What a heart-warming, respectful tribute to Anthony Foley! In their triangular formation, the Maori All Black team stood for a moment with heads bowed before their captain Ash Dixon, flanked by 3 of his lieutenants stepped forward to the halfway line as the Munster team lined up opposite them, shoulder to shoulder. Reverentially he laid out a black shirt, bowed and retreated to commence their Timatanga Haka. As we realised what was happening we burst into applause and then quietened down to hear the haka.
Opposite us we could see their management team on the sideline participating in the tribal dance also. The haka is always special but this one seemed to be especially emotionally charged. Once completed as we cheered and applauded he stepped forward again and carefully folded the shirt, like you would see a military officer folding a flag, before presenting it to the two young Foley boys, Tony and Dan who had come out to midfield with Tyler Bleyendaal to receive it. Regular collaborator Daryl captured terrific photos of the haka and you can view his photo collection from the night here (along with plenty of action and crowd shots) while John captured it on video from the East Terrace:
The Munster haka in 2008 had been something truly special, energising the crowd and setting the tone for that great battle. It still sends shivers down my spine to watch it back and I believe that the same will be true of this occasion in years to come. Even writing these words I have to wipe a tear away as in my mind’s eye I replay the event. The Maori All Blacks did not just go viral through that act but they created a unique, special moment that will live long in the memory of all those fortunate to be present and those who saw it on TV on in their social media feeds. I have written before of feeling privileged to be present at some Munster events and this is up there with them.
Unfortunately, the rain which had stopped as I drove through Tipperary a few hours earlier, returned with a vengeance before kick-off. We weren’t too badly affected on the west terrace but in the swirling wind it would sometimes have us reaching to pull up our hoods again. I felt sorry for the players and officials and those on the exposed north and south terraces which were packed for this sold-out game. We gathered in our usual place, Sinead and John who had driven from Waterford, Mark who had taken the train from Cork, Imelda and Tony who had walked down the road from their home in Limerick and were joined by their son Brendan who had availed of Paul’s ticket since he could not travel. We chatted about the weather and the traffic challenges of getting there on a Friday evening; the great Ireland win in Chicago, and call-ups for more Munster players for the Canada game.
It was super to see Rua Tipoki interviewed on the pitch-side and a video montage of his time in Munster on the big screen pre-game. John captured some of his interview in his video clip below.
The honourable mention for supporters Joe and Dee who were attending their first game together as a married couple after a mini-moon ensured they would be present for the game (they married the previous Saturday) was another nice touch.
The flame throwers were in front of us and it was great to feel their heat as they were tested out to the sound of the Hit Machine and during a rousing version of “Stand Up and Fight”. Oh for a marshmallow and a long stick 🙂 The Maoris emerged to a warm greeting which was raised multiple notches to welcome the Munster team amidst more flames and fireworks. As the smoke cleared it revealed an atmospheric fog-like scene as the teams lined up for the haka.
Missing 11 players who would make our European Cup team (injury allowing) including Tyler, I wondered if our younger players, especially the Academy lads would be able for the Maoris and the occasion itself? I tweeted before leaving Dublin that they would #GiveItSocks, in reference to the great idea of each player wearing the Club socks of a different Munster team. I was very proud to see captain Tommy O’Donnell lining out in the socks of my home town Thurles RFC. The guard of honour included the minis in the shirts of Munster and the Maori ABs while along the west sideline each of the 63 Munster clubs were represented in their colourful shirts.
It was clear from the off that the team were indeed up to giving it socks, or maybe welly was more appropriate given the weather. Playing with the strong wind the Maoris tried to pin Munster back only to be met with a wall of red shirts. Both teams also resorted to a kicking game at times and with the conditions so wet there were plenty of spilled balls. After all the rain the ground was very heavy and made the bounce of the ball less unpredictable. The Maori ABs won a kickable penalty but failed to score from it so shortly after when Munster won a succession of penalties they kicked for touch. The maul was put into action early and won another penalty also kicked to touch, this time much closer to the line and the outcome seemed inevitable.
The only question was who would score it and I was delighted to see it was Niall Scannell who grounded the ball after fourteen minutes. He has been in great form all season. The conversion in those conditions proved too difficult.
The Maoris then hit back and when they scored two tries in quick succession through James Lowe and Ambrose Curtis converted by Black, showing their excellent pace and handling / offloading skills it looked ominous. Their number eight Akira Ioane caught my eye as he had a big hand in their second try, gathering a kick and charging back at Munster.
However, the Munster lads did not drop their heads. A spilled ball was hoovered up and a counter-attack kicked off through Darren O’Shea, Jaco Taute and Darren Sweetnam kicking ahead. It was fast, furious and frenetic and wreaked havoc in the defence as the Maori AB tackled players without the ball. Paul behind me was looking for two yellow cards but after consulting with the TMO the young-looking referee awarded a penalty try and sin-binned # 6 Reed Prinsep for pulling down Rory Scannell and depriving him of his chance to get on the scoresheet with his brother. Ian Keatley kicked the conversion and at 12-14 with ten minutes remaining and a man advantage into the strong wind things were looking up!
A word for Peter McCabe who came on in the 25th minute to replace the injured James Cronin in only his second appearance for the senior team. Like the other young players he rose to the occasion and ensured the scrum and maul platforms remained solid weapons in the team’s arsenal.
On a night when reputations were enhanced and new names stood up and were counted, showing great signs of promise for the future, Robin Copeland was awarded man of the match. He has struggled for game time in the very competitive back row and in recent weeks has seen more action in the second row. Back at his preferred number 8 position he provided great leadership, leading the defensive line at times and showing great attacking flair at others. It was his tackle which turned over possession to Munster to set up their third try.
