What an opening five minutes! It blew away our nerves and got the 16th man aka the Red Army into the game from the start. Two line-outs stolen in quick succession gave Munster plenty of possession and territory. The highlights reel does not do justice to the first try as it focuses on the final few phases but there were twenty and I checked that every player was involved on at least 1 occasion, sometimes as ball carriers, other times to clear out the ruck, protect the ball and prevent a turnover throughout twenty phases. Even captain Peter O’Mahony who had injured his shoulder in the first line out (but played on until the 18th minute) was involved twice – initially securing the ball when the line-out was stolen and again when the phases were in the teens he was there to protect the ball. At times it was frantic, all hands on deck. Damien Varley and Dave Foley took a turn at scrum half, Ian Keatley seemed to pop up everywhere until finally he passed the ball to Zebo who looped it over to Keith Earls as he was tackled. Keith scored the opening try, the crowd went wild! Then we realised that unlike the Northampton game (with its 40+ phases of similar intensity which resulted in a match winning drop goal) that this time we had to endure another 75 minutes of the game and could not collapse in a heap! There was more supporting, encouraging, singing, cheering, chanting, clapping and flag waving to be done! In addition to providing helpful advice to the assistance referees! Would we last the pace? Next up Ian Keatley converted the try in the face of a strong wind from a challenging angle and we were just settling down again when a mistake was made from the restart to gift Toulouse 3 points. Oh dear!
Munster hit back and kept the pressure on Toulouse to make their tackles. When they were penalised for going offside Keatley converted to bring the score to 10-3. In the meantime Peter continued to play on but he could not tackle with his injured shoulder and we worried that Toulouse would target him and make the injury worse and potentially score. Guy Noves the Toulouse coach seemed to have a sympathetic word with Peter as he left the pitch to a thunderous round of applause. Donncha O’Callaghan had been warming up on the side-line but Donncha likes to keep warmed up throughout as he waits to be unleashed when required. Luckily we had a specialist backrow ready to come on. CJ Stander had been excellent in the game at the Aviva the previous week and on this, his 24th birthday he was to give us all great cause for celebration.
More pressure applied through mauls and scrums, forced Toulouse to continue to defend. Murray nearly broke from one such maul to score but from the resultant 5m scrum Munster earned another 3 points from a penalty. At 13-3 things were looking great but Toulouse reminded us that they are four times European champions and had come to win by forcing Munster to make errors in the second quarter as they settled into the game and kept the scoreboard ticking over. 13-6, 13-9, Luke McAlister was flawless with the boot when the penalty opportunities were presented. There was an impressive feat by the Red Army when the full-throated “Fields of Athenry” which had been ringing out around the stadium was dramatically hushed to the customary silence for one of those Toulouse penalties. A far cry from the Mexican wave at the Aviva.
Some media reports seemed to imply that Toulouse did not turn up but that does not do credit to either team. Tell that to Camara who made 12 tackles or to Medard who got up and played on after a crunching tackle by Felix Jones had left both needing medical attention. While Gear fumbled a cross field kick Keith Earls was there to make the tackle to keep Toulouse on the back foot. Toulouse had looked relaxed in the warm-up, taking in the atmosphere by jogging around their half of the pitch twice to show the supporters who had packed the terraces early that they would not be intimidated by the famous atmosphere of Thomond Park. However, nothing could have prepared them for the way Munster unleashed 110% passion, ferocity and disciplined aggressive defence and attack on them. It is not surprising that they were left reeling. As the game went on you could often look around the pitch at a break in play and see Toulouse players struggling to their feet after more sustained “warfare.” They must have wondered where it came from. As Paul O’Connell’s honest criticism of Munster after the recent loss to Leinster indicated Munster had not reached anything like those heights this season.
Munster finished the half as they had started, deep in Toulouse territory after yet another maul. An unfortunate knock on of the pass from Laulala to Jones let Toulouse off the hook and we all had 15 minutes to catch our breath. I was optimistic that the strong wind which would be in Munster’s favour in the second half would see us through.
If Munster had been quick out of the blocks in the first half they redoubled their efforts after the break. Unleash the mauls of hell! Even Keith Earls got in on the act with the forwards.
