Presents galore at Welford Road but commitment of our new men is greatest gift of all
It was tough. It was tight. We got a fright. But Munster won in Leicester, the Munster of England.
The mind is the last undiscovered frontier with worlds we have only ever visited in our subconscious journeys.
And isn't it strange how a team can play better at home, or worse away from home, when the game is played on a field of exactly the same dimensions, with the same rules of engagement. Leicester were a different team this time out. They were up for it and maybe too up for it.
But Munster had the usual travelling support from the towns and cities of England. It wasn't quite a home away from home, but Munster knew they were not alone. The old anthems were sung even early on when Leicester were looking good.
Matt O'Connor stuck in more needles than an acupuncturist in the build-up. Munster, he said, were bold on the ground. "There's no Santa for you this year, Munster."
I was going to sing him the song 'You better watch out/you better not cry/better not pout/I'm telling you why/the Munster boys are coming to town'. Now that I come to think of it, the song is very Big Brother with lines like "he knows when you're awake ... and he knows when you're asleep."
Leicester got two huge presents from the referee. The first was when Ben Youngs escaped a yellow for a tackle on Conor Murray without the ball near the Leicester line. Then Billy Holland was trapped by Dan Cole and he couldn't roll away from the wrong side. Penalty for Dan and a resulting try.
Referee Raynal did much that was right. Leicester were penalised ten times in the first half. Dan Cole was like a man who deliberately broke a window so he could enjoy the warmth of prison over Christmas.
Dan gave away five penalties all on his own.
Cole was in the bin when Conor Murray ran through and Munster scored a famous try to go nine up. The ball was hidden but the TMO saw the touchdown with his X-ray glasses.
Munster have five hookers on their books and Kevin O'Byrne's throws knocked the apple off William Tell's head every time.
Lily is Chris Kloete's Jack Russell. The brood bitch that started off the breed was named Trump. The Reverend Jack Russell "sought to develop a terrier with high stamina for the hunt as well as the courage and formation to chase out foxes that had gone to ground." Kloete is Munster's Jack Russell. Once again we won the ground war. He outpaced Johnny May to save a try. The whole team played like a pack of hungry hounds.
Munster were excellent at set piece. This is surely the golden age of Irish front rows.
One small crib. Our kicks through the line were more dribble than grubber. George Ford of Leicester, who played Gaelic football when he was a boy, was the best kicker on the park.
John Ryan was binned but his team bailed him out. Leicester didn't score in the ten minutes. Alex Wooton was to the fore. He made ground every time and didn't miss a tackle. Jack O'Donoghue came on and he was everywhere and not just anywhere. Jack was always in the right place.
The tension was awful in the long, long second half. We said a prayer to Axel when his protégé Ian had a kick about 30 metres out having missed an earlier one. Keatley nailed it. He put Munster out of reach with another one just a few minutes later.
Munster have now beaten Leicester three times in Welford Road. Leicester beat us twice in Thomond. I'm not sure if anyone has beaten Leicester three times at home in Europe.
All credit to the IRFU who kept Peter O'Mahony at home. He had a superb game, especially in the lineout, along with his Cork Constitution clubmate Billy Holland. Munster were 100pc in the lineout and Niall Scannell was deadly accurate when he came on.
The Munster fans were planning to sing 'Danny Boy' as the new theme song. But the word is CJ Seasamh is close to signing up for another term, including a year after the World Cup. It seems CJ will stay for less money than he would have earned in France but we would stress there is no final agreement, yet. CJ too showed, yet again, he is one of us. Leicester is a town of red brick and this man went through every wall like Harry Potter at the railway station. Well, not quite. Harry didn't knock a single wall. CJ demolished a team.
As we told you before, Munster are contenders. So too are Leinster, who played with great bravery and no little skill. Munster work harder at fitness than any other team in the competition. The move to Limerick has paid off.
The most pleasing part for me is the way the new Munster players have taken to the cause. No-one plays with that level of commitment for money alone. There is another unwritten contract carved in to the heart inside the jersey. These new men of Munster always give their all for the cause of always giving your all. They know Munster are all about smart courage.
Last year Munster learned what it takes to win. Now they know just how good they have to be to win the third European Cup.
There are two tough French games left to play but for we must savour the day when the old values ruled the new world, in a place where only the great teams come home with a win.
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