Friday 23 February 2018

Another Thomond miracle -- Munster fear no one now

Conor Murray - Munster
Conor Murray - Munster
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There is no place like home. Munster fought for home and fatherland in a thrilling second-half here in their own place of Thomond. Edinburgh were clapped on to the pitch. It was like giving a bull a sop of hay before he faced the matador.

The welcome was extended when Munster gave away two soft penalties. Their kicker is one of the best, but he missed a sitter. Another victim of the sound of silence. Munster booted it out on the full and we all thought this could be one of those days.

Another penalty. This time Laidlaw didn't miss.

Then it all changed. Paul O'Connell, who else, won the restart when he jumped higher than a Sherpa's house. The backs were efficient and direct. Over went James Coughlan, our man of the match. Miracles are not always as dramatic as Lazarus or changing water into wine. Sometimes they take their time.

The pitch cut up in the scrum areas like a bullocks' passage to water. Stephen Archer took another arrow from his quiver up near the Scots' line. Munster turned the Edinburgh scrum into a closing accordion. They fooled Edinburgh from the scrum peno by letting it out to the backs. Johne Murphy strolled in. Hard to believe this man hasn't been capped for his country. There is no better all-round footballer.


But there was sadness. Keith Earls went off after bravely retrieving a stray pass. On came Simon Zebo. A Lion for a Lion. Munster have a bench now. Edinburgh fought and nearly scored. O'Connell pushed the ref out of the way such was his desire to get at the opposition.

The man behind us called out 'obstruction'. There was an eerie silence and a big long delay at the end of the first half. We could hear the voice of the referee Wayne Barnes who sounded as if he was reading the news. There's lot to be said for the days of silent refs. In the end the TMO sin-binned the Edinburgh No 6 (Cornell Du Preez) for not very much.

There are too many stoppages in the game now. The ref gets more close-ups than a difficult star in a Hollywood movie. The first half was supposed to be 40 minutes and it took 50, not including slow scrums. Irish Water should be sent in to meter the matches. The crowd were quiet. Almost apathetic at times.

At least half the job was done. Munster needed two more tries.

The half-time talk and the yellow card were the watersheds.

The third try came from Conor Murray after Tommy O' Donnell broke through and popped up the ball.

The crowd rose to their feet at last. Passion cannot be contained when it is truly felt. The financial well-being of Munster rugby depended on the fourth try. Limerick businesses lit candles. Zebo played as if he was loving every minute after months of injury. His hands were as tricky as a card sharp with gorgeous offloads.

Munster were a different team now. There were in the Edinburgh half. In the first half our visits were as scarce as a nephew who sees the uncle's farm handed over to his brother. There was a feeling the try just had to come.

The captain Peter O'Mahony, who is always in the vanguard, was the hero. The place went mad. Home sweet home. The quarter-final will be in Limerick. The tills will sing and the money will trickle down to nearly everyone. But it's more than money with Munster. It always has been. It will take some team to beat us now.

The rest of the game was a mix between a lap of honour and a siege of the Edinburgh line. The talk in the stands was of who it was we would be meeting. Could it be Leinster?

There were more superfluous delays at scrum-time and then a slow hand clap. It changed into a fast one when Zebo scored in the corner. Munster played near their best after that for the first time since the end of last season.

Felix Jones scored the sixth.

Six of the best used to be an old expression for corporal punishment back in the days when teachers were allowed give slaps. Munster taught Edinburgh some lesson. Felix was very good all day. He hit the line at pace and looks a better player this year now he has had a long injury-free run. Our full-back has suffered more injuries than a National Hunt jockey. May he keep safe and well.

It's closing time now. The game is over and it's still early afternoon. We do not yet know who we will be playing next. Let the wheel spin. Munster fear no one now -- respect yes, but fear no. So when it emerges that former kingpins of Europe, Toulouse, will pitch up in April, nobody wearing red expresses too much concern.

The team are back out now. The fans give them their due.

'Stand up and Fight'. How they fought in that second half. Yes it's another Thomond miracle. Paulie is looking up at the stands. Looking up for his family. The greatest hits are being sung out. Athenry rings around the ground. There will be no loneliness in Limerick tonight and no going away from home either.

Irish Independent

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