It is official, Thomond was voted the best rugby stadium in the world during the summer. A minor miracle given the fact that was not even included in the shortlist originally but due to popular demand was added and went on to claim top spot. The Red Army ensured as much – it only got 90% of the votes!
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The North and South terraces (behind the goal posts) are uncovered while the East and West terraces get a lot of protection from the elements as the roof of the stands comes out over the terrace. If the wind is blowing the wrong way you can still get wet but that does not happen too often. It can be colder up in the stands and you are further from the action but your seat is reserved so you don’t need to come so early.
Both east and west terraces are split in two (north and south ends) to allow the teams to enter/leave through the tunnels under the stand. On the west side you can only move freely within half the length of the pitch. However it is first come first served so if you want a good vantage point especially if you have any children with you who want a good view get in early. Otherwise you risk being behind the try line at the back of the terrace for the games when it is approaching a full house. For the less well attended league games they close the north and south terraces to have a bigger crowd either side.
For high demand games additional seating is added to the front section of the north and south terraces to increase the ground’s capacity.
Players enter and leave the pitch on the East side while the choir, soloists and most on the pitch interviews also take place there so you can see more of that activity on the east side. Some people like to be on the north half of the east or west terrace to watch Munster warming up, the away team warms up on the south side.
The half-time minis teams enter and leave on the west side. The media seats are in the West Stand so you often see the commentators there.
The big TV screen is situated at the North West end.
The Munster museum and family zone are located outside the East stand.
It is a nice walk out to the stadium from the city centre, over the Shannon, seeing the impressive King John’s castle and there are also Park and Ride options on match days. Parking in LIT costs €5 per car and is a short walk to the grounds. It is situated at the roundabout just beyond Thomond heading out of Limerick.
If visiting the city there are plenty of sights worth visiting. Check out this blog by Abroad and Beyond for ideas.
This video gives you an idea of the matchday experience
For the pre-season friendly against Gloucester my normal haunt the West Terrace was closed and those who braved the weather were all on the East side of the pitch. It was a bit eerie looking through the misty rain at the emptiness opposite but keeping the 5,000 or so supporters closer together helped to create a better atmosphere rather than letting people scatter throughout the stadium. We did have a better view also of the pre-match pitchside interview with Simon Zebo and could see other senior players behind us including Felix Jones and new captain Peter O’Mahony.
There were some Gloucester fans near us on the terrace who seemed to be enjoying themselves, maybe doing some recon for their Round 2 pool game in Thomond in October.
The famous Miracle match from January 2003 was against Gloucester in the final pool game of that season. Munster were playing for pride, for their home record and supporters. It was so unlikely that they could qualify for the quarter finals that the permutations had not even been discussed in the media and many of the team were also unaware that not only did they need to win by 4 tries but also by 27 points so that when Ronan O’Gara lined up the conversion and clinched the win with exactly the required margin, many people still did not grasp the ramifications… It all added to the legend of Thomond Park. For those who enjoy the nostalgia the full game is available on YouTube
The persistent rain on Saturday made conditions tough for players and those at the front of the terrace alike. There was no big screen and at times it was difficult to tell who was who, especially in the second half when many of the substitutes did not have a number on their jerseys. The ball was greasy and pitch slippery which lead to the squandering of several promising positions but it was encouraging to see the players trying to play and getting into those positions in the first place. Munster crossed the line twice – Johne Murphy was called back for a forward pass and Duncan Williams also thought he had scored. Andrew Conway made a great break before being bundled into touch injuring his leg in the process. He got it strapped up and played on but was limping badly. Gloucester scored at the other end, when the Munster player failed to clear his line. Two minutes later Conway was about to be replaced when Ian Keatley kicked a lovely cross field kick and there was time for another Thomond miracle as Andrew managed to ignore the pain, turn on the gas and score his first try for Munster on his debut. He was then replaced by Ronan O’Mahoney. Casey Laulala was busy making several notable tackles and was involved with his centre partner Ivan Dineen in the second try for Munster scored by Denis Hurley as half time approached – Keatleys conversion brought the score to 14-5.
Gloucester opened the scoring in the second half but Munster responded quickly with JJ Hanrahan going in under the posts a few minutes later to score the third Munster try. A raft of changes were made at half time and throughout the second half. This caused some confusion as many players did not have a number on their jerseys and the announcers could not keep up with the frequent substitutions as some players even came back on for a second go – CJ Stander returned to score his first try of the new season and while it was more a pick and go covering a matter of inches compared to his glorious try scoring sprint that was his second try of last season it was great to see him resuming his try scoring exploits.
The scrum seemed to deteriorate but considering all the changes it was not unexpected to see some errors creeping in. The new scrum call will take a bit of time to get used to but it did seem to reduce resets and Munster looked to turn the scrum on several occasions, some of which were successful. Given the absence of BJ Botha and Dave Kilcoyne it was good to see the scrum performing well in poor conditions. I was pleased to see Stephen Archer come on for the last quarter of the game after his injury at the end of last season.
Any Royalty watchers present may have noticed the second half entry to the pitch of Mike Tindall a great player in his day and now maybe better known as the Queens grandson-in-law, in addition to his dwarf throwing skills.
Munster Rugby have posted video highlights of the game Munster v Gloucester Friendly August 2013
My position on the East Terrace provided better views of the players as they entered and especially left the pitch as this photo demonstrates.
As I left the terrace after the game I saw a small crowd by a walkway blocked off while the remaining Gloucester players headed down to their changing room so the closer proximity to players could be considered an advantage of being on the East Terrace. It was noticeable last season that the players often came over after a game to salute those of us on the west side so that provides some compensation, along with the close -ups provided by the big screen. It is hard to judge how the banter compares between the east and west terraces given that there were many displaced west siders on the east side for this game.
What you think?
After the game I noticed some people huddling by the wall near the exit, trying to warm themselves up with the hot air passing through the AC system fans! After our lovely summer it was a pity that the game was played on such a wet day. Hopefully we will be luckier in Cork for the friendly next Friday night against London Irish.
Munster team v Gloucester: Denis Hurley; Andrew Conway, Casey Laulala , Ivan Dineen, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Mike Sherry, John Ryan; Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland; CJ Stander, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.
Replacements from: Niall Scannell, Duncan Casey, Alan Cotter, Stephen Archer, Paddy Ryan, Ian Nagle, Dave Foley, Danny Kenny, Willie Ryan, Shane Buckley, Barry O’Mahony, Cathal Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, Johnny Holland, Cian Bohane, Mike Kelleher, Niall Kenneally, Ronan O’Mahony.