‘I thought I was in New Zealand’, says Maori head coach

Colin Cooper paid tribute to Munster and the rugby culture so apparent at Thomond Park

The Jackal; a wild dog found in Africa, Asia and Limerick.

Rare to hear a New Zealander moaning in defeat about unfair advantages (Rare, besides these past days, to see them lose). But Maori All Blacks head coach Colin Cooper did just that in the wake of this 27-14 defeat at a drenched Thomond Park as a Munster side shorn of any player in contention for Ireland selection along with highly influential kiwi outhalf Tyler Bleyendaal (rested).

Yet Cooper, at least four times in as many minutes of light questioning, put the loss down to the new breakdown laws on trial back home.

He began with the highest compliment that can be bestowed: “They played really good footie,” said Cooper. “We have been really impressed with the whole set up here in Munster, with the locals and with how knowledgeable they are and how rugby passionate. I thought I was in New Zealand...I can see why a lot of Maori boys want to come play over here. Their culture is the same as our culture.”


Then came a question about what went wrong on the night.

“We didn’t play the conditions well,” Cooper replied initially.

“Munster did what USA couldn’t do, they slowed our ball down and when they brought line speed as well we struggled. We didn’t use the wind like we should have...We just weren’t good enough.”

The weather forecast had promised wind and rain. You planned for the conditions though, right? “Well, it wasn’t the conditions,” Cooper said changing direction, “but more we tried to play to the old laws, because we’ve been playing the new laws, so it was a massive adjustment and Munster showed us we better get that sorted because Harlequins are going to come there too.”

Cooper was asked to explain: What do you mean, specifically, about the old and new laws?

“Because you are not allowed jackal at home, and you are in the old laws, so if you jackal at home you get penalised. Here, with these laws you just got to get rid of it, physically.”

To jackal is to turn the ball over after the tackle by getting in over the ball – an action Richie McCaw, the greatest All Black of them all, turned into an art form.

This season at provincial level in New Zealand, not Super Rugby mind, the players were prohibited from diving over the tackled player or grabbing the ball once the ruck had been formed, mainly because it was deemed too dangerous (for that player). So, instead, they have been counter-rucking by driving past the ball and tackled man, which has brought its own dangerous elements, like swinging boots, but the pace of the game has accelerated to the point where some players are covering an extra two kilometres over 80 minutes.

“Yeah, you can talk it but you got to drill it, play it, you got to learn from that,” Cooper added. “We have learned from this game that we got to get better there.”

Many of the Maori players in Limerick played Super Rugby or featured at the Junior World Cup in 2016, where the old laws of the jungle were in place, and the tourists had plenty of notice about reverting to a form of rucking, which would have been common place in New Zealand until these temporary trial laws.

Ending the day of the jackal could mean the extinction of the openside. However, some form of contest over the ball will be allowed when the British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand next summer.

By then rugby’s world order should be returned to its spinning axis despite Ireland now Munster revealing the black jersey’s invincibility as a myth.

“We must not get carried away,” said Rassie Erasmus. “I have been coaching against the All Blacks and the Maoris for years, sometimes they go through a dip for a week or two but it doesn’t take long before they are back.”

Still, the Erasmus regime in Munster is manifesting into an impressive, sustainable entity. Consider Conor Murray and Simon Zebo are also rested, while seven others are on Ireland duty.

Darren Sweetnam was superb on the wing last night, especially for his try, while Conor Oliver and Darren O'Shea excelled in the forward exchanges.

“Apart from the result we are not only building depth but confidence in the depth.”

Following a deeply emotional period for Munster rugby, Erasmus eloquently added: “I’m a South African but after the last 16 weeks I think my heart is turning Irish. The people here are special people.

We went through a tough time with our head coach passing away.

“I have learned a lot about Irish culture and I think it is showing on the field with people sticking together.”

But this victory matters more than the confines of this season. Tom Kiernan captained Munster to victory over Australia in 1967. Kiernan coached while Donal Canniffe captained them to victory over The All Blacks in 1978. Anthony O'Leary in '81, Terry Kingston in '92 and James Coughlan in 2010 all saw off the touring Wallabies. Now Tommy O'Donnell joins this elite group of Munster captains.

“What’s just incredible was the belief out of everyone,” said O’Donnell. “The Irish boys proved last week if you are going to beat New Zealand teams you have to outscore them you can’t just out last them.

“We didn’t go out to score three hacked on tries! But we definitely went out to put pressure on their skills, you know, with the weather forecast.

“They still scored two really good tries.

“But, I think, it was a real Munster victory, wasn’t it? Hard work and effort, every breaking ball we just pounced on it.”

All this in front of second packed Thomond Park in as many games.

“Munster fans want to see effort. In the last two games that’s what they have seen from Munster players, battered and bruised, clawing for the win.”

And jackaling? "We were aware of that. Rhys Marshall [Munster's newly signed New Zealand prop] explained it to us so they probably weren't as sharp on the jackal as we were. As soon as they made contact they let go. With the night that was in it we benefited a small bit but our clean outs were spot on and I don't think they got too many opportunities at poaches that would have been turnovers."

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent