Munster the (real) victors after epic sporting showdown

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19 November 2008 – (courtesy of

The BBC said Joe Rokocoko’s late, late try “spared the All Blacks’ blushes” against Munster last night.

Sorry, no it didn’t. There would have been no blushes in defeat because there would have been no embarrassment in losing to the inspired, electrified, relentless, passionate and ultimately magnificent team of Munster men on this unforgettable autumn night at the legendary Thomond Park.

This was one of those sporting occasions which transcends a game and makes bolder statements about humanity. That sounds perhaps a tad pretentious – but it is not. This match was that special. As a Kiwi – probably one of only 500 in the 26,000 strong crowd – I was honoured to be present and deeply moved by the respect the Munster crowd showed for the All Blacks, for my country and for the game of rugby.

Take heed all around the world who care about this beautiful game. When ‘Smokin’ Joe’ scored that heartbreaking, game-breaking try in the 87th minute, Stephen Donald’s resultant conversion attempt, if successful, would have put the All Blacks out of reach of defeat by an even later drop goal or penalty. It was the most crucial of kicks. In almost any other stadium in the world, at least outside Ireland, the booing from the home supporters would have been loud, venomous and prolonged.

Yet as Donald lined up his kick the only sound in the eerily still, and yet monumentally flattened crowd was the occasional “Shhhhh” as spectators reminded their compatriots of their great yet unwritten sporting code.

The kick missed – perhaps it was the silence that undid Donald on that and several other occasions during the evening (to be fair to the crowd at Croke Park last weekend, they did exactly the same when Dan Carter was kicking. Again, he missed some sitters. Maybe a new weapon, the Sound of Silence, has been discovered that can finally stop the mighty Blacks).

During one of Donald’s earlier, and also crucial, kicks, the silence was broken only by the barking of a dog from outside the stadium. That’s right – you could hear a dog barking in a backstreet of Limerick, such was the silence inside Thomond Park. You almost expected the crowd to collectively look in the direction of the dog, raise their fingers to their lips, and whisper “Shhhhh” in the direction of the hapless hound.

Every word, every gesture of the All Blacks Haka was met with similar silence, immense appreciation and total respect. How different that is from the braying you will hear from the Barbour jacket brigade two weeks hence at Twickenham, who will no doubt successfully drown out the Haka with their symphony of boorish booing, thus denying themselves and all other spectators of one of the great moments in world sport.

Remember too that a goodly proportion of the folks of Munster had taken up occupation in the pubs of Limerick throughout the afternoon in the build-up to the 7.30 kick-off. Some might have been four sheets and quite a few more pints of Guinness to the wind but that didn’t have the slightest impact on the levels of respect they showed and which, quite frankly, put any rugby crowd in New Zealand to shame.

So here’s a plea to all fellow Kiwis. Let’s learn from the dignity and grace of the Irish. When Ireland (especially, but also any other international side) play our teams back home, let’s banish the booing too. Let’s take up the alternative cry of “Shhhhh” and show that at the rugby table of manners, the Irish are not the only diners.

And another thing. If any Kiwis reading this bump into a Munster man or woman in 2011 during the next Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, invite them back into your home. Tell them you were moved by the respect they showed your nation, your culture, your rugby team. Tell them that the Munster class of 2008 – a supposedly ‘second string’ team – was every bit as heroic as their proud predecessors of 1978.

Tell them that Munster lost only on the scoreboard but won everywhere that it mattered most – in the hearts, minds and affections of all those privileged enough to be present, including crazily patriotic Kiwis like me who (almost impossibly) would not have been downcast at losing to such a side.

Tell them how you heard about those Munster men who hit rucks like there was no tomorrow (and for anyone standing in their way there might not have been). Tell them how their own brand of passion somehow inspired several of the younger All Blacks – notably the magnificent young athlete that is number 8 Liam Messam – to reach deep, deep inside themselves to a place they perhaps did not recognise and play like men possessed in those final, pulsating 20 minutes, when bodies were strewn like corpses across the glorious battlefield that was Thomond Park.

Tell them that you heard about the ‘Munster Four’ – Howlett, Tupoki, Manning and Mafi – and how they, backed to a man by the rest of the team, laid down their own heroic Haka challenge to the Blacks.

And tell them so much more. Tell them how the crowd to a man and a woman stood and applauded the All Blacks after the game, despite having just swallowed the bitter, bitter pill of unexpected, agonising, death knell defeat. Tell them how ruddied-looking Munster men came up and shook my hand after the game and said “Well done, you deserved it”, when in truth perhaps we didn’t.

Tell them most of all, that the name of Munster, even in defeat, is synonymous not only with the great rugby victory of 1978 but also the magnificence of the players and the crowd who graced the rebuilt Thomond Park some three decades later.

  • Hi Martin,
    today is the 22nd January 2008 and it is only today that i read your marvellously gracious comments on our (Munster) rugby team.

    This is a team of which i am so proud, for the way in which they show everlasting courage in facing other teams, including the mighty All Blacks, for whom everyone has such respect.

    It was a fabulous match and made me proud to be both an Irish / Munster woman.


