Spirit and resolve the vital qualities

 

They brought the 1978 vintage from Limerick to Cork and, spiritually, they brought the mountain to Mohammed at Musgrave Park on Saturday.

The watching heroes of 20 years before could probably have closed their eyes as the crowd stomped their feet to the chants of "Munster, Munster". The home side put their bodies on the line and the tackles went in. As then, Munster were not for breaching.

Indeed, it was a near replica of the score-line against the All-Blacks in 1978, allowing for the increase in the value of the try, until Perpignan applied the only blemish to Munster's day with Mike James' effort.

By then though, it wasn't even any consolation to the bad-tempered and graceless losers. Hitherto unbeaten, the Perpignan players reacted to the full-time whistle with characteristic French churlishness by declining to observe the post-match handshakes.

Tight-lipped and sour, they filed out of the dressing-room and save for their vice-President Marc Bourezeau, were not in the mood for talking. He described referee Steve Lander as "scandalous", adding that Munster were continually offside.

"They were not our rules they were his rules," claimed Bourezeau, who bemoaned the wave of costly penalties against his side for foul play. "It was not stamping, it was rucking."

Peter Stringer might beg to differ, for Perpignan's most indelible mark on proceedings had been the six-inch gash on the back of the young scrum-half's head.

The shoulder injury which did for Alan Quinlan in the first quarter, and has again unluckily sidelined him at this week's national sessions, was accidental. But Munster players spoke of head-butting and some of the most ruthless "shoeing" they had encountered, though as Mark McDermott added: "You give as good as you get."

Though the lush green Musgrave Park pitch held up remarkably well, an incessant torrential downpour obliged them to dig up a trademark pack performance.

When commitment is required, the likes of Peter Clohessy and Mick Galwey, along with the Shannon back-row, can mix it with the best of them.

Clohessy, alcohol free for a couple of months and happier than at any time, is playing his best rugby and is now probably in pole position for the Irish loose-head berth against Georgia in a fortnight.

Cometh the half-hour, he crowned his all-action and high octane performance with some inspirational surges and a flamboyant try.

After Tom Tierney had intelligently tidied up Anthony Foley's loose flick from the base of the scrum, Halvey and Hayes took the ball on in turn, and Munster's willingness to keep the ball alive in the tackle saw Hayes pop the ball for Clohessy to burst through two men at full tilt and dive exultantly by the posts.

Entitled to take liberties, he later said smiling: "I blew three of them away and then saw the gap."

"In fact, I thought we were quite comfortable up front in the first-half," he opined. Despite a troubled scrum and some spillages at line-outs, the Munster eight gave as good as they got, driving forward off their own line-outs and repelling Perpignan around the fringes.

Adapting to the altogether different needs of this day, Barry Everitt ran things well, and underlined his status as number three in the national pecking order of out-halves by extracting every last inch of his accurate line-kicks.

It helped that Killian Keane unerringly struck a couple of early penalties. And had his third effort shortly after the resumption not hit the upright, or Eddie Halvey held the centre's try-scoring pass after another impressive performer, Brian Roche had looped around John Kelly, Munster might have had an easier second-half ride.

As it was, they rode their luck a little. Perpignan bizarrely turned down three points in front of the sticks and then had a try overruled when Raphael Ibanez became one of three yellow-carded Frenchmen for one of many off-the-ball acts of thuggery.

The workload of the Munster pack was phenomenal. John Hayes probably headed Mick Galwey and Anthony Foley in the count for turnover tackles and steals around the fringes - made more impressive by his difficulties in the scrum.

Foley's covering touch-line tackle on Gregory Tutard into a puddle was the game's ultimate Kodak moment.

Mick O'Driscoll, heading another posse of young flankers in the slipstream of Jeremy Davidson and Malcolm O'Kelly, looked like a younger version of the latter, and to shine in this company moved his impressive debut season up another notch.

No-one could be faulted: even Tom Tierney's arrival gave more presence as a ninth forward and was therefore probably more suited to the occasion.

David Corkery's arrival meant even more big hits behind the Perpignan gain-line, though he threatened to overstep the mark when on a yellow card. Declan Kidney could take immense satisfaction for ensuring that Munster peaked around this point in the season.

"It was the perfect way to celebrate the occasion. We now have something that no other Munster side has, in that we are the first Munster side to qualify for the knock-out stages. There'll be second and third Munster sides to do it, but we'll always be the first."