Tuesday 12 December 2017

This Munster team have their own miracle now

Sean Dougall, Munster, is congratulated by team-mates Ian Keatley, left, and Paul O'Connell
Sean Dougall, Munster, is congratulated by team-mates Ian Keatley, left, and Paul O'Connell
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The clock was red. One slip up and it was all over. Munster were sent back into their own half and, as any physics student will tell you, it's very hard to run forwards when you're going backwards.

Munster had two falling-off-the-slack-wire moments but for some reason to do with gravity and prayer, the ball fell backwards. There was no composure and no control. The end was nigh.

Now there's this village in Kerry and it produces rugby players of a very high standard. Our late and much-loved colleague Sean Diffley wrote: "In terms of extraordinary production in a tiny environment, Currow would rival the diamond extractions in Kimberley."

The Doyle brothers, Moss Keane, Mick Galwey and Siobhan Fleming all came from the village without a rugby team. All are Irish internationals. There's this young lad from the village, and the elders who pick the Currow Dalai Lama sent him on a quest to Perpignan in the south of France. His task was to keep the tradition going. And did he what.

JJ Hanrahan's name is now on the roll of honour. He did his little twirl and then raced over for the winning try as nonchalantly as if his Knocknagoshel mother and his Tipp father had sent him to the shop for the paper.

He had great help. Tommy O'Donnell's strength saved the day after another strong man, Denis Hurley, gambled by running close to the abyss of the touchline. But it was the only way of making ground. So it was that three men from the bench won the game for Munster.

Munster played badly, at times. There was loose kicking and missed tackles. There were lost line-outs and knock-ons, but there was never any shortage of heart.

What makes one field different to another? An unjumpable ditch maybe, or a broad oak in the middle, or thousand-yard brushes of rushes,or a stony stream running through it. The only fields that are the same are sports fields. Stade Aime Giral in Perpignan is no different in area, curvature or grass length to Thomond Park. Even the seagulls looked as if they were related.

So much depends, though, on the topography of the mind. The only place on earth not fully mapped and surveyed.

So it was Perpignan who were a different team this week to the almost passive detail sent over from France to Thomond. They were fighting on home ground and were a lot braver. This is something that is particularly annoying about French teams. They are naughtier at home. There was a time when they got away with everything bar murder, back in the days when there was only one camera per match and two-way radios were only for armies and vets at calving time.

Munster started as if they had made up their minds that one field is much the same as the next. Sean Dougall went over for a try but it was disallowed by the TMO.

JP Doyle was reffing. He is an Irishman refereeing for England. I couldn't see anything wrong with the score. A few minutes later Mr Doyle sent a player from each side to the bin, even though the French started it. There should have been at least one more French yellow. I'm not saying this decent man was in any way biased but the fact he is Irish, reffing an Irish team puts him in a very difficult position. Munster were given a penalty try but that was after four regular penalties, two resets and a free-kick.

There was a complete change in rugby traditions. Munster owned the scrum and Perpignan bossed the rolling maul. The Munster forwards were the better outfit overall and we had the stronger bench. Off comes Donnacha Ryan and on comes Donncha O'Callaghan. There is no other team in Europe with such strength in the second-row. If Munster are to win this out, victory will come from forward domination.

RELENTLESSLY

The Perpignan try came from a Munster knock-on when the pack were driving on relentlessly. Ball husbandry has always been an issue for Munster. Even in the glory days there were fumbles. It would be fair to say Munster are only playing at about 70pc of their ability. We were very lucky. There was a cracked quickpick Perpignan penalty from in front of the posts and several misses from a hamstrung out-half. Perpignan, in the true spirit of Christmas, left out gifts for the men in red.

Sometimes on a winning final day, a team looks back at a moment in time, much earlier in the competition, when the dice not only rolled their way but stood on the edge refusing steadfastly to clock up more moves towards the endgame. This was snakes and ladders. Up one minute and down the next.

Gloucester in Kingsholm will be very difficult. Big Munster teams have lost big games in the Cotswolds, but this team will believe now they can win anywhere and from anywhere. These young lads own their own miracle now, and who is to say there will not be more?

Irish Independent

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