and I don’t think it was down to one specific thing.”
As fate would have it, Munster were drawn with Scarlets in the group stages of the tournament for the following year.
Munster would go on to defeat the Welsh side home and away in 2008 as they would recapture the trophy for the second time in three seasons.
“After coming back from that holiday, I really felt refreshed and I was ready to attack the season. I think a lot of the lads would have felt the same and we started meeting our own expectations again from pre-season onwards. Did losing to the Scarlets play a big part in that? Yeah, definitely.”
Dowling feels that the attacking threat the 07′ side showed is mirrored in this years side and thinks Munster need to defend expertly to prevent them from scoring tries, something Leinster were unable to do.
“I think they’re capable of tearing any team apart with the backs that they have. They were incredibly impressive against Leinster [in the semi-final] and they’re obviously full of confidence. I think it has the ingredients to be a very exciting final,”
“Munster will be disappointed by how the Scarlets turned them over at Thomond Park earlier in the season as well. Hopefully we’ll see plenty of free-flowing rugby and a Munster win.”
One thing is for sure, a classic final awaits.