Wednesday 7 December 2016

Miracle men add another drop of magic to legendary formula

Eamonn Sweeney hails one of the greatest scores in Irish rugby history

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 20/11/2011 | 05:00

Munster are different. Other teams, the likes of Leicester, Leinster and Toulouse, have been as successful but they'll never quite possess the same mystique which surrounds the team from Thomond Park. Perhaps it's because they don't quite share Munster's addiction to the miraculous.

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Eight years ago, the famous victory over Gloucester was dubbed 'the miracle match' yet there have been plenty of other competitors for that title. The 2000 victory in the heat over Toulouse at a time when teams from this neck of the woods simply couldn't win in France, the win over Leicester at Welford Road three years later, the pair of single-point wins over Saracens which set the whole European bandwagon rolling in the 1999/2000 season, all had something uncanny about them.

And what could have been more profoundly illogical than the province's 1978 victory over an all-conquering All Blacks side?

Yet even by their own standards last Saturday's finale against Northampton at Thomond was almost ludicrously dramatic. That Munster had to go through 41 phases before putting Ronan O'Gara in a position to strike the winning drop goal was remarkable enough but that they did so when most of those phases had seen them go either sideways or backwards spoke volumes about their ability to extract victory from the most unlikely of situations.

Even the very first phase showed the difficulty the team was in as Northampton exerted severe pressure in the scrum and only the quick reactions of Tomás O'Leary prevented the home team from turning over the ball.

Munster spent the next five minutes engaged in a kind of primeval struggle on the Northampton ten-metre line. The defence was superb and several times it looked as though the jig was up. Peter O'Mahony juggled the ball precariously, O'Gara found himself isolated, there were a couple of bone-crunching hits which could easily have forced the fatal knock-on or turnover.

Yet through it all Munster abided. Doug Howlett made a bit of ground, Paul O'Connell as always

took it on, John Hayes did his bit, Denis Leamy put in a couple of good carries and slowly, inexorably vital yards were made up.

Munster seemed like some huge organism which refused to recognise the possibility of defeat.

This is Thomond, they might have been saying, where we do what we please. And, waiting at the end of it all, was Ronan O'Gara.

It takes a very special player to really want to take the last shot. Remember Stephen Jones' reluctance to get into the pocket in the last seconds of Wales' World Cup semi-final against France? But O'Gara too is different. The day was windy, the position was never going to be perfect yet you somehow never doubted him. In that part of the game the Americans call 'winning time' there is no-one quite like the Corkman with the Sligo accent. His team-mates had carried out their part of the bargain and he would put the finishing touches to one of the greatest scores in Irish rugby history.

It was another day of miracles, another day of building the legend.

And if perhaps Munster aren't the all-conquering force of yore, you still can't imagine any other team pulling a game out of the bag quite like that.

And then they did it again yesterday for good measure.

Because Munster are different.

Sunday Indo Sport

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