The first half went the way of the visitors as Shane Horgan, who was making his 200th appearance for Leinster, scored the game’s only try. The teams went in at the break with the score 9-20 to Leinster, but despite Munster’s try-drought, Leinster’s penalty count at the breakdown enabled Ronan O’Gara to keep the score ticking over, and he kicked the winning penalty with seconds of the game left to play.
The Thomond Park faithful were in full voice from kick off until the nail-biting finish, and never were Munster more grateful for their ’16th man.’
McGahan said: “This was a high quality game between two quality sides with a lot to play for. The players showed great intent tonight. They’re very conscious of who they represent and they’re very appreciative of the support we get.
“We were 20-9 down at half-time, but I thought it was tremendous how they approached the second half.”
O’Gara, who successfully kicked seven out of eight penalties, missed a kick which would have put Munster ahead with ten minutes left to play, but he regained his composure to slot the winning kick in the final minute of the game, and McGahan said: “I never had any doubts about O’Gara. He’s a competitive guy and if there was ever a kick for your life, he’d be the person to take it.”
Munster’s No 8 James Coughlan said the calibre of the bench was making all the difference to team’s confidence and standards, and he was delighted with the forwards’ performance in particular.
“It’s great to have such experience coming off the bench,” said Coughlan. “Everyone’s fighting for the jersey, and the pressure within the squad breeds players having to play well. I thought our set piece was outstanding tonight. We need to keep this momentum going. We want two trophies by the end of this season. One of them may not be the one we set out to get but if we win two it won’t be a bad reflection on what we’ve done. We need to keep building as a squad.
Coughlan continued: “This was a massive win for everyone. The crowd were amazing and it was an unbelievable experience to be a part of. As Rog (O’Gara) said to us, this is what Munster’s all about.”
Munster had come away second best from the previous five encounters with Leinster, and no secret was made of the importance to them to come away with a win this time. Munster play Brive in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final next weekend, but this match was far more than a warm-up game to the province.
McGahan said: “We needed the win. Leinster are an excellent side in great form, but not many sides have the ability to come back from 20-9 down and change tack. However, tonight needs to be left at the door and on Monday we will re-focus on next week, because Brive won’t give a hoot about what we’ve done.”
Leinster now prepare to play Leicester at the Aviva Stadium next weekend in the Heineken Cup quarter-final.