  • thank you martin,
    very well written article.
    am an aussie living in reland for more than 10 years, have watch many games at thormond park, lansdowne road, and croke park.
    you are correct in what you felt and said, however when i try to explain to my aussie, kiwi and south african mates back home they simply do not understand … it truly is something that one must experience first hand to appreciate.
    sadly, i believe the kiwis, saffers and aussies, but mostly the aussies, are to blame for the booing behaviour, and even more sadly it is spreading to twickenham and other places.
    ireland truly lead the world in setting high standards of sportsmanship and the irish should be proud of themselves and hold their heads high … it is the irish people that make this country what it is and why i love living here.
    the irish are open-minded and intelligent enough to realise that winning is not everything. hopefully, one day soon, the other nations will realise the hollowness of their “victories”.
    cheers, w.

  • Hi Martin,

    Many thanks it was a game and a half. Was one of a herd of flag bearers running on field before the game. Only way to get a pass for the game.. Along with some of my own Cork club team-mates. Over a week ago, and myself and a number one flag bearer buddy watched it on TV last night. Were we imagining it? How was such a special night one that we lost, and that we are so proud of our team.
    Met Mick O’Driscoll much later, and he was still gutted.We are so proud of them dispite the result. Inspirational.

    Delighted you enjoyed it, gutted my brother in Oz missed it.

    Hope they come again.

    Over used but true, they are legends.

  • One of the blessings or curses of the internet is the distance any comment/blog will travel.

    Your gracious article has travelled throughout my office in Cork. Munster is very grateful to the All Blacks for all the great games over the years.

    Not mention Howlett, Tupoki, Manning and Mafi . Who have made a huge impression (in more then one sense of the word) on munster rugby.

    Thanks to all the Kiwi Fans & Players

  • Hi Martin,

    I am indebted to one of my mates for forwarding The Moodie View on the Munster v All Blacks game. What a gracious piece and heart-warming.

    Yes, we were all proud to be a part of the occasion in our wonderful new stadium and thank the All Blacks for their sportsmanship.

    We were concerned that the under strength Munster team would be rolled-over and we are bursting with pride after their performance. Guy’s like Timmy Ryan (on a part-time contract) played out of their skins. We are fortunate to have our 4 kiwis who have slotted in so well to the team. I have watched Munster train on occasion and it is evident that they are all good friends and a very happy camp. In these recessionary times Munster are giving us a great up-lift.

    Thanks again and roll on the next Kiwi visit.

    Ivan O’Riordan

  • Martin ,

    Words never fail you when it comes to telling the truth and expressing your emotions.

    Having been there in 1978 remembering the great occassion that was then 31st October, the boys in red were truely wired up for this clash and what a performance they gave on tuesday.

    Thank you Munster Kiwis for your Haka!!!!!

    Since having given up imbibing, i took to the quieter pubs of Limerick on last tuesday evening and indulged in the traditional crubeens and pigs tails and enjoyed the aftermatch banter. The following morning i knew where my car was parked and how i had gotten home a big change form 1978.

    Munster by birth.

  • Martin, a friend passed on to me today a copy of your article on the Munster game. As a Limerick and Munster man although living in Dublin, I am very proud of what you said and when you are next in dublin call me -01-6680661, as I owe you a pint.
    Spanner O Malley

  • That’s a nicely-written and generous piece. I think we in Limerick probably feel just as well-disposed towards the All Blacks after a fine performance all round. I can tell you that their return to the field after the game was noted with respect and appreciation.

    Surely this can’t be the end of it?

    Roll on 2038.

  • I’m a Kiwi who has been living is Ireland now, going on 15 years so I was torn between camps, but I would agree with you, it was the best game I have ever been to and your story descibes it so well.
    The atmosphere there was just unreal.

    A really well written article so good It’s now doing the email rounds in Ireland.


  • Well done Martin.

    Great write up. Hair standing on the back of me neck !!!

    Great nite in Thomond Park. Great for the game as well. Great nite for the so called 2nd string teams on both sides. That Liam Messam is some player. Brillant ball carrier. Wonderful strength. Watch this space Rodney??

    Anyway, Back to the Heinekin Cup & Magners League this weekend.

    Gud luck v’s the Brits the weekend.

    See yee all in 2011.

    “By the Grace of God”


  • Hi Martin,
    I just read your piece, it is a wonderful account of the game and the occasion. I can’t say I have ever been to an All Blacks home game before but if your an example of one of their supporters, then its save to say I should also enjoy the experience.
    Perhaps now that the match score is 1 all, a deciding rematch might be arranged (but lets not wait 30 years)

  • Great piece Martin….glad you enjoyed your Thomond Park experience!…the atmosphere must have been electric from the moment Dougie and the boys lay down the challenge the game was played at an amazing intensity. There is something unique about Munster rugby that is hard to pinpoint and that has been lacking with Ireland.

    Fair play to the All Blacks for coming back at the end and surely they will now go on to take home a grand slam. They definitely spared you an intensive ‘slaging’ in Dubai from two Munster Men!

    Looking forward to catching up for a few well deserved pints of the black stuff after the Run.

    To the Brave and the faithful…


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