Ann Fitzgerald: In the name of tolerance, I urge Munster fans to support Leinster

Tadhg Furlong will be up against Mako Vunipola when Leinster take on Saracens in the Champions Cup final. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tadhg Furlong will be up against Mako Vunipola when Leinster take on Saracens in the Champions Cup final. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

At the end of this column I am going to do something that I'd never have thought possible.

I recently jumped in with seven other members of the self-titled Kilkenny branch of the Munster Rugby Supporters Club travelling to Coventry for the Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens.

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When we landed at the house we had booked for the night, we discovered there were already people in it... and they were booked in for that night too.

So we had no place to stay.

Several phone calls to the booking company resulted in apologies and promises but no actual accommodation.

Handing out spare flags brought from home, we fell into conversation with lots of other Munster fans and, by kick-off, three separate women, all strangers, had offered us a bed.

One, Ann H, came up to me again after the match to affirm her offer was genuine.

Isn't that incredible! She knew nothing about us other than we are members of the same Munster tribe.

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(We felt it would be unfair for eight of us to land in on her, so ended up getting the ferry back.)

We had travelled more in hope than confidence. When Keith Earls joined our other game-changer Joey Carbery on the sidelines, a big ask became a monumental one.

Everyone on the team gave their all but we just weren't good enough. I have no complaints on that front.

But I was horrified at the bizarre series of events involving Saracens' Billy Vunipola being awarded man of the match, and his solo lap of honour, during which he stopped in front of us and slapped his chest, and the fawning interview by BT Sport.

Vunipola had got himself in trouble for supporting Australian international Israel Folau - also of Tongan extraction - quoting the Bible as saying that gay people are headed to hell unless they repent.

As rugby prides itself on its high principles, this resulted in a dressing down for Vunipola from the Rugby Football Union and presumably a warning to show more discretion in future. But, at the first chance, he doubled down on his previous utterances.

Of more than 30,000 verses in the bible, only a few refer to non-heterosexual relationships, and their meaning is far from clear.

A few less ambiguous are: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?", "Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs," or "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone."

The door has been opened for his employers to revisit the issue. But it is also an issue for the competition organisers and sponsors as well as World Rugby. Fail to do so hurts rugby but, more importantly, the many marginalised in society.

To quote Desmond Tutu, "if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor".

So to the point of this piece.

This Saturday sees Saracens take on Munster's biggest enemy, Leinster, in the Champions Cup final.

The rivalry is like a family where an older sibling's early success is subsequently surpassed by a younger one.

That has created a bitterness. While my husband, a Leinster man, would say, "if Leinster can't win, I hope Munster do", few Munster heads would reciprocate.

But this time, I would. Because, while Munster is my tribe, I am firstly a member of what might be termed the 21st century 'tolerant' tribe.

So, for one day only, I ask Munster fans to think Blue rather than Red.

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