While the head expected a Saracens win, my heart and dreams were hoping for another heroic Munster victory. The Red Army were there in great numbers to do what they could to swing the game in Munster’s favour but Saracens proved why they are champions of Europe and of England.
Traffic nightmares on the M7 made it a stressful journey for many of the buses and cars heading to Dublin from the southern province. Thankfully, by the time the team were ready to leave the pitch after their warm-up most seats had been filled and the noise levels as we cheered the players off would give you goose bumps as would the reception they got on their return, a standing ovation with red flags being waved all over the stadium. It felt special to be part of that expression of the bond between team and supporters.
The singing, cheering, clapping, howls of protests at perceived high tackles / penalty offences, the perceivable rise in energy levels to urge on the team as the scrum or maul sought to drive forward, gasps of admiration and applause at some spectacular aerial combat under the high ball or stolen lineouts all added to the atmosphere along with the dominant red colour and flags around the arena.
Dreams and songs to sing are not enough but they do give a lift to the team and none more so that at the end of a tough defeat so it was great to see so many wait to show their support, waving flags, cheering and singing after Munster had clapped the Saracens from the pitch.
You can’t fault the endeavour of the team – things did not always work out the way they intended, be it a mis-kick, a knock-on or turnover but they worked hard for each other, for the team, for the jersey they are proud to wear and for their fans. Time and again Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo hurled themselves into the air with no thought for their own safety to secure possession. The two teams with the best defensive records in the competition again ensured no tries were conceded in the first half. Munster had plenty of possession and the territory advantage in the first half in particular but couldn’t find a way through. Forty eight times CJ Stander, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell and Dave Kilcoyne carried the ball to the Saracens. If you look at the stats on ESPN you will see how many tackles each of the Saracens pack had to make to ensure no way through for the men in red until the very end. It was scant consolation for the efforts of the team but it does make the scoreline a little more respectable. Even after CJ Stander scored the try for Munster at the death, Ian Keatley drop kicked the conversion to save time and give them a chance for another score before the final whistle as the team refused to go quietly into the night.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’56), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls (Darren Sweetnam ’64); Tyler Bleyendaal (Ian Keatley ’72), Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’53), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’61), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’64); Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Dave O’Callaghan ’53), Tommy O’Donnell (Jean Deysel ’51), CJ Stander.
SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch (Alex Lozowski ’75), Brad Barritt (captain), Sean Maitland (Chris Wyles ’63); Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth (Ben Spencer ’72); Mako Vunipola (Titi Lamositele ’72), Jamie George (Schalk Brits ’51), Vincent Koch (Petrus Du Plessis ’72); Maro Itoje (Jim Hamilton ’75), George Kruis; Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray (yellow card ’23 to ’33) (Schalk Burger ’56), Billy Vunipola.
In the post match comments of Rassie Erasmus I see that Jean Deysel sustained fractured ribs while Peter O’Mahony had to go off for a head injury assessment so I hope they will make a good recovery. Both teams put their bodies on the line and while Munster will be bitterly disappointed I don’t think this is the end of the road but rather a new work in progress. Lessons will be learnt from defeat including how to deal with the suffocating pressure exerted by the champions. While the bar has already been raised this season Saracens have shown how high the bar of European success is set.
To have secured top 4 placings in all 3 competitions in which Munster participates is a huge achievement. While the European dream is over for this season we got a lot further than recent years, despite looking like the weakest team in our pool initially, with some terrific performances while the team have had to deal with the sudden death of Anthony Foley. Another competition came to a conclusion this weekend when the B&I Cup was secured by the A team – full credit to them for the way they came back from 0-18 down to win 29-28 against Jersey Reds – see my short blog of that game here. Some of those players will continue to develop and push for places in the senior team. In the third competition, the Pro12 league only Scarlets could overtake Munster in 2nd place (with the valuable home semi-final) in the unlikely event that Munster slip up in their 2 remaining rounds so plenty left to play for yet this season.
So thanks to the team for giving us so many heroic performances, for inspiring our dreams and for occasions like today, rekindling the bonds between team and supporters. I will be back on the terraces at Thomond for the visit of Connacht and hopefully for the Pro12 semi-final this season and am signed up for 2016/17 also. A new journey started under the stewardship of Rassie Erasmus last summer and it is great to read that he will remain to oversee more progress next season after all the recent speculation.
Highlights from the BTSport site:
The post match thoughts of defence coach Jacques Nienaber:
Fellow Supporter John captured the welcome for the team bus, the warmup, the fantastic support for the team as they finished their warm up and their final lap of the arena to thank the support. It was a fantastic show of support.
PS: CJ liked my photo so much he put it on Instagram with these lovely words: cjstanderA picture worth a thousand words.
80 minutes on the clock with a brutally honest scoreboard … what stands out to me, the @munster_rugby supporters! Without a doubt THE best rugby supporters in the world… Thank you to every one who came out to support us yesterday. This is not the end, but only a chapter in our story! #redwave #munsterrugby #SUAF 📸cred: @gayl_wtview blog!