The match had been dubbed the battle of Britain- and in the most exciting finale possible, it was English giants Leicester Tigers who won through to the final of the Heineken Cup at the expense of Llanelli in front of a packed City ground in Nottingham
The different between European success and failure can be measured by the thickness of a coat of paint. In the most dramatic of climaxes Tim Stimpsons 58 metre penalty kick after 80 minutes bounced off the post, then the bar, and then the touch judges raised their flags and that was that.
In the most tense game of the season there was absolutely nothing to separate the two sides throughout. Llanelli had set their stall out early, and safer hands in the wet and windy conditions in the first half saw the Scarlets into an early lead when Stephen Jones scored a third minute penalty. Llanelli had consistent territorial supremacy, pinning the Tigers in their own 22 with precise kicking from Stephen Jones. And it was the dependable boot of Wales outside half that saw Llanelli into a 9-3 lead after 25 minutes.
How he will be ruing his missed penalty on 38 minutes, and the drop goal attempt seconds later that edged wide of the uprights. Until that point Jones had a 100% kicking record in the two previous meeting between the clubs this season.
Come the second half, and straight from the restart the Tigers came out baring their teeth- charging forward at every opportunity. After 43 minutes, a moment of magic from stand in scrum half Harry Ellis unlocked the Llanelli defence. He collected the ball from the ruck 25 metres out, and darted past the onlooking Easterby. His clever slide five metres out meant the saving tackle from Garan Evans counted for nothing. When soon to be saviour Tim Stimpson converted, the Tigers had the lead for the first time in the match 10-9.
Leicester were not going to relinquish their grip on the coveted Heineken Cup without a fight, and as the game moved into the final quarter, Leicester turned the screw. Ellis and Healy were pulling the strings, and so nearly set Tuilangi and then his replacement Leon Lloyd up for darts to the corner. Attacks were coming from all over the park - a 30 metre dash from a desperate looking Martin Corry nearly unlocked the door- but again the Scarlet defensive wall was impenetrable.
The familiar Welsh anthem of 'Bread of Heaven' began to ring around the city ground, and it really did look like the Welsh underdogs were going to pull off a famous victory. As the clock ticked down Martyn Madden was penalised in a seemingly unthreatening position.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man. And England full back Tim Stimpson showed the kind of strength of character that epitomises the Leicester tigers as his magnificent 58m kick somehow went over;
"Johhno [Martin Johnson] said go for the corner- but I felt I had the range- so I said the ref. I'll kick it- before Johnno had a chance to tell him different!'
"It hit the post, then the bar and went over- so somebody up there likes us!" said a jubilant Stimpson immediately after the game.
Understandably, Llanelli head coach Gareth Jenkins was in entirely different mood,
'We' re just devastated- there's no words to describe this feeling. We've got to regroup and pull ourselves together and remember we've got other things to play for."
Defeat for Llanelli in the cruellest of ways, a particularly cruel defeat as it mirrors the defeat by Northampton in the 1999 Heineken cup semi-final. But Leicester have again showed their class, and it will be the Tigers, not the Scarlets, who will face Munster in the Millennium stadium on May 25th.
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Go to www.wru.co.uk/tryourgame for more information
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