A familiar set of faces will contest this year’s Heineken Cup final but there is a guaranteed new champion.
Biarritz have trudged into their first final after consecutive semi-final losses while Munster march back, desperate to make it third time lucky.
On the evidence of the weekend it is Biarritz that will need all the available luck. That might just be in short supply if the old cliché, fortune favours the brave, has any validity. The French champions are formidably organised but this team does not get anywhere near matching its parts.
Caution rules and Biarritz can justify the tactic of excessive kicking and limited utilisation of their running game by pointing at the fact they have made the final. If they think that Munster in Cardiff is a similar proposition to Bath or Sale in San Sebastian, they are in for a startling shock.
On neutral ground, against a more confident side and hugely superior pack (to either Bath’s or Sale’s) Biarritz has shown nowhere near enough to beat Munster. Some say – and Munster will rightly be one of them in an attempt to keep themselves the underdogs they so love to be – that they have made the final in third gear and will let rip in the final but rugby is not that simple. Habits form and with the cautious habit of Biarritz has come a gradual decline in the arts of attacking, either wide or tight.
In contrast, Munster, played a fine semi-final, playing an intelligent game to their strengths and, in the process, nullifying the strengths of Leinster. The controlled ferocity of their forward play, allied with the probing excellence of Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer was too much for Leinster. Had Barry Murphy been fit, there would have been more back play from the men in red but with a few running limitations, Munster rightly played to their strengths.
Nobody was stronger than Paul O’Connell. The second row laid waste to the opposition in a display that was every bit as outstanding as Brian O’Driscoll’s compelling 80 minutes had been at Bath earlier in the season. For him to look mediocre on the Lions tour was proof indeed of what a mess the management made of that trip.