Munster go back to the future to claim famous win over Maori All Blacks
Packed Thomond Park witnesses another stirring occasion as old school wins through
Munster’s Darren Sweetnam celebrates scoring their third try in the game against Maori All Blacks at Thomond Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Maori All Blacks captain Ash Dixon presents Anthony Foley’s children Dan and Tony with a jersey with his initials on it at Thomond Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Munster 27 Maori All Blacks 14
New world order? Maybe not, just the usual, another Munster scalping of unsuspecting tourists as they showed that the foot rush is immortal in Limerick.
The swirling rain almost convinced this packed Thomond Park they’d been transported back to 1978. Not enough grey concrete remains but the same spirit shines over the place.
Black magic couldn’t break the spell.
This ground witnessed another unique, never to be forgotten moment before the Maori All Blacks rolled out the Timatanga haka. Their captain Ash Dixon stepped forward with three team-mates to present the Munster men, in their club and school socks, a jersey with the initials AF in tribute to Anthony Foley, which Dixon later handed to Foley’s sons Dan and Tony in the middle of the pitch.
Foley would have loved all four tries, because they had his trademark stamped on them.
The Maori performed their ancestral dance with its biblical rhetoric - “In the beginning there was nothing and there dwelt the great darkness . . . Rangi and Papa formed man, young warriors.” All very ceremonial, respectful. Munster warriors, mostly of the second battalion and five Academy recruits, stood and stared. The Maori had to break away for kick-off to happen.
Enough latitude had been given. On to the game and its return to the beginning of rugby history on this island; of garryowens and scuffling and diving on sodden, loose ball.
Otere Black had an early penalty. Some kids were heard playing at the back of mass. After the manicured Kiwi 10 missed, the priest came to the pulpit. Silence in the cathedral. Adhere to traditions.
And so Munster did.
The first try came from the most obvious place on this Angela’s Ashes night. At the second attempt Niall Scannell held his feet to pilot the lineout drive clean over. Ian Keatley missed from the left touchline.
A minute later The Fields got its first rendition.
Munster heavies were delivering, Stephen Archer could be seen laughing at the brutality of it all. James Cronin ruined himself and had to leave the fray early. Conor Oliver tackled like a savage dog. The prodigal Darren O’Shea looks like a serious secondrow operator.
Tommy O’Donnell stands alone. Discarded by Ireland, after this victory he will be forever listed among some great leaders, as he played like any Munster boy told in a dream that he would be leading against invading All Blacks.
Andrew Conway was stunning in the air and kept the momentum alive in both halves.
But suddenly, without warning, the threat of these Maoris became a reality. Offloads ripped Munster open as Black then Marty McKenzie – whose little brother Damien starts for New Zealand against Italy on Saturday – freed their hands for left wing James Lowe to slide over. Black converted.
Within seconds Munster went back to the skies. Mistake. The Maori had readjusted. Their humongous number eight Akira Ioane – whose little brother Rieko subs for New Zealand against Italy – pulled the ball down before Black and right wing Ambrose Curtis combined for a devastatingly impressive seven points from 70 metres out. Black converted to make it 14-5.
Next, technology presented Munster with a vital score. A foot rush, that belonged to past versions of this affair, eventually saw Rory Scannell blatantly taken out by Reed Princep as he dived for the try.
The black jerseys were just nailing anything in red. Craig Maxwell Keys went to the big screen before sin binning Princep and running under the posts. Keatley converted.
We were embroiled in another Munster classic.
The next hooshing came from a hurler. Robin Copeland (remember him?) emptied ball from McKenzie’s grasp and it skidded along the grass to the right touchline. Darren Sweetnam nudged it on twice while out pacing Lowe for a delicious try.
Keatley’s conversion was way off but he did deliver on 43 minutes with a penalty to put the hosts into a 20-14 lead.
Trouble followed. The rain had stopped and Duncan Williams went to the bin not three minutes later after collaring Lowe. The Maori delved deep into Munster territory but a malfunctioning set piece denied them precious points. Eventually they torpedoed Ioane down the left wing but Sweetnam went low, Conway high as the big man was put out of play Savea style.
Right on cue the heavens reopened.
By now names didn’t matter, the jersey was being well filled as the Munster maul walked on. No points gathered but Williams returned with none conceded either.
Of course the Kiwi openside was a mechanic at the breakdown. Shane Christie got in under Ronan O’Mahony’s lunge for glory, to allow them clear their lines as the contest slowed on the hour mark. Less frenetic, more stop start, and almost certain that another score would be needed to secure a new chapter in this relentless story.
The Maori looked spent. Sensing as much, the Munster pack kept pounding away. Keatley’s boot failed to reward them with a punt out of the full.
No matter. A lovely try born out of Jaco Taute’s initial block before Williams cleverly clipped a ball in behind for O’Mahony to fall upon it.
Keatley nailed the difficult conversion. 27-14.
Truly, impossible is nothing.
MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; John Madigan, Darren O’Shea; Tommy O’Donnell (capt), Conor Oliver, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Peter McCabe for J Cronin (24 minutes), Seán O’Connor for J Madigan (54 mins), Rhys Marshall for N Scannell (60 mins), B Scott for S Archer (71 mins), John Foley for J Taute, A Wootton for R O’Mahony (both 75 mins).
MAORI ALL BLACKS: Marty McKenzie; Ambrose Curtis, Matt Proctor, Tim Bateman, James Lowe; Otere Black, Billy Guyton; Kane Hames, Ash Dixon (capt), Ben May; Leighton Price, Jacob Skeen; Reed Prinsep, Shane Christie, Akira Ioane.
Replacements: Brad Webster for B Guyton (50 mins), Whetu Douglas for L Price (51 mins), L Price for J Skeen (58 mins), I West for O Black (58 mins), Jason Emery for M McKenzie (62 mins), C Eves for K Hames (70 mins), Leni Apisai for A Dixon, Marcel Renata for B May (76 mins).
Referee: Craig Maxwell Keys (RFU)