Munster fringe men uphold proud tradition to repel Maori challenge
Munster 27 Maori All Blacks 14
This was like a throwback to the old days as Munster rolled up their sleeves and put a touring side to the sword with a ferocious display of rugby.
Thomond Park heaved in the wind and rain and rejoiced as a second New Zealand team in a week was put to the sword on another emotional night in Limerick. Munster's superb tradition against touring sides wasn't just maintained but greatly enhanced when an almost second-string side ran out deserved winners by four tries to two.
Munster bossed the game for long periods and then took control in the second half to give a further boost to a season which is showing such promise despite such heartbreak and grief off it.
The evening began on a poignant note with the Maori All Blacks laying a black jersey on halfway with the initials AF and the number eight on it before they performed the Haka. Maori captain Ash Dixon then presented the jersey to Anthony Foley's sons Tony and Dan to a rapturous reception from the capacity 25,600 crowd.
The incessant rain and a strong breeze, which favoured the visitors in the opening half, made conditions difficult as both sides tried to run the ball at every opportunity.
A couple of penalties to the left corner yielded a great start for Munster when hooker Niall Scannell got the touchdown from a drive where the final nudge from James Cronin proved decisive after 14 minutes.
But the threat posed by the Maoris wasn't long manifesting itself as they struck for a brace of tries in three minutes.
Full-back Marty McKenzie set up the first of them after 24 minutes when he put left winger James Lowe through the middle, with his momentum seeing him slide over. Otere Black, off target with a seventh-minute penalty, landed the conversion before setting up the second try.
No 8 Akira Ioane countered and Ambrose Curtis exchanged passes with Black before cantering home down the right wing. Black added the difficult conversion to make it 14-5.
But Munster responded well and were rewarded with a penalty try when Rory Scannell was hauled back without the ball by Reed Prinsep as he raced in for a certain try. The Maori flanker picked up a yellow card as Keatley converted.
A big hit by Robin Copeland on McKenzie inside the Munster half provided the turnover which saw Darren Sweetnam hack from deep and he outpaced Lowe before hacking again to get the ball over the line for a fine try.
Keatley was unable to land the conversion from the right but Munster departed at the break with the crowd on their feet as they led 17-14.
Ian Keatley landed a penalty four minutes after the restart to extend the lead and Munster then kept the Maoris scoreless while scrum-half Duncan Williams was in the bin for a high tackle. Ronan O'Mahony was unfortunate to be denied a try when he was pinged for a double movement on 59 minutes.
And two minutes later it took some good recovery work from Lowe to deny Andrew Conway and O'Mahony in the left corner after Keatley had threaded a neat grubber. Munster, leading by 20-14, went for the kill 16 minutes from the end when opting to go for the left corner with a penalty, but they made a mess of the lineout and the chance was lost.
But it was Munster who continued to dictate the play, even though their lineout continued to let them down at crucial stages of the contest.
And the pressure eventually paid off when Ronan O'Mahony raced through to score from a Duncan Williams chip. Keatley converted from the left to make it 27-14 with 12 minutes left.
The Maoris never looked like saving the game after that as Munster bossed matters to the end to chalk up another historic victory against a touring side on a night when a lot of fringe players enhanced their claims for more regular inclusion in Rassie Erasmus' side.
Munster - A Conway; D Sweetnam, J Taute (D Goggin 76), R Scannell, R O'Mahony (A Wooton 76); I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin (P McCabe 25), N Scannell (R Marshall 61), S Archer (B Scott 72); J Madigan (S O'Connor 55), D O'Shea (J Foley 76); T O'Donnell, C Oliver, R Copeland.
Maori All Blacks - M McKenzie (B Emery 63); A Curtis, M Proctor, T Bateman, J Lowe; O Black (I West 59), B Guyton (B Weber 48); K Hames (C Eves 71), A Dixon (L Apisai 76), B May (M Renata 76); L Price (W Douglas 48, blood), J Skeen (Price 59); R Prinsep, S Christie (K Pryor 72), A Ioane.
Ref - C Maxwell Keys (England)