2 July 2022
London Irish 23-17 Munster Rugby – 8th October 2010 – Heineken Cup Pool 3 Round 1
Tries: Topsy Ojo
Penalties: Ryan Lamb (4), Delon Armitage
Drop Goals: Ryan Lamb
Tries: Sam Tuitupou
Penalties: Ronan O’Gara (4)
“We believe that on our day we can be a handful for any team, whatever their history and I am expecting an excellent game of rugby tomorrow afternoon," Head Coach Toby Booth speaking ahead of the Heineken Cup fixture against Munster.
It was London calling for another province in 2010 with the arrival of Tony McGahan’s Munster, almost a year to the day after a win for London Irish over Leinster in Dublin opened up the previous Heineken Cup campaign.
The teams were operating in a so-called ‘Pool of Death’ in the 2010/11 Heineken Cup, seeded alongside previous European Challenge Cup runners-up RC Toulonnais and Magners League reigning champions, Ospreys.
Munster, qualifiers for the knockout stages in the previous 12 editions of the tournament as well as winners in 2006 and 2008, were loaded with silver-laden sinew that would command attention from any side in the rugby world.
Flooded with talent from the Emerald Isle, including then international linchpins Jerry Flannery, Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara, Munster also possessed Antipodean imports such as 63-capped All Black Doug Howlett and prop Wian du Preez.
The Exiles were however conspicuous amongst the continental pedigree in Pool 3 as well as their positioning that season, leading the Aviva Premiership in the first rounds in September and approaching the tie against the Red Army in fine form.
Irish had won four of their slate of first five fixtures, including the London Double Header against Saracens, with the pacesetters in their respective leagues meeting for the first time on the competitive stage.
Munster were dealt a double blow pre-match as their unbeaten run was ended by rivals Leinster the week before, compounded only by form centre Lifeimi Mafi’s seven-week suspension for a high tackle on Gordon D’Arcy.
Opening weekend of the Heineken Cup never looked so promising under the lights in Reading.
The Madejski Stadium held one of its biggest attendances with over 20,000 fans in attendance that October Saturday, lined with fans from across the Thames and over the Shannon.
A commemorative minute-long ovation from the numerous fans preceded the action, remembering Munster legend and two-time Five Nations champion with Ireland, Moss Keane, who passed away days before.
O’Gara nudged Munster in control with a penalty four minutes in after Faan Rautenbach was penalised at the ruck following promising attack from the reds.
Lamb’s retort came through two penalty kicks to take Irish into an inaugural lead in the tie, James Coughlan firstly interfering at the ruck and du Preez unable to then maintain a scrum.
In possession, Irish projected an assertive outlook and threatened out near the edges, Topsy Ojo pulling the Exiles up the park with corresponding winger Howlett fended off into touch by Delon Armitage.
Smart work between forwards and backs from a lineout demonstrated Irish’s intention and Delon Armitage and Sailosi Tagicakibau’s link play made headway for their side on the latter’s 100th Club appearance.
Irish looked to construct more chances in closer proximity to the try line with a touch finder, and despite a lack of five-pointers to that point, the hosts extended arrears with a penalty from the boot of Lamb following hands in the ruck from Niall Ronan of Munster.
Sam Tuitupou’s spear tackle on Paul Hodgson left the scrum-half in need of treatment and the centre in the bin for 10 minutes, yet strong defence from Munster then forced a turnover to afford a rare release.
Nevertheless, a later line break from Elvis Seveali’i broke Irish free and pushed the Exiles, both on the pitch and in the crowd, forward and the out-half for Irish on the day proved further that he was in form from the hand as well as the tee.
Spotting an opportunity for a drop goal from on the 22, Lamb punished the then opposing 14 men and knocked the ball through the posts.
Before the half was up, Lamb and Irish converted another penalty but it was O’Gara who bookended the first 40 with three more to his collection after Delon Armitage’s high tackle on Howlett.
Despite missing a second drop goal kick, Lamb was very much the instigator for the Exiles in the opening period, accounting for all 15 points registered by the home outfit heading into the interval through three penalties and a drop goal attempt.
If Irish thought they had a grasp on the tie before, they assumed control just 34 seconds after referee Christophe Berdos got action back underway.
Ojo was on hand to deal the most heaviest of hypothetical blows against Munster, anticipating and calmly grasping onto a pass whose intended receiver was opposing winger Denis Hurley to leave Johne Murphy quickly transitioning from attack to defence.
Irish’s record try-scorer Ojo had 55 metres of ground to make up before crossing the whitewash, but did so with typical consistent tempo and a dive over to entertain the Reading faithful.
Irish were in dreamland, ahead by not one but two converted scores- but the propulsion forward needed from McGahan’s men took its first stages in a firmer assurance from their forwards.
After O’Gara was gifted an eventual squandered chance at clawing back Irish’s lead, an improvement at the set-piece laid the groundwork for him to edge Munster closer with a third place kick on the day.
The Irish province were working to even more had grafted through the phases, 15 to be precise, now intensely close to a first try as O’Gara put his boys into the corner.
Prop Tony Buckley was first to make the dash over the try line but Delon Armitage held up the bolstering forward before Denis Leamy was next to be prevented Alex Corbisiero and dropped the ball- the Exiles looked to have endured the pressure with their own put-in.
