Adrian O’Farrell is back with another exclusive article for the Supporters Club. This week he takes a look at Munster’s European odyssey and the lengths some Munster fans will go to just to see the game.
The efforts of Munster supporters to subvert the normal rules of ticket procurement are legendary and Saturday provided further evidence as they infiltrated the infamous ‘Shed’ at Kingsholm in support of their team. However, the ‘Dirty Dozen’ ticketless Munster supporters who attempted to gain admission to Saturday’s Heineken European Cup Quarter-final at Kingsholm by sneaking into the toilets eight hours ahead of kick-off and hoping to remain undetected, may have set a new high (or low depending on your viewpoint). It is surely, however, only Munster whose supporters would go to such lengths and this says much about their success.
If only Gloucester’s ruck inspectors had been as vigilant as their toilet inspectors, then they may not be waking to a monumental Heineken hangover that may well scupper the remainder of their season.
In Rory Lawson‘s nightmares, he will surely find the rangy leg of Alan Quinlan coming through the middle of a breakdown to trap the ball before the rest of him follows. A ‘dirty dozen’ turnovers conceded to just one gained for Gloucester may mean that a season that has promised so much ends up in the proverbial toilet. Although they remain at the head of the Premiership after a brilliant first half of the season, they have now won only two of their last seven matches and the knock-on effect of this defeat may prove fatal to their league hopes as well.
But that’s what Munster do to teams. In time, the word Munster may well become an adjective, as in ‘to be Munstered‘ (to be steamrolled, avalanched, the victim of a hurricane).
Anyone that saw the Sky Sports Rugby Club preamble to the match cannot but have been struck by the impact that the ‘Miracle Match‘ had had on the psyche of James Simpson-Daniel, for one. He admitted that the memory still came back to haunt him and that it was something that for all that you might want to obliterate it, you couldn’t. He may as well have worn a sign that said, ‘We are mentally freaked out by Munster’. ‘Munstering’ is a cumulative process, it seems.
Quinlan was immense, and it was fitting that it was his brilliant turnover that began the sequence that began with Munster under massive pressure in their own 22 and ended a couple of minutes later with Ian Dowling cruising in for the pivotal try.
Munster were clever in identifying Gloucester’s style of committing relatively few numbers to the breakdown represented an opportunity, and they were ruthless in exposing it. It is something that The Shed, raised on a diet of bruising packs inflicting their will on opponents, buoyed by their own massively vocal support, must find a betrayal of their roots.
This match also represented one of Declan Kidney‘s personal high water marks, which is saying something. When I heard the team announcement, I thought back to his controversial Leinster selection for the Leinster-Munster European Cup semi-final at Lansdowne Road in 2006. On that occasion he opted for the considerably less experienced Ciaran Potts over Eric Miller, as well as controversially leaving out Shane Jennings in favour of Keith Gleeson despite the latter’s lack of match practice following an extended injury layoff. It backfired badly on him. This time, his bravery paid off handsomely as both O’Leary and Hurley contributed wonderfully.
His other brave call came during the match at a pivotal moment. With Tony Buckley showing up brilliantly in the loose but struggling in the scrum, Munster faced a scrum close to their line and a fired-up Gloucester pack believed they could score from the set piece. With the game firmly in the melting pot, Kidney’s replacement of Buckley with Pucciariello on 33 minutes helped them survive the moment.
But back to Rory Lawson’s nightmare, for the sight of Quinlan’s foot will surely be closely followed by the sight of his own club and international team-mate Chris Patterson‘s foot pulling successive sitters left of the sticks. Patterson’s clear anguish was accentuated by the sheer implausibility of the situation. When a guy whose accuracy has been so reliable skews the first one, it has even greater impact on the psyche than normal. Patterson was so traumatised by the second miss that it really wasn’t that great a shock when he hoicked the third one as well. His trauma was mirrored by that of his pack who, despite owning the first quarter of the match, had to watch O’Gara give Munster the lead.
The match also represented a true coming of age in a red jersey for Doug Howlett. The flying Kiwi was excellent in everything he did, whether sliding onto Daragh Hurley‘s sweetly judged grubber, facing down Lesley Vainikolo in a mid-air leap for Lamb’s high cross-kick, chasing down of his own kick ahead that led to an attacking five metre scrum or having the confidence to run from deep in the build-up to Dowling’s try.
This was probably Munster’s most complete performance since overcoming Toulouse in the south of France in 2000, another occasion on which they showed admirable ambition and confidence to keep the ball alive against the supposedly superior creative force. The names have almost all changed, but the essential brand elements remain.
And so, to Coventry and a reunion with the genial Alan Gaffney. I couldn’t quite see how the Ospreys were being made such overwhelming favourites for that one. The EDF Cup was hardly at the top of the Sarries list of priorities when the teams met a fortnight back, and there was always the reality that the Ospreys, for all their big names, had never actually qualified from their group before. Saracens tackled themselves to a standstill yesterday and deserved their win. But Munster will set them a more varied set of questions.
With Leinster looking nailed on to win the Magners League and with Munster now having an excellent chance of completing the most fraught path yet to win a European Cup, the demise of Irish rugby would appear to have been greatly exaggerated. What price now a ticket to the RDS next weekend?
Note to Mick Dawson – ‘Have your lads sweep the toilets for a couple of days beforehand’.