Rugby: Sydney stands up to cheer Munster’s greatest story

WHEN Tom Kiernan was preparing his Munster side to play the All-Blacks 25 years ago there must have been a lot of different thoughts running through his mind.

Most of them, perhaps, involved some kind of damage limitation plan; how to ensure that his side weren’t embarrassed against the foremost rugby side of the era.

It probably cost the Cork man more than one or two sleepless nights in the run-up to the game, but it’s safe to assume that it never entered his consciousness that what he was about to plot would eventually end-up on stage in the Sydney Opera House.

However, take a stroll around Circular Quay towards the Sydney’s most famous landmark, and amid the Japanese tourists snapping away like paparazzi, stands the proof.

A giant poster proclaims that ‘Alone it Stands - The Greatest Underdog Victory in Sporting History’ is now showing under the famous curved domes of the Opera House and you realise that Munster’s defeat of the All-Blacks is a tale with unique pulling-power.

And indeed, travelling power. John Breen’s play - put on by an Australian production company in this instance - had already toured Australia to huge success this time last year.

There’s nothing the Aussies like more than hearing a tale about how the mighty All-Blacks were over-turned, and the production played to full houses in New South Wales and Melbourne every night, although admittedly they were small houses.

This time, to coincide with the last four of the World Cup, the production has been staged again but this time in a far grander setting.

The Opera House was built and conceived in 1956 after Sydney’s fathers decided that after the Melbourne Olympics, it needed something to do something to force the world to sit-up and take notice.

Building-work started in 1958 but amazingly, due to the complexities of the stunning roof, the venue was completed until 1972. But it’s now safe to say that the building has stolen Melbourne’s thunder.

It’s been almost impossible to get a ticket for ‘Alone it Stands’ over the past two weeks according to Karly Radcliffe, the publicity manager for the production.

“It’s really been amazing,” she said. “I’m involved with a lot of productions at the Opera House but I’ve never quite seen such a steady demand for tickets almost every night of the week.

The final week of performances has been sold out for 10 days and all that’s left now are standing room only tickets.

Understandably, the Rugby World Cup has meant that a lot of people would have liked to see it, but I’m pretty confident that it the play was on at any time of the year it would still sell-out. It’s a very quirky story that people can relate to.”

And relate to it they can.

The Friday night performance of the play was attended by a fair scattering of groups, from Sydney’s society circle to rugby fans in town for the World Cup semi-finals. A group of Gloucester fans - in town to support their English prop-forward Phil Vickery - could perhaps understand the play more than most.

“It reminds me very much of a chilling day last January,” said Phil Cox. “But it’s a great story and with history like that behind them, it’s no wonder Munster can come up with performances like they did against us. I can wait to see the play about when Munster trounced us.”

“It’s an extremely clever play with a story-line that reels just about everybody in,” John Kimber, an Australian, admitted afterwards.

“I’m not much of a sports fan myself but in all my 20 years attending plays at the Opera House, I can honestly say that this is the only one where I’ve stood up and cheered and punched my fists with delight. It’s essentially a modern day David versus Goliath tale. My heart is pounding just standing here talking about it.”

Twelve-thousand miles away from where it happened, and 25-years later, the story of the day Munster beat the All-Blacks is still thrilling audiences.

Now if only somebody could get around to writing that Gloucester play.

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