Scrum Sevens
Against all odds
Huw Baines
April 8, 2009
Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones celebrate victory over Munster, Scarlets v Munster, Heineken Cup, Stradey Park, Llanelli, March 30, 2007
Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones celebrates the Scarlets' victory over Munster in 2006 © Getty Images
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With the Ospreys set to face Munster at their impenetrable fortress, Thomond Park, in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals on Sunday we take a look at the tournament's recent history to find the best examples of sides upsetting the odds at all costs.

Some entries are famous wins, others agonising individual mistakes and soaring team glories, but all of them helped shape the finest competition in the northern hemisphere.

Quins get past the razzmatazz in Paris

In a two-match series from this season's competition, Dean Richards' Harlequins pulled off one of the great one-two combination punches by defeating Stade Francais home and away. The first leg, played out in front of 80,000 fans at the Stade de France, was won 15-10 with tries from Jordan Turner-Hall and Tom Williams to spoil a party that featured dancing girls, medieval jousting and fireworks.

At the Stoop the following weekend, Quins' former All Black fly-half Nick Evans produced two moments of genius to secure a 19-17 win in the dying moments. With Stade a point ahead thanks to a drop-goal from Juan Martin Hernandez, Quins pushed forward in atrocious conditions looking for a winning goal of their own. Twice Evans was handed the ball under huge pressure, sidestepping his way through the Stade defence to set up position. When the ball landed safely in his hands for the third time, he made no mistake with a drop-goal to cap two unbearably exciting minutes.

Scarlets are crowned comeback-kings

In 2007, the Scarlets made their way to the semi-finals on a memorable journey lit up by a special victory over Toulouse, the kings of the European Cup. The Welsh region had never won at the Stade Ernest Wallon, and when Toulouse fullback Clement Poitrenaud's hat-trick put the home side 21-0 up before half-time it looked as though this would be another doomed venture into French rugby's heartland.

A try before the break by Dafydd James gave them heart, before a breathtaking spell of attacking rugby from the Scarlets. With Regan King, the heartbeat of the side, in mercurial form and tries from Barry Davies, a brace from Darren Daniel and a final heroic effort from replacement Nathan Thomas the Scarlets fought back however, taking the spoils 41-34 in one of the most exhilarating second-half performances in the history of the tournament.

Munster's miracle

Munster have in recent years forged a relationship with the Heineken Cup that transcends mere competition. The Red Army have a belief that Munster can win at all costs in Europe, a belief that is built in part on their "miracle match" - a 33-6 win over Gloucester at Thomond Park.

In the final group game of the 2002-03 season, with Munster having lost the final to Leicester at the Millennium Stadium months earlier, the Thomond Park faithful knew that their side needed four tries and a 27-point margin of victory in order to progress into the quarter-finals. With even the most ardent believer fearing for Munster's hopes, John Kelly scored the vital fourth try with only moments left on the clock. The touchdown left Munster 25 points clear of Gloucester meaning that Ronan O'Gara was tasked with converting for the vital 27-point margin. He did.

Leinster's day in the sun

The 2005-06 Heineken Cup competition will forever be synonymous with Munster's cathartic win in the final against Biarritz. It was another Irish side that provided the most thrilling exhibition in the competition however, Brian O'Driscoll's Leinster upsetting all the odds to beat Toulouse 41-35 away at the Stade Municipal.

With Toulouse the reigning champions Leinster found themselves entering into the unknown, but a fearless performance punctuated by the cool kicking of fly-half Felipe Contepomi surprised everyone. Brian O'Driscoll scored a sensational opening try before Denis Hickie almost outdid event that with a length-of-the-field effort. Shane Horgan and Cameron Jowitt secured their third and fourth tries as Toulouse were first rattled and then rolled out of the competition that they had dominated previously.

Ulster all the way

The 1998-99 Heineken Cup was unique in that the competition was boycotted by English clubs due to a dispute between the RFU and the tournament organisers. Meaning that Bath were not on hand to defend their title. Don't let anyone tell you that this lessened Ulster's achievement.

Led by the exemplary David Humphreys the Irish province defeated four French sides on their way to the final at Lansdowne Road. Not many sides do the double over Toulouse, but the unfancied Ulstermen did just that in the group stage and quarter-finals before dispatching Stade Francais in the last four. The final was a sell-out and it was Ulster fullback Simon Mason's six penalties and a drop-goal from Humphries that secured the spoils over French side Colomiers. The finest day in Ulster's history, and a resounding surprise for fans everywhere.

End of the road

Stradey Park was the site of many special games during its storied history, and its finest Heineken Cup moment came in 2006 following the Scarlets sensational unbeaten run through to the quarter-finals. Their reward for their feats against Toulouse in the group stage was a daunting home tie to reigning champions Munster.

On a pitch still littered with confetti from the pre-match festivities the Scarlets blitzed the visitors to set up a 17-0 half-time lead thanks to tries from Dafydd James and flanker Gavin Thomas, while the Munster lineout struggled without Paul O'Connell. In the second-half Munster got a foot-hold thanks to a try from Ian Dowling, set up by a forward pass from Christian Cullen, before Barry Davies finished a sublime move to send Munster crashing out, and the Scarlets improbably into the semi-finals.

Clement, what could the matter be?

While the other shocks in this list were team efforts, sides winning and losing as a group, the final entry is remembered for its individual pain and glory. With minutes left of the 2003 Heineken Cup final Toulouse and Wasps were tied together on 20 points and heading in to extra time.

Wasps scrum-half Rob Howley collected the ball on the wing, sending a grubber bouncing inchies infield and in to the Toulouse goal area. Clement Poitrenaud, the French fullback, watched the ball bounce in goal before waiting an agonising second too long, allowing Howley to chase his own kick and touch down for the winning try. The shock on the face of Poitrenaud spoke volumes.


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