In the post-match examination, McGahan evaluated the interventions as a turning point within the affair.
"People must remember that this is very nearly Test match rugby, so every error tends to be punished,” McGahan analysed.
“But ultimately, we were denied by two great pieces of defence by Irish when we were virtually over their line.
"Those hits were crucial to the outcome because they came when we were pushing them backwards yard by yard."
David Paice’s clearance painfully went out on the full, George Stowers was penalised and with O’Gara hitting a rangy penalty kick wide early on in the second half, he made no mistake with what turned out to be his final points, but not to be the fly-half’s final action of influence.
With less than 10 minutes of time to play and potential to increase the lead to 11 points, Delon Armitage calculated the numerics behind a 52-metre penalty and elected to go for the posts.
Connection made, uprights bisected, ice cool from Irish’s England full-back.
Seilala Mapusua’s work on the floor gave Armitage another bite from the proverbial tee but it was not to be, and Munster continued to yearn for a representation of their second half efforts knowing an unconverted try would be enough, just.
Intuition from O’Gara in the dying embers of the encounter meant his side could walk away with something to show for their efforts, grubbering through a kick to locate fellow five-eighth Sam Tuitupou with the aid of David Wallace’s clever run.
The replacement flanker had combined well with fellow finisher Duncan Williams, who found his half-back partner to enact the tactical play.
The significance of the late try from former Kiwi international Tuitupou on his European debut would prove vital for Munster’s fixture scheduling into the latter portions of the season, snatching a try bonus for the Redmen.
"The great thing about Munster is that we fight to the end and we showed that again," said Ronan O'Gara post-match.
"People can say what they like about us being an ageing force but we're as ambitious as ever."
O’Gara nevertheless was not disregarding of the result nor the process that led to the 23-17 scoreline.
"I don't think we deserved to win, we weren't accurate enough to win.
"Our discipline was a major issue for the first 40, and at this level you can't afford to have a player sent to the sin bin - although strangely that was probably our best period.
"We weren't accurate enough in the green zone, we've a few new combinations up front and they will take time to bed in.
“It's small margins that make the difference and we were found out by them."
The grit Irish displayed proved pivotal, less so an attacking masterclass but a mechanical kicking display from Lamb that too contributed to a famous result against the southern Irish side.
"You play the game to win, we got rewarded for being persistent,” Toby Booth stated after the game.
“We were delighted from an historical point of view and for our fans and for the Irish contingent.
"You saw what it meant to the players and as a coach that's all you can ask for, we can't get carried away with the win but we'll enjoy it.
"The fans were fantastic today, both sets played their part, so having people here cheering spurs us on and makes a massive difference."
For a brief stint, Irish topped the pool on the evening as Toulon only edged past Ospreys courtesy of a try from former Exile Paul Sackey.
It was Ospreys that were the only to team to further relinquish points against the Exiles as Irish finished at the foot of historically one of the most challenging four-team pools in tournament history.
David Wallace had an influential outing when Irish and Munster next met in Round 6, helping Munster to a 28-14 win.
With three wins and three losses each between Munster and Ospreys, a losing bonus in Reading ultimately contributed an avenue out of the troublesome pool, perhaps not the intended destination but more European rugby was clinched in the spring.
Munster crashed into the European Challenge Cup and progressed past Club Athlétique Brive Corrèze Limousin in the quarter-final, but their continental journey came to an end with the visit of another west London side, Harlequins.
With Irish finishing sixth in the Premiership and procuring another Heineken Cup adventure the following year, Munster continued their domestic greatness by exorcising their Ospreys loss the previous year in the semi-final and beating Leinster in the Magners League final 19-9.
The match of October 2010 proved to be a special occasion that presented an occasional win for Irish, creating the chance to cherish memories with traditionally one of the most concentrated provinces spread through emigration in the Great Britain, with London being no exception.
Score sequence (London Irish first): 0-3, 3-3, 6-3, 9-3, 12-3, 15-3, 15-6, 20-6, 20-9, 20-12, 23-12, 23-17.
London Irish: Tries: Topsy Ojo (41); Penalties: Ryan Lamb (7) (10) (20) (36), Delon Armitage (72); Drop Goals: Ryan Lamb (33).
Munster Rugby: Tries: Sam Tuitupou (79); Penalties: Ronan O’Gara (4) (38) (55) (68)
15 Delon Armitage, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Elvis Seveali’i, 12. Seilala Mapusua, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Paul Hodgson; 1 Clarke Dermody (c), 2 James Buckland, 3 Faan Rautenbach, 4 Nick Kennedy, 5 Bob Casey, 6 Kieran Roche, 7 Declan Danaher, 8 George Stowers.
16 David Paice, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Alex Corbisiero, 19 Matt Garvey, 20 Chris Hala’ufia, 21 Jonathan Joseph, 22 Daniel Bowden, 23 Darren Allinson.
15 Johne Murphy, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Denis Hurley, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer; 1 Wian du Preez, 2 Damian Varley, 3 Tony Buckley, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 6 Denis Leamy (capt), 7 Niall Ronan, 8 James Coughlan.
16 Mike Sherry, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 John Hayes, 19 Mick O'Driscoll, 20 David Wallace, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Scott Deasy.
Refere: Mr Christophe Berdos (France).