‘Almost perfect’

THE quote from Munster coach Tony Mc Gahan after last Friday night’s massive victory over Sale