Standing alongside his fellow red-shirted New Zealanders and performing the haka in front of the All Blacks at a packed Thomond Park is a moment Munster centre Rua Tipoki will cherish for the rest of his life.
Rua Tipoki, the nuggety Kiwi centre, helped Munster put in a monster effort against New Zealand as they upset the pre-match odds and were within four minutes of a shock win over Graham Henry’s side.
The 33-year-old from Te Puia Springs has certainly become a fan’s favourite since his move north in 2007 and he endeared himself even more to the Munster faithful, prior to the All Blacks clash, by leading his fellow New Zealanders Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi and Jeremy Manning in a four-man haka.
When quizzed about facing the haka for the first time and doing a ‘haka back’, Howlett said in the build-up to the game that Munster’s Kiwis would consult with their ‘resident Maori’ Tipoki over the possibility of doing their own haka.
And the decision to go ahead and do one worked a treat as backed by their team-mates, who had linked arms behind them, Tipoki and company performed the traditional dance to a wall of noise from the Thomond Park crowd.
It was a moment that got Munster’s adrenaline pumping and Tipoki, speaking afterwards, was delighted to have done it.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I suppose. As a Kiwi kid you grow up dreaming that one day you’ll play for the All Blacks, do the haka,” said the former New Zealand Maori captain.
“We wanted to represent our team but at the same time we were wary of upsetting people.
“We know that Munster already have such culture and tradition, we didn’t want to come here and impose our stamp on them.
“But people who have supported Munster for years, people who have played for Munster – this was something that everyone we spoke to wanted us to do.
“We did it on behalf of our team-mates, on behalf of everyone who went before us. It was a special moment in my career, I’ll always remember it.”
Tipoki, who was part of New Zealand Maori team that beat the British & Irish Lions for the first time in 2005, had plenty of haka experience to draw on for Tuesday night’s big occasion.
Describing the moment as he stepped forward to lead Munster’s ‘haka’ in front of Piri Weepu and the All Blacks, he said: “The crowd just went mental, didn’t they? Mafi missed the jump at the start because none of us could hear each other.
“The adrenaline was pumping, we were just trying to keep together.”
And while Tipoki acknowledged that New Zealand responded with an ‘awesome’ haka, the Kiwi’s infectious spirit and pride in wearing Munster red shone through at the post-match briefing.
“I was just so proud to be a Munster man, even before today. I can feel myself getting a bit emotional now at that question,” he admitted.
“Obviously we had a lot of players who weren’t available tonight but we said it in the dressing room before we went out, we wouldn’t trade places with anyone who was in those shirts.
“Going out there we were going to be soldiers for each other, and no matter what, we were going to go to the wall for each other.
“I’m not disappointed (with the result), because of the way the boys played. We fronted up and that’s the way it was supposed to be.”
Tipoki, whose night was cut short by a 53rd minute injury, also paid tribute to Peter Stringer for his role in setting up Munster’s only try, which was scored by Barry Murphy shortly before half-time.
Explaining how the try came about, he said: “The play was to go to the left. Dougie Howlett was to punch through the middle, but if they screwed the scrum the other way Peter Stringer and Barry Murphy were to go for it on that side.
“I think it’s fitting that Peter, one of Munster’s great servants, a guy who has gone through such tough times lately, had such a major hand in a special moment.”