Warwick magic sends Munster into raptures
A redemptive night for Irish rugby, when Paul Warwick, once spurned by Australia, became their torturer. Munster boys became men and the next generation, down here at least, seems set fair.
A magical night to warm the cockles in a month when the relationship between Irish rugby and its supporters has chilled. In horrendous conditions, trust Munster to put the soul back into Irish rugby.
Still unbeaten in Thomond Park against Australia, Munster have now won four of six meetings with the Wallabies as this enchanted evening joined those previous wins in Musgrave Park and, of course, the unforgettable '78 All Blacks success.
This was a night when the next generation maintained the glorious traditions of their forebears. They had to clear snow from here in 1958, so last night's conditions were probably deemed merely a bit of a shower by hardy locals.
Thomond Park is probably the one place on earth you can find a walk-up crowd in a thunderous gale, punters still streaming in to buy tickets as referee Bryce Lawrence tooted his opening whistle.
The treacherous conditions were immediately apparent, as Munster coughed possession from their first rumble, turning over and affording Berrick Barnes an unlikely punt.
Barnes had grubbered his opening restart, but the conditions favoured his early loosener from far out on the right hand side and, judging the swirling wind to the millimetre, he gave the visitors an early lead.
Back came Munster, though, Duncan Williams thieving Barnes' second restart.
Ian Nagle, all 6' 6" of him, secured two throws deep in opposition territory and Munster's maul had Australia in heaps of difficulty; from his second, Paul Warwick launched his first incision against the old country, deftly chipping a drop goal to level matters.
Sensing blood, Munster launched a series of punishing phases from the subsequent five-metre put-in, eking out a penalty advantage, but after being held up, they carelessly lost their second scrum and Barnes' boot returned them to whence they started.
Instead of a possible seven points, they had none.
Minutes later, Niall Ronan was pinged on the floor and Barnes stabbed home his second penalty amid the maelstrom. Still, you felt Munster were beginning to master the conditions, while Australia struggled to extract maximum benefit from the propelling wind behind them. Typical of a second-string team brimful of enthusiastic likely lads and unheralded names, their chasing and harrying upset the tourists.
Suitably ruffled, referee Lawrence carded Anthony Faingaa for holding on in the tackle as Munster pressurised, the binning a legacy of Munster's earlier siege when captain Barnes had been delivered a final team warning.
This time, Warwick gambled audaciously that his side should profit this time. Incredulously, he did so into the teeth of the gale blowing into the Ballynanty End; 6-6 against a hurricane.
From 6-6 to '99,' an echo of the infamous Willie John McBride clarion call on the 1974 Lions tour.
As Munster drove back an attacking Australian five-metre scrum, Borlase and Ben Daley managed in three seconds what Haye and Harrison failed to do in three rounds last weekend, delivering a decent exhibition of the Queensbury rules.
Miffed at being driven off their own ball, it was a case of 'one in all in' as bodies flailed wildly at each other, the assistant referees preferring discretion as the drenched souls departed for hot tea and sympathy.
Australia sent on Pat McCutcheon for the second-half and he immediately repaid the favour by holding on to the restart for too long under pressure from Damien Varley. Warwick converted for 9-6. Faingaa returned and Australia were restored to their full complement. It was looking like they would need them.
Another penalty in the 49th minute from Warwick doubled the lead and when Barnes' restart was deemed illegal, as several players encroached, a Munster scrum had the home side back where they wanted to be.
Australia were sinking, Munster swimming gloriously with the tide.
The Aussie tactics may have been baffling, but their defence was admirable, holding up Williams after a series of power surges close in as Munster sought to turn the screw in the third quarter.
Australia's use of the ball, especially from touch, once Tatafu Polota-Nau arrived, was barmy. Ronan punished them with three successive tackles as his side earned yet another turnover; sadly, they failed to convert pressure again.
But then Warwick, as if on a redemptive mission to prove his home country wrong, slotted another drop goal and as we entered the final, gripping quarter, Australia needed two scores to win. From their own half, this seemed nigh on impossible.
Warwick then shaved the outside of the post with another penalty from distance.
A taxi arrived for Aussie coach Robbie Deans. Munster fans just walked on air.
Munster -- J Murphy (S Deasy 75); D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, D Hurley; P Warwick, D Williams (C Murray 78); W Du Preez, D Varley (M Sherry 70), P Borlase (S Archer 78), B Holland, I Nagle (B Hayes 78), P O'Mahony (T O'Donnell 63), N Ronan, J Coughlan (capt).
Australia -- L Turner (P Hynes 58); L Morahan, P McCabe, A Faingaa, R Davies; B Barnes (captain), L Burgess (N Phipps 58); B Daley (J Slipper 53), S Faingaa (T Polota-Nau 46), S Ma'afu, D Mumm, R Simmons, S Higginbotham (P McCutcheon HT), M Hodgson, R Brown (V Humphries 52).
Ref -- B Lawrence (NZRU).