Wednesday 22 November 2017

Billy Keane: God of small things ensured the miracle never happened

Munster's Fly Half Ian Keatley, left, is tackled by Toulon's French inside center Mathieu Bastareaud , during their Heineken European Cup semifinal rugby match, at the Velodrome stadium, in Marseille, southern France, Sunday, April 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Munster's Fly Half Ian Keatley, left, is tackled by Toulon's French inside center Mathieu Bastareaud , during their Heineken European Cup semifinal rugby match, at the Velodrome stadium, in Marseille, southern France, Sunday, April 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

We were good enough. That was the annoying thing but the god of small things went against us. Small things add up to big things and in the end the tally was too large to better.

The day was lost but our pride in our team remained. Munster were defeated but never will they be broken.

It was the too frequent knock-ons that finished us. We gave away more penalty points than a drunken driver on his mobile phone. Munster, as ever, never gave in, and for a while we even looked like winning.

Alexander Dumas described Marseilles as 'the meeting place of the world' and it was. The Munster fans came from all over Europe. The train from Antibes was manned by a gang from The Quays Bar, where the adjourned fun from the night before got going all the way along the Riviera railway. The main man is Ian Kiely from Limerick and he brought enough provisions for a month. Never have I refused more drink.

Yes this was a meeting of the clans. They came from everywhere.

Our hearts soared by the bubbling waters of the old harbour. The graceful tall ships and swish yachts sailed in the bright blue so much loved by artists.

The picture we will paint is of thousands of Munster supporters of all ages gathering to go out along the coast to the big game. They're loyal and staunch. No other team can boast such steadfast support. If Munster were drawn against Crimea they'd still make their way to the game. The reasons are the love of the fun that follows Munster and the love of a team of men who always give their last drop.

The first half was tense with little flowing rugby. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe's boot went in like a pick axe on Conor Murray. Juan Martin dug in hard, like a man who was trying to get his footing for the tug of war, but he only got a yellow from Mr Barnes.

Lobbe was very, very lucky. The god of small things needs more offerings. Wayne Barnes, who was good to Munster in the second half, was weak on this occasion. It was either a red or nothing, and nothing it wasn't. Indeed Munster were wrongly penalised for three scrum penalties when the Toulon props dropped to their knees. That said we could still have won if we had the steadiness and concentration.

Jonny Wilkinson is carrying more injuries and aches than most men of twice his age. This is his last year. He showed his class with a huge kicking performance but Munster gave him the ammo. That said, he has a better understanding of the ebbs and flows of the game than any other player. His left leg was deadly accurate. Six points kicked from far out near the touchline were crucial.

At half-time we were nine down and if Toulon got the next score it might well be over. Toulon went for broke and it nearly paid off. Simon Zebo's tackle on Steffon Armitage saved the day. James Downey stopped several raids.

HOPE

Mathieu Bastareaud wouldn't be stopped by a train buffer but Downey always put his body on the line. Somehow we held out and hope returned.

Munster scored a try in the corner from Zebo after a driving maul. Zebo was so good. It was the first of two massive gambles. Munster went for the line-out instead of taking the three points and it paid off. Ian Keatley's got the tough conversion. His goalkicking was excellent throughout and he is now a worthy contender for Ireland's match-day 22.

The game seemed to be going Munster's way. Toulon were on the back foot. The sun beat down. They seemed tired and then disaster struck. Keith Earls pulled down a Toulon player off the ball. The foul saved a try but Keith was yellow carded and the French scored again.

We gambled on a second try from a maul when three points were on offer but another fumble put paid to the attack.

The clock was ticking faster than the last day of the summer holidays. James Coughlan blocked a drop from Wilkinson and then he made a choke tackle for a turnover.

James was one of those who knocked on but the mistake didn't get him down. His courage and brains more than made up for his early error.

In the end Toulon deserved to win. Munster travelled down to their end after thanking their own fans. Toulon showed just how much this team are respected all over the rugby world. The applause was generous and spontaneous. I have never before seen a beaten team salute the opposition fans at their own end.

Munster are never beaten because of lack of courage or desire or commitment. We know this to be true and it is a constant truth.

From the security of our bravery ethos we can build a team that will some day become champions of Europe.

We met an Argentinian journalist on the way down from the stands. He put his arm on my shoulder and said, "Munster have the blood." It is true.

Yes, Munster have the blood.

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