From the restart Medard kicked out the ball, O’Connell secured the line-out just outside the Toulouse 22m line and the pack made their way unrelentingly forward. Dave Foley leading from the front, sometimes marching along, other times pulling the others behind him to within 3m of the try line. From there Murray broke off and almost made the line but Dave Kilcoyne made sure of it and Keatley added the extras, all within the first two minutes of the second half! Toulouse pushed deep into Munster territory only to throw a loose pass which Keith Earls pounced on and kicked from his own 22m to the Toulouse 22m with the chasing players forcing Medard to kick the ball into touch. Could they repeat their earlier success from such a line-out? You bet! This time it was CJ Stander who scored, showing his great strength to get through the tackles as the picture below shows.
Jubilation broke out on the terrace, we were in heaven at 27-9 but as the anthem Stand Up and Fight advises.. you have to keep going until you hear the bell or in rugby the final whistle. The strains of the Fields of Athenry rang out again but referee Nigel Owens was not happy with the scrummaging and lost patience with the props, sending Dave Kilcoyne and Yohan Montes to the sinbin. As the scrum had not been completed both sides needed to bring on replacement props so John Ryan was sent forth with Tommy O’Donnell having to join Kilcoyne in the sinbin for the ten minute duration. As a result James Downey moved into position behind Ryan to add his weight to the scrum which Munster won.
Toulouse made changes with Lionel Beauxis and Clement Poitrenaud bringing renewed vigour to the Toulouse backline. It seemed to pay off with Hosea Gear breaking down the east side, evading several tackles to score a try. The scoreline of 27-16 gave them hope of a revival but when the props returned from the sinbin Kilcoyne won a penalty which Keatley converted to extend the lead again (30-16). Keith Earls continued to be a thorn in Toulouse’s side, chasing another ball to almost score his second try but the resultant restart will give that Toulouse player nightmares and a tough time in the match review sessions… the ball dropped about a metre outside their 22m line to be pounced on by Kilcoyne and Duncan Casey and before Toulouse could react to their own blunder the ball had passed to Tommy O’Donnell who offloaded to Casey Laulala to score another try… the bonus point was secured as someone quipped… Toulouse regrouped behind the goalposts as Keatley attempted the conversion. I wondered if they were having a moment like that Munster had when they first played Toulouse in the very early days of the competition and at such a discussion vowed to “keep it under 50” (points). That was the gulf in class back then!
The pep talk seemed to work as they had an opportunity to show that they could also maul, and from a good position Joe Tekori got over the line to score despite three Munster defenders hanging out of him. The score was 35-23 but from the restart Munster were back on the front foot. Simon Zebo chased the high ball and put the receiver under pressure deep in Toulouse territory. The reinforcements arrived and harried Toulouse until CJ Stander won a valuable turnover which ended up back in the same corner where it had started with Zebo’s chase and who was there to finish it off but Zebo! The sixth and final try reminded me of the first in that there were multiple phases and great interplay between forwards and backs with the final touches coming from a lovely offload from JJ Hanrahan inside to Paul O’Connell who with the last play of the game scored the 6th try for Munster which was converted. Cue delirium!
Keatley converted and Nigel Owens blew the final whistle. Toulouse were clapped off the pitch, very few people left the stadium. We all wanted to savour the moment and salute our team, our heroes who had surpassed our hopes and expectations.. well for most of us. George had a bet with his Leinster colleagues that Munster would win by 20! The team also wanted to share the moment with their friends, family and supporters.
- Only 4 penalties conceded by Munster of which 3 were kicked.
- 100% success rate on mauls and rucks
- 83% success on own line-out versus 43% for Toulouse
- CJ Stander made the most tackles (10) for Munster, which is even more impressive when you consider he missed almost the first quarter of the game. He was awarded with the Man of the Match award but in truth this was a superb team performance!
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls (Gerhard van den Heever 67), Casey Laulala, James Downey (JJ Hanrahan 66), Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams 75); Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley (Duncan Casey 55), BJ Botha (John Ryan 75); Dave Foley (Donncha O’Callaghan 60), Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (Capt) (CJ Stander), Tommy O’Donnell (John Ryan 49-59), James Coughlan. Replacements: Duncan Casey, John Ryan, Alan Cotter, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever.
Toulouse: Maxime Medard; Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Gael Fickou, Hosea Gear; Luke McAlister, Jano Vermaak; Gurthro Steenkamp, Christopher Tolofua, Yohan Montes; Yoann Maestri, Patricio Albacete (Capt); Yacouba Camara, Joe Tekori, Louis Picamoles. Replacements: Jaba Bregvadze, Cyril Baille, Schalk Ferreira, Romain Millo-Chulsky, Gilian Galan, Jean-Marc Doussain, Lionel Beauxis, Clement Poitrenaud.
