Heineken European Cup semi-final 2009
Posted by MrZink on Wed, 06 May 2009.
Leicester Tigers visited the Millennium Stadium in good form for this Heineken European Cup semi-final, having just finished top of the Guinness Premiership, and appointing their stand in head coach Richard Cockerill permanent head coach. However Cardiff were arguably in even-better shape, and were considered favourites for this tie, having destroyed Gloucester in the EDF Energy Cup final a few weeks previously.
The two teams had star quality all over the side, ranging from the former Wales captain and all round hard man Martyn Williams, to the Leicester-boy Sam Vesty, who has been in scintillating form ever since he was given the chance to shine by Cockerill, despite being close to walking out during Meyer’s rein. It was also a chance for some of the Lions boys to shine, with 6 Cardiff players flying out to South Africa, joined by the solitary Tiger (Harry Ellis).
As always in Cardiff, and in general at rugby games, there was a genuine feel-good factor in and around Cardiff on the day of the game, with supporters from both teams mixing and socialising together. However, once the game had started, that affection was put on hold, as everyone bellowed for their teams. Despite being numbered by 3:1, Tigers fans put on a good show cheering their team along in the magnificent setting of the Millenium Stadium (even if it is the coldest stadium in the world).
So, to the game! Despite what was predicted, Tigers dominated for the first half, and should of gone in with a greater advantage than the 13-12 they had, after French scrum half Dupuy missed 3 relatively easy penalties. The rest of the points for Tigers came from a lovely worked move, with Flood drawing two defenders and still managing to squeeze his arms through to pop the ball out to New Zealand winger Scott Hamilton to run onto at pace, stepping the last defender before touching down under the posts. Cardiff only rarely showed signs of their attacking prowess, however this was mainly due to Tigers well drilled defence not allowing their big runners like Xavier Rush or Jamie Roberts any room to run in.
The beginning of the second half followed a similar pattern, with Tigers second try coming from a good break by Johne Murphy, followed by another off-load by Flood to send Geordan Murphy under the posts, leaving it at 26-12 with 20 minutes remaining. At this point, Tigers should of closed the game, however Cardiff had too much skill to allow that, and so after sustained defence on Tigers line, Craig Newby was forced to cynically steal the ball illegally, and he was rewarded by being sin-binned for 10 minutes. He was shortly followed by Tigers captain Geordan Murphy after he deliberately knocked the ball on. This 2 man numerical advantage showed shortly afterwards, with Jamie Roberts gliding through the huge hole now left in the Tigers defence to score in the corner, and a magnificent touch line conversion from Blair. If we had thought this would shock the Tigers into action, we were wrong, with a second try coming almost directly from the resulting kick off, Roberts again breaking a tackle, and sending his winger Tom James to run in from 70m. Again, Blair remarkably converted from the touch line, to take it to 26 all at full time.
This meant that there would be 20 minutes of extra time played (10 minutes each way), however despite some brave efforts, especially from Johne Murphy who had he not sliced his chip into touch may very well of scored), the ferocity of the previous 80 minutes began to show, with tired bodies spread across the field. There were no scores in this extra time, meaning that for the first time in senior rugby (at least at a high professional level), a penalty shoot out was to decide a game.
The shoot out in the Heineken Cup is similar to its counterpart in football- each time must select 5 kickers, who then take a penalty kick from directly in front of the goal on the 22m line, and best of 5. If still equal after 5, it then goes down to sudden-death, going through each player in the team (with no player being allowed to take 2 penalties until the rest of the entire team playing at the time of the end of the game has gone).
Cardiff won the toss, and chose to kick first. The first 3 of each teams were the normal kickers of the team, and so slotted the kicks over without much fuss. However, it then came to Johne Murphy to take Tigers 4th kick. He agonisingly pulled it to the left of the post, leaving the Cardiff fans to do into delirium, and Tigers fans to begin to pack up their bags to leave. However, remarkably the 5th Cardiff kicker then also missed his kick, leaving it upto Scott Hamilton to level the scores. The winger kept his cool and slotted the kick.
Now into sudden death, it began to show that most of these players were not normal kickers. After a close shave with their previous penalty, the legendary player that was Martyn Williams stood up to take his kick. At this point, I can recall thinking how I would jolly well LOVE for him to miss this kick, and to put his smug welsh Lions cap somewhere rude (in the nicest possible way of course). The crowd descended into silence, with total respect being awarded the kickers… he pulled it wide. The look of agony on his face was traumatising for any fan, Cardiff or Tigers. All it took was for the former goalkeeper Jordan Crane to step up and coolly slot the penalty, sending Tigers into the final at Murrayfield to face Leinster.
After an exhilarating game, I cannot decide my opinion on the penalty shoot out. While it may seem unfair to decide a game as passionate as this on a skill which the majority of players never have to use in a normal game, I cannot see any other way in which you can safely and fairly decide a game.
Roll on Edinburgh!