Monday 11 December 2017

Wallabies to face typical Thomond welcome


In a month where you might feel you're getting too much rugby at too high a price, consider what's on offer at Thomond Park on Tuesday night (RTE 2, 7.30pm).

The recent history of Munster against touring teams -- versus the All Blacks in 2008 -- was a phenomenal success as an occasion, and going back a bit to 1992 and 1996 against the Wallabies in Cork and Limerick we got high-octane games that lived on in the memory.

So while the accountants at Thomond Park are confident that a plus 20,000 crowd will give them a few bob for the kitty, the rest of us are hopeful that we'll get another occasion to savour. Midweek rugby against touring teams is still special, even it means the hosts will be without their international contingent. Between injuries and Ireland's call, Munster will be short probably more than 20 bodies. So Tony McGahan will be relying largely on the core of young players who did so well in Ulster last month -- plus Sam Tuitupou who is now available after suspension -- where second row Ian Nagle and centre Ivan Dinneen made strong statements about their worth.

With Peter Stringer back in favour at national level, it will open the door to Duncan Williams to make his first start since the Leicester game in pre-season. It would be ironic if Stringer's revival in green would create pressure for him in red, but these games have the capacity to do things like that.

Certainly this has the potential to be worth the coin, and the Wallabies' winning performance in Welford Road showed a side who were tuned in to the demands of the night -- one they only sorted securely, and controversially, in the last play of the game. "Yeah, that was a bit hard to take," Geordan Murphy said of the endgame. "But it was a quality match and talking to the Aussies afterwards they were saying their were really looking forward to going to Thomond Park."

And of course Tony McGahan will be happy to entertain them. This is the Queenslander's sixth season there and the first time he gets to coach against an Australian side.

"Yeah, there is some emotion there but it's not like I'll be making any tackles or breaks," he says. "But I do remember how special it was two years ago for Doug (Howlett), Rua (Tipoki) and Jerry (Manning) and Lifeimi Mafi to be facing the All Blacks. So yeah I'm really looking forward to having the Wallabies in Thomond.

"I thought they adapted really well to the conditions in Welford Road last week. The reason they've brought a big 37/38 man squad with them on this trip is to give those guys experience, which I think is a good thing. And they've got on board with European rugby. They haven't come up here and told the players to go out and play Tri Nations stuff. Against Leicester they drove their lineouts when they had to and picked and drove when it was the right thing to do so you'd have to say Robbie (Deans) and Jimmy (Williams) have done a good job."

It will be special too for Jim Williams, who was such a popular player in red. A good night all round, you'd hope.

Sunday Independent

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