The ball was moved swiftly to the wing where Darren Sweetnam, back from his week training with Ireland in Carton House, weighed up his options and selected to kick ahead. After being treated to examples of his pace this season we roared him on, knowing he had the ability to chase his kick from his own half. Slowing slightly to kick ahead again he still managed to burn the chasing defender and scored! While he did not make the Irish team for this weekend he is definitely on Joe’s radar and has become a firm favourite with the supporters as like Zebo and Earls he has a bit of magic about him. The half time score was 17-14.
The minis took to the pitch wearing Munster and Maori AB jerseys and enjoyed their time despite the conditions.
Early in the second half Munster won a penalty which they opted to kick to extend their lead to 20-14 but it was still not a “safe” lead given what we had seen in the first half.
A high tackle was penalised with a yellow card for Duncan Williams and the response by the team was magnificent! The Maori’s sought to take advantage and kicked for touch. The Munster maul defence was superb! They drove the visitors backwards and won back possession. Ian Keatley was away only to be called back for a knock-on. With Duncan on the bright yellow chair, Ian had stepped in at scrumhalf with Rory Scannell slotting in at ten. To me, this was a huge turning point in the game as Munster upped their game to ensure that no points were conceded during that ten minute spell. Indeed Munster turned defence into attack and Scannell put in 2 great kicks to pin the Maori ABs back.
Ronan O’Mahony continued his great form from last weekend and was denied cruelly from what looked to be a super try or two. His support run for a super Robin Copeland break petered out when Robin failed to get the pass to set him away; minutes later he did appear to cross but instead he was penalised which seemed very harsh to us watching the replay. Another grubber kick through by Keatley was also well contested by Ronan and Andrew Conway and won a 5m scrum to Munster. Finally, the breakthrough we needed came when Duncan Williams put in a super kick which Ronan chased hard and got the try his efforts deserved.
Andrew Conway also played his part in the back three, controlling the ball in difficult conditions, chasing and claiming some great kicks – one in a key position in midfield when he seemed to be taken out in the air. Thankfully no damage done and Munster won a penalty.
More substitutes were introduced and ensured there was no let-up in the ferocity of the defence as Munster continued to hold the Maori ABs scoreless in the second half. “The Fields of Athenry” rang out as we watched the clock count down the final seconds of the game. There was a deafening roar when it went to 80 and shortly after the ball was turned over and it seemed appropriate that it was kicked out by the captain Tommy O’Donnell who had led from the front all evening to bring another enthralling chapter in the history of Munster rugby to a close.
Very few people were rushing away, even on the rain soaked terraces as we applauded both teams for their performance. The scenes of jubilation as the players celebrated and congratulated each other were special and we wanted to be part of it. The Maoris were in no rush to hit the showers. They gathered in a circle and then were applauded off before applauding off the home team. Both teams then came back out to take a lap of the pitch (in opposite directions) and acknowledge the 16th man, women and child for our contribution to the occasion. The ball boys lined up in front of us and were thanked by members of both teams. A Maori player walked by wearing a Munster scarf, another had a hat as a souvenir of the special night for all concerned.
The reputation of Munster and Thomond Park were both enhanced by proceedings. Maybe in the future a player will come from there and speak of this occasion being part of the reason for wanting to don the red jersey. Jaco Taute who has become such a towering presence was encouraged to come by Jean de Villiers and the reputation of Munster. After playing in three sold out games in a row he will surely recommend the experience when he returns to South Africa. Sugar daddies can’t buy that sense of tradition or culture for a club!
Munster Highlights including the haka and post match thoughts of try-scorers Niall Scannell and Ronan O’Mahony
I haven’t watched the full game back yet but when looking for the end minutes from one of the links I found on YouTube I enjoyed the incident in the 76th minute when the ball is kicked up to where the commentators are standing above and behind us. “Where’s Wally?” was the cry as he got a bit of slagging when he failed to gather the ball which almost hit them.
The All Blacks tweeted their post match comments of coach and captain:
I am looking forward to watching the game back during the week and seeing the great contribution made by all the team, if I had watched it before writing this the blog would be twice as long, marvelling at the maturity of the younger players like Conor Oliver yet another Academy player who appears to be on a fast track this season!
Up in the MRSC bar afterwards we were admiring James’s jersey commemorating the win from 1978.
The match was replaying on the TV screens and everyone was in good form, glad they had been there to witness the occasion. Those tickets bought way back in May when the fixture was announced ended up being priceless. Enjoy the well-deserved week off lads, we’ll be back for the Treviso game and hopefully there will be another good crowd there for that game also. How could people not fall in love with this latest generation to wear the famous red jersey?
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Munster XV: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; John Madigan, Darren O’Shea; Tommy O’Donnell – capt., Conor Oliver, Robin Copeland. Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Peter McCabe, Brian Scott, Sean O’Connor, John Foley, Te Aihe Toma, Dan Goggin, Alex Wootton.
Maori All Blacks: Marty McKenzie; Ambrose Curtis, Matt Proctor, Tim Bateman, James Lowe; Otere Black, Billy Guyton; Kane Hames, Ash Dixon Capt., Ben May; Leighton Price, Tom Franklin; Reed Prinsep, Shane Christie, Akira Ioane. Replacements: Leni Apisai, Chris Eves, Marcel Renata, Whetu Douglas, Kara Pryor, Brad Webster, Ihaia West, Jason Emery.
John’s video montage including the interview with Rua, the final whistle and the lap of the pitch