Most of the blog photographs arise from a collaboration with fellow supporter and amateur photographer Daryl Feehely, but this week Daryl also wrote his own blog which is well worth checking out: Daryls’ blog along with his larger collection of photos from the day.
During the week we had watched replays of the previous encounters, all in the knock out stages of the competition, marvelling anew at the super team try from 2000 completed by O’Gara and the more unusual score by John Hayes, a far cry from the first encounter in 1996 when Munster failed to keep it within 50 points. The DVD of the 2008 final, our most recent encounter was reminded us of how close the game could be. Toulouse would be looking for revenge. It also reminded us of how much the team has changed with only Donncha O’Callaghan surviving since the game in 2000. Additionally, only Paul O’Connell, Denis Hurley, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan are still involved since the 2008 victory. We had wondered how would this new Munster generation play against a team full of internationals and their budget of 35m? The answer was an emphatic very well indeed!
Observations on the day.
Like many children on Christmas morning I could not sleep and was on the road from Dublin by 8.15. Since I arrived well before the gates opened I decided to check out a shoe sale I had become aware of from a posting of this picture on facebook – I love a bargain! – so I figured out where Sarsfield Street was and went to see what they had in my size. I was impressed to be known by name as a result of the facebook tagging and made my purchase, returning after the game to collect the MBTs as it is not a good idea to have baggage on the terrace especially when a full house is expected.
This was my first time being there before the gates opened! While we were waiting we met these 2 Frenchmen, Fabien a Munster supporter and his friend Sebastian a Toulouse supporter. Fabien was not the only French supporter of Munster there for the special occasion.
I wondered how slowly the 2 hours would pass prior to kick-off but the usual suspects were present and there was plenty to discuss including my first hand account of the B&I Cup game the previous night in Dublin (see blog here) The grounds team who had the pitch in excellent condition were applying the finishing touches. Rob Penney walked the perimeter of the pitch about 70 minutes before kickoff, before the teams emerged to warm-up and seemed genuinely touched and taken aback by the spontaneous round of applause he received from both East and West terraces. His contribution to Munster rugby is appreciated. Then we had a chance to watch the warm-up and marvel at the size of some of the players. Toulouse jogged around to chants of “Mun-ster, Mun-ster” and McAllister was made aware that any missed kicks at goal were being noted. Imelda asked the MRSC folks who sit in front of our section if they had any empty boxes from the free flags they were distributing and they were provided in order to give us something dry to stand on as there was a bit of a puddle against the wall. Problem solved!
The MRSC choir were joined again by Gaelscoil Aogain from Castleisland, Co. Kerry who performed “Roar” and also Irish trad/rock group SEO LINN entertained us.
The two mascots were also entertaining especially when they collaborated for a rousing version of “Stand Up and Fight”
At half time we also had the first ever all girls game of minis as the under 15s from Thurles RFC took on Mallow RFC for an entertaining game which I believe Mallow won. We often see girls playing on mixed teams in the half time minis but this was a new piece of history.
A lot of the pre and post match and half time action was captured by Downtown, including the Rob Penney walkabout and things I had forgotten like the 15 million attendees ad.
Non supporters often marvel at the lengths the Red Army will go to so I thought I would include this:
Story of a Desperate Supporter looking for a Ticket Fairy
Social media was his weapon of choice, entering lots of competitions mostly retweets.
Lifestyle Sports had a competition looking for motivational quotes and messages of support for the team, its fair to say he sent in a good few.
@BGearyToyota wanted Twitter messages sent to Toulouse #thisisourtown and attach a pic of Felix Jones. He did that and then tweeted every member of the Toulouse team for good measure.
@LimLive95fm looking for #munstersbiggestfan so he sent in a picture of a load of signed jerseys plus one of the Munster tattoo on his shin bone (not the best place to get a tattoo) so he felt he had a great chance in that competition.
Next came the Joe.ie and lifestyle sports competition to find the golden ticket. A few clues given so he skipped lunch and drove around Limerick running into all the stores like a madman shouting “I want to rumble with lifestyle sports”.
Time was running out when Ticket Fairy @JMNeethling made his day! The moral of this fairytale is never give up but do your best to make it happen! Now his search for an all expenses trip to Marseilles can commence 🙂
Those on the west terrace can look for themselves here:
And from the other side…