MUNSTER WON their first Heineken Cup final, at the third attempt, by beating Biarritz 23-19 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium last Saturday. The Basque side took an early lead through a Sereli Bobo try, but the Irish struck back with Trevor Halstead and Peter Stringer powering over the line. Ronan O’Gara’s conversions looked to have made the game safe at 20-10, two minutes after the break, until Dimitri Yachvili started reducing the advantage to a single point with three well-taken penalties. Just as Munster’s hold on the trophy seemed to be slipping, O’Gara responded in kind, stretching his side’s lead to four points once more. The European club championship had finally been secured.
The European Challenge Cup final was disputed by Gloucester and London Irish at Twickenham 24 hours later. A pulsating encounter saw the West Country side take a 31-19 lead, before the Exiles staged a second-half comeback that culminated in a last gasp try to level the score. At 31 points each, Barry Everitt’s conversion would have won it for Irish, but the fly-half missed, sending the game into extra time. A penalty gave the Exiles the lead, Everitt failed to extend the advantage with further misses, and a final Jamie Forrester try handed Gloucester a famous 36-34 victory.
Rugby League’s Powergen Challenge Cup competition continues to be dominated by St Helens. The favourites to lift the trophy at Twickenham on August 26, powered into the quarter-finals with a one-sided 42-18 demolition of the Bradford Bulls. Sean Long’s world-class kicking game paved the way for a seven-try broadside, to which the Bulls found few answers. Harlequins RL overran minnows Barrow 82-8 in a hopeless mismatch, that produced 14 tries and 13 kicked goals.
At national level, the new England coaching set-up is taking shape ahead of the forthcoming tour of Australia. Andy Robinson has had much of his power taken away by the RFU, and is expected to be assisted by attack coach Brian Ashton, forwards coach John Wells and defence coach Mike Ford in future. The three men have officially been offered the posts, but Ashton and Ford have still to negotiate their exits from Bath and Saracens; the former are holding out for 350,000 euros in compensation, before agreeing to release their head coach.