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Respected rivals play prominent part in Europe

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There was a massive contrast between the Thomond Park of last year and the Thomond Park that Tigers visited in 2007. And not just in terms of the architecture.

In the final fixture played in the original stadium back during 2006/07, Tigers famously became the first away team to win on Thomond Park turf in European competition.

It was an historic evening for visiting players, coaches and fans, though it was meant to be one for the hosts.
It was one of those ‘I was there’ nights and, whatever else happens, the memory will live large in all who shared in it.
The Tig, for example, still recalls the expression on skipper Martin Corry’s face in the warm-up, a massive smile showing just how much he was loving the approaching challenge. A Tigers banner on the packed terrace, an early run from under his own posts by Dan Hipkiss, a delicate chip over the Irish defence by fly-half Ian Humphreys, a lineout steal from Leo Cullen and, of course, Geordan’s try are among the other fond memories of the evening. Less fondly, all who shared in it will remember the downpour, though it would have had to assume more monsoon proportions to dampen the post-match celebrations.
The home fans played their part in a big night too and were just as welcoming post-match as they had been leading up to it, though it could not have been easy.
Perhaps it was an acknowledgement that Munster had had their nights too. The European Cup has played a massive role in taking them to the heights they have enjoyed in the last two decades, not least in lifting the trophy twice and a series of legendary games for their heroes.
Last season was a challenging one for Munster and there were some restless sections in the home support as Tigers celebrated victory in a first visit to the new-look stadium. In doing so, Tigers became the first team to win there twice in Europe and now account for half of Munster’s Thomond Park defeats in the competition.
Like Leicester, expectations in Limerick and Cork are always high, and now 12 months on, in the wake of the tragic death of coach Anthony Foley – a back-row legend in Munster’s European Cup-winning years and whose influence is only now being fully appreciated by the outside world – Munster have “rediscovered their mojo” as Cockers describes it.

That makes for another huge challenge in a compeittive pool, while also providing welcome news for the rest of the club game.

The magic of the European Cup has been built on the strength of clubs like Munster and Leicester Tigers, on home grounds like Thomond Park and Welford Road, and on the special moments their players and supporters create each year. Whatever happens in a new series of contests over the next 10 days, the occasion home or away is unlikely to be forgotten.