O'Gara shoots down Saints in thriller

Ronan O'Gara kicks the last minute, match winning drop goal during the Heineken Cup match between Munster and Northampton.  Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Ronan O'Gara kicks the last minute, match winning drop goal during the Heineken Cup match between Munster and Northampton. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

Munster 23 Northampton 21: Who writes their scripts anyway? Even by Munster’s standards, all the more so on one of those traditionally titanic Heineken Cup Saturdays, this was a bit special. Trailing by a point with three minutes remaining, they painstakingly worked their hearts and socks off to go through a phenomenal 40 phases, the crowd gulping collectively with every hint of a knock-on or an isolated runner going into contact, before, three and a half minutes into overtime, you-know-who went into the pocket.

Quite simply, no-one in the game’s history has assumed this responsibility more than Ronan O’Gara, and no-one has delivered more than O’Gara. Fully 45 metres out, and with the fat lady clearing her throat, the Cork maestro struck as sweet a drop goal as high and true as he’s ever hit one. Nigel Owens, at the centre of yet another taut finish and protracted endgame, milked the moment seemingly for an age before signalling O’Gara had delivered in his team’s moment of need.

Michael Jordanesque or what? Talk about a cardiac team. For sheer cussedness and persistence and no little quality they possibly just about deserved this dramatic win which means they are not snookered from the opening weekend. Munster’s work-rate at their rejuvenated maul, both offensive and defensive, at the breakdown and in defence, was magnificent, and in a veritable cracker of a game, it had to be.

With the electric Ben Foden running from everywhere, Northampton put huge width and tempo on their game to repeatedly stretch Munster to breaking point, and had the ex-Blackrock and Leinster winger Vasily Artemiev (who made three costly knock-ons in the second-half) not fumbled with the line at his mercy in the 64th minute, they probably would have won.

Munster had been given the perfect start with a mauling try for Damien Varley, but Northampton responded when Foden put Chris Ashton over from a counter-attack and Ryan Lamb tagged on two penalties for a 13-7 lead. But either side of half-time O’Gara landed two penalties and converted a superb try by the outstanding Doug Howlett before a Lamb penalty and a James Downey try set up that scarcely plausible endgame.

Never in doubt.

Munster: J Murphy; D Howlett, D Barnes, L Mafi, D Hurley; R O'Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, B Botha, D Ryan, P O'Connell [capt], P O'Mahony, N Ronan, J Coughlan. Replacements: D O’Callaghan for Ryan (55 mins), T O’Leary for Murray (62 mins), D Leamy for Coughlan (66 mins), W Chambers for Barnes (67 mins), J Hayes for Botha (71 mins). Not used: D Fogarty, J Ryan, I Keatley.

Northampton Saints: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, V Artemyev; R Lamb, L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley [capt], B Mujati, C Lawes, M Sorenson, C Clark, T Wood, R Wilson. Replacements: S Manoa for Lawes, P Dowson for Clark, M Roberts for Diockson (all 66 mins), A Waller for Tonga'uiha (69 mins), P Doran-Jones for Mujati, G Pisi for Foden (73 mins). Not used: M Haywood, S Myler.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).