Redemptive triumph perfect launch-pad for twin assault
Published 04/04/2011 | 05:00
Something for everyone in a Thomond theatre charged with electricity. The Magners League's superlative clash thus far allowed Munster to exorcise some pressing local issues of concern, while also enabling them to set their sights on foreign fields with renewed confidence.
Leinster pointed their noses towards north, armed with a coach-load of regret having produced their best 40 minutes of rugby before crumbling beneath a ceaseless red tide inflamed by passion and desire.
Joe Schmidt's measured tones masked a fury that will not have escaped Leicester as they plot a Heineken Cup away-day upset next weekend; Leinster have a week to apply some make-up to the second-half blotches and not a moment can be wasted.
For Irish rugby too, a restorative occasion after a disheartening Six Nations.
"It was all that was good about Irish rugby -- there was fierce passion, skill level and a determination to win," said Ronan O'Gara with the pin-point accuracy with which he arrowed Munster's late, late delivery from their two-year imprisonment within blue shackles.
More than Munster's almost feral return to their traditional basic physicality in the second half, reversing the first-half trend whereby Leinster had freewheeled through collision and breakdown, this win was predicated upon the desperate need to restore pride.
Munster demanded it. Their supporters did too. "Yeah, it was getting to the stage that ... rugby is massive down here and the supporters demand that we win," added O'Gara, sporting a blackened protuberance above his right eye, which reflected the bruising nature of this captivating contest.
"It got to that stage today. I don't know if we'd be able to walk the streets tomorrow, especially if you lived in Limerick. We know that and we thrive off that, the supporters were magnificent.
"We needed to put a stop to that run but it's easier said than done, you see the quality that they have. They're one of the best teams in Europe, if not the best team in Europe.
"It was difficult. It was important for us because I think it would have been a long few months if we didn't get the win. It was a kick of the ball between the teams."
James Coughlan, whose second-half assertion of responsibility on the ball did much to accelerate Munster's physical resurgence, tried and failed to demur when probed as to Munster's motivation.
"If you look backwards it's probably the wrong thing to do," he offered unconvincingly. "You concentrate on what they did last week, or the week before. There's no point in looking back before that.
"The whole five-in-a-row thing was built up outside of that. Obviously it wasn't a record we were proud of and we wanted to rectify that. Not specifically because it was Leinster: if it was Ospreys or Cardiff, it didn't matter."
The exultation that pulsed through the terraces and the elation that enveloped the players and management at the final whistle betrayed such an admirable effort in cool detachment.
Damien Varley breezed into the chit-chat and blithely broadcasted his team's intense desire, such that a seemingly formidable half-time deficit was chopped down with a familiarity of erstwhile Munster metronomy, buttressed by the swathe of experience trundling on from the bench.
"We've been working towards this game for a long time," he said. "We wanted to get one over them. Five defeats against Leinster, our old rivals, it's a tough record. We were determined to come away with a victory this evening.
"Leinster started very physically and we weren't very physical in the first half. We came out fighting in the second half. We had to up our physicality and that showed.
"And then it's a massive boost to see the guys coming on from the bench. There was a lot of talk about selections during the week, but it shows that there's a lot of depth in the squad.
"There's other guys that don't even make the match 23, so we've great depth there as well. Rog goes off for five minutes there and (Paul) Warwick comes on. There's never any doubt about the players' ability coming off the bench. From 1-23, everyone has complete confidence in everyone else."
Despite his penultimate off-key slider, there was inordinate confidence in O'Gara as he stepped up to have the final word.
"It was tight," he sighed with relief. "I asked the ref, I was in a world of my own, he said 55 seconds. I thought there was five minutes. I missed an earlier one, I kind of leant back, so I knew what to do. You just trust the process in these situations. I've been there before."
So had Munster. Which is why their redemptive, restorative win may prove the perfect launching pad for the twin ambitions that underscore their determined desire to finish the season on a high.
"We want to have two trophies in the cabinet," adds Coughlan. "Now they're not the two trophies we would have been looking for, but it wouldn't be a bad reflection.
"Obviously, we want to be in the Heineken Cup, there's no point in saying otherwise. But we are where we are and we have to keep building, developing the squad and we'll look back when the season is over. Then we can look at things we can change and get better at."
For now, they can at last look their fans in the eyes. "Lads have to work on a Monday, especially in Dublin," smiles Coughlan. "But now there might be a few smiles on the culchies' faces for a few weeks."
At least until, tantalisingly, these teams may have to do battle in this competition once more.