Another magical night at fortress Thomond

It just gets better and better for Rassie Erasmus and his remarkable group of Munster rugby players and their magnificent supporters!

Once again last night, they turned their beloved Thomond Park into the kind of stage on which they love to perform and absolutely blew away the highly-rated Maori All Blacks far more decisively than the 27-14 score line would suggest.

What is it about the All Black jersey that inspires Munster rugby people of every era and vintage to play way above themselves and frighten the lives out of so many members of the game’s aristocracy in the process?

That’s what happened once again on this occasion, leaving the Maori head coach Colin Cullen to graciously admit he had never encountered such a fantastic atmosphere or seen a side deprived of more than a dozen marquee players execute to such telling effect.

A close examination of the 23-man squad at Thomond Park last night strongly suggested there could not be a repeat of the many previous Munster heroics against All Black sides.

You even worried about their physical well being.

There were a few “oldies”, Duncan Williams, all of 30; Tommy O’Donnell, Ian Keatley and Robin Copeland, 29, Stephen Archer, 28.

What about, though, the academy players who qualified for the “hardly out of the cradle” category?

How would they survive against opposition renowned for their toughness and uncompromising approach?

How would they survive if thrown into the fray in the final quarter?

Back five forwards John Foley, 19, and Sean O’Connor 20 were only just out of the schools game.

Charleville’s John Madigan was there from the start. He is only 22 although he had the reassurance of knowing his father of the same name was a member of the Munster pack in a 3-3 draw with the All Blacks in 1973 and didn’t come to any harm!

Another starter, Conor Oliver, was actually a year younger and had no such back-up.

And yet all 23 went out there on a miserable evening and under fierce pressure to cover themselves in honour and glory.

Any fear of an inferiority complex given the status of the Maori was immediately dismissed as Tommy O’Donnell led by example from the get go.

Along with Oliver and Robin Copeland, imperious in dealing with Maori restarts and a whole lot more as well, formed the kind of back-row raiding party for which the province is famous.

You watched in delighted amazement as Madigan and O’Shea commanded the line-out and even though James Cronin was an early injury victim and gave way to Peter McCabe, the scrum remained solid with Niall Scannell helping himself to an early try and Stephen Archer solid as a rock.

A 5-0 lead against the wind looked like the answer to the prayers of the drenched 26, 000 packed into the stadium before two converted tries by wingers James Lowe and Ambrose Curtis brought home the message that these Maori packed a serious attacking threat and must not be underestimated.

Now two points behind, Munster came again, a clever between-his-legs pass by Oliver setting off a good, old fashioned foot rush which culminated in a well deserved penalty try.

And when the slippery ball again proved too much for a rattled Maori back-line, Darren Sweetnam underlined why he is very much in Joe Schmidt’s mind by outsprinting the highly rated Lowe and controlled superbly for try number three.

The stadium was agog at the half time whistle with Munster 17-14 ahead and the rain and wind waiting to support them on the turnover.

Had Copeland passed to the unmarked Ronan O’Mahony outside him, it might have been all over within a couple of minutes of the restart.

Instead, the left wing had to wait until the 68th minute for the score he so richly deserved. It followed a perfect kick by the admirable Duncan Williams and followed some great play by outstanding full-back Andrew Conway.

That made it 27-14 to Munster and that’s how it finished which meant among other things they had kept the Maori scoreless for a totally one-sided second half.

At the end, few if any of the saturated 26, 000 had left the stadium as they belted out the “Fields” and “Stand Up and Fight”, proving that the Red Army remains one of the greatest bands of supporters in the world but also, perhaps, one of the maddest!


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