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Rugby Union: NOT MUN OF THE FINEST; HEINEKEN CUP: O'Gara on hot form, but Paul wins the battle of the boot; GLOUCESTER........ 22 MUNSTER.............. 11 Giants Gloucester take the first leg.

Byline: SIMON EVANS

THIS was far from the result Munster were looking for, but Anthony Horgan still sent Munster home to Limerick with their heads held high as they look forward to next week's re-run.

The Fields of Athenry were clearly audible above the Shed's characteristic din when Irish International Horgan scooped scrum-half Peter Stringer pass to go over in the corner seven minutes from time.

A try apiece at Kingsholm - with only Gloucester centre Henry Paul's boot the difference - will fill Irish coach Alan Gaffney with confidence as he prepares his men to face the Cherry and Whites at Thomond Park next Saturday.

An earlier try by Gloucester winger James Simpson-Daniel changed the course of a game for Munster who had threatened a shock win.

The England speedster flashed inside Munster's John Kelly to pounce on Paul's cheeky grubber kick to steal a 6-3 lead the visitors had enjoyed for just two minutes secured by Ronan O'Gara's penalty after the break.

Paul's antics failed to penetrate the Munster defence in the first half - save for a penalty which O'Gara equalled.

But after Simpson-Daniel's try Gloucester found their feet and began to dominate playing the bulk of the second period in the Irishmens' half.

Three Paul penalties stretched Gloucester's lead as Munster began to fall under Kingsholm's spell - but they didn't come easily.

Paul signing off with an audacious drop goal two minutes from time moment after Irish lock Donncha O'Callaghan was sin-binned for an off the ball incident.

A 16-35 deafeat at Kingsholm in the Heineken Cup last year turned into a 33-3 win for Munster weeks later at Thomond Park sending Gloucester out of the competition.

As a consequence Cherry and Whites chief Nigel Melville was undertsandably wary of his visitors - all but one of their starting line-up internationals.

Doubly resolved too was the Gloucester boss to avoid any of his game plan being left in taxis - as goes the rumour surrounding last year's trip to Limerick.

With nine points from an available 10 in their two European outings this year Munster came to Gloucestershire with respect of their own for their hoasts - topping Pool 5 with 10 points and savouring last week's 28-18 win at Leicester.

Threats posted on the Gloucester website by Irish fans last week against Gloucester fly-half Duncan McRae, who brutalised Munster stand-off Ronan O'Gara's face with his fists when the British and Irish Lions played New South Wales Waratahs in 2000, simply added to the hype of the biggest rugby clash since the World Cup final. O'Gara need eight stitches after the wiry Aussie punched him repeatedly and was banned for seven weeks.

A reminder of England's moment of glory came in the form of injured Gloucester prop Phil Vickery who paraded the Webb Eillis trophy around the ground moments before the game.

Kingsholm's famous Shed was full an hour and a half before kick-off as Cherry and Whites fans prepared for their Irish rivals to take the pitch. The scars barely evident today, a fresh-faced O'Gara marshalled his backs division brilliantly in the first half.

That Gloucester failed to score a try in the opening period was tribute to Munster's rock-solid defence. Despite the power and skill of a well-oiled Gloucester back line Munster's defence stood firm sending the sides in 3-3 at the break.

This courtesy of a Paul penalty awarded two minutes in when Munster strayed off-side answered by O'Gara's effort nine minutes later when Gloucesxter failed to release at the ruck. Finally the try came for Gloucester at the start of the second half - only to be answered by Horgan who had threatened all game when given the chance.

Having been blamed for his side's loss at Thomond Park last year Paul came good yesterday - and the stage is set for a thrilling decider in Ireland next week.

GLOUCESTER: Tries - Simpson-Danie, Cons - Paul, Pens - Paul 4, DGs - Paul.

MUNSTER: T=ries - Horgan, Pens - O'Gara 2.

Att: 11,000

CAPTION(S):

GLOS COATING: The marauding Henry Paul hands off the Irishmen's John Kelly at Kingsholm yesterday; MUNSTER MASHED: Rob Henderson is stopped in his tracks by the combined efforts of Gloucester's Henry Paul and Jake Boer
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 11, 2004
Words:696
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