It took less than three minutes for JJ Hanrahan to change the course of Munster’s season and the time went so quickly even the Kerryman had to stop and ask what had taken place.
Hanrahan made the perfect impact for his province, coming off the bench for the injured Keith Earls in the 78th minute with his side trailing 17-13 and leaving the field two minutes and 26 seconds later having delivered the most improbable of Heineken Cup victories. It took some attacking magic to score his first Heineken Cup try but it kept Munster on track for the quarter-finals.
“Sweet feet,” were the words his coach Rob Penney had used to describe the way the 21-year-old fly-half had rounded last defender Joffrey Michel to finish the match-winning score started by himself on halfway and crafted down a five-metre channel next to the right touchline by fellow substitutes Denis Hurley and Tommy O’Donnell.
“It all happened so fast that I was asking Dinny Hurley how did it happen,” Hanrahan said.
“Luckily [Michel] stood square and then you have got two options like you do every day in training, just pick one and hope for the best.
“I suppose it just happened. A lot of it is just instinct when you are on the field and you just go with it from there.”
Munster will be grateful for Hanrahan’s finely-tuned instincts and yet Penney admitted had it not been for Earls’s injury defending the Perpignan try that looked to have sealed it for the French Catalans with two minutes to go, the subs with so much promise would not have featured at all. Instead, Earls’ collision with Michel and team-mate Hurley, meant Hanrahan was thrown in at full-back with just under two minutes left on the clock.
“I was like, ‘okay they’re going to be kicking territory here, they’re going be firing bombs on us’ and I was ‘okay we’ll have a chance to counter’ and that was what I was thinking.
“I knew there was four points in it. We needed a try. There was nothing else in it. There was nothing to lose so that probably makes it easier when you are going out there. You’re just giving it your best shot at that stage. You have nothing to lose. Try and do as best you can and hopefully something comes off and back yourself. It did, thankfully for us.”
Hanrahan was also thankful to have played his part in adding yet another chapter to Munster’s illustrious European history as the 2013 team joined the class of 2009 as rare winners at Stade Aime Giral.
“I was kind of thinking there in the team room just before we went out that Munster did it here a couple of years ago in Perpignan and they got a win. I was like ‘Jeez, it would be great if we could do something like that and be remembered as one of those teams’.
“Hopefully we’re here again, be it next year, be it five years’ time that some other young fella is coming through and they’re kind of thinking the lads before us did it and that will be great for us.
“It’s great to be involved in a team like this. Winning in France is always a tough thing to do. When pressure comes on it does strange things to people. We’re a good squad. We probably didn’t show that 100% today but even though we made mistakes we fought to the very end.
“It was a team performance and the whole team believed we could win in the last few minutes and luckily we pulled it out of the bag.”
Hanrahan has shown some resilience on an individual basis these last six weeks, having shouldered the responsibility for defeat at Edinburgh in the opening round of the Pool 6 campaign, an ill-judged chip-kick from inside his own 22 handing the Scots the opportunity to score a match-winning try at Murrayfield.
“It’s completely different, isn’t it?” Hanrahan said of his own game-changing effort against Perpignan.
“The biggest thing personally from all this for me is just in a way repaying the boys after letting them down in Edinburgh.
“Making that mistake is part of learning, part of growing, but to be able to luckily get on the end of something like that is brilliant.”
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