Sunday 17 December 2017

McGahan talks up the 'Earls factor'

Australia's Tatafu Polota-Nau practises his line-out throws during training ahead of their match against Munster tonight at Thomond Park. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Australia's Tatafu Polota-Nau practises his line-out throws during training ahead of their match against Munster tonight at Thomond Park. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile

Ian Bransfield

If it's romance you're after, then Limerick is probably the place to be tonight.

Sixty-three years on from their first encounter at the Mardyke in Cork, Munster and Australia go at it again this evening in yet another seductive showdown at Thomond Park.

Close to 26,000 supporters are expected to be tempted along for their own piece in history as Munster bid to do something they have never done before and beat the touring Wallabies in the Treaty County.

They've beaten them in Cork, of course, three times. The first triumph came in 1967, when they became the first Irish province to beat a major touring nation.

They did it again in 1980 and perhaps most famously in 1992, when Mick Galwey led his men to a 22-19 victory over the then world champions, a tale which is recounted almost as much as the glorious 1978 victory over the All Blacks.

Ger Earls played blindside flanker that day, a point not lost on munster coach Tony McGahan, who has selected Ger's son Keith at outside-centre tonight.

"We'll put all of that into it," said McGahan, "and if the Earls name and the Earls factor comes into it, then that's brilliant for us."

Others with lofty ambitions tonight include Paul Warwick, who played Sevens and underage for Australia, but never quite made it as a Wallaby.

"It will be nice to measure myself at that level," he says, seven years down the line.

One wonders what second-row pairing Billy Holland and Ian Nagle were doing seven years ago.

Together with Duncan Williams and Peter O'Mahony, they represent the next generation of Munster talent, but for tonight they are all entrusted with upholding the province's proud tradition against touring nations -- a big ask for young players with such little experience. Perhaps they'll take inspiration from captain James Coughlan, who grew 10 feet tall when placed in a similar position against the All Blacks two seasons ago.

"On nights like this you prove a point to yourself that you're good enough," he said in respect of his younger colleagues.

"As long as you can come in afterwards and look each other in the eye, then that's all anybody asks of you."

Of course the Australians themselves have some soul-searching to do after their shock defeat to England at the weekend, though none of the line-up which started at Twickenham will start at Thomond.

Few of the Australian XV will be known to most everyday punters, with Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes and Lachie Turner the notable exceptions.

One man who is of course well known is Australian assistant coach Jim Williams -- or 'Seamus', as he was affectionately known during the spell he spent with Munster between 2001 and 2008.


It's doubtful that there has ever been a more iconic or influential import in the history of Munster rugby, and it was humbling to see him walk around his old -- albeit much changed -- stomping ground yesterday morning in anticipation of tonight's collision.

"It's phenomenal to be back," Williams said in that unmistakable voice when he had finished taking in the opulent surroundings, "and it will be even better when the crowd come through.

"There will probably be about 26,000 people here, and I've never seen that before. It's vastly different to what it was like when I left, but it still brings back all the good old memories I had while I was here.

"In my first season we made the Heineken Cup final against Leicester, then were was the semi-final against Toulouse (2003) and the semi-final against Wasps (2004).

"Those games were the ones that stand out, but every time I put on a Munster jersey was special for me.

"It's a special place," he concluded, "and it's not until you've played over here that you can understand what it's all about. Hopefully we can create some new memories this time around."

Munster -- J Murphy; D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, D Hurley; P Warwick, D Williams; W du Preez, D Varley, S Borlase; B Holland, I Nagle; P O'Mahony, N Ronan, J Coughlan. Reps: M Sherry, S Archer, B Hayes, T O'Donnell, C Murray, S Deasy, B Murphy.

Australia -- L Turner; R Davies, P McCabe, A Faingaa, L Morahan; B Barnes, L Burgess; B Daley, S Faingaa, S Ma'afu; D Mumm, R Simmons; S Higginbotham, M Hodgson, R Brown.

Reps: T Polota-Nau, J Slipper, V Humphries, P McCutcheon, N Phipps, M Giteau, P Hynes.

Munster v Australia,

Live, RTE 2, 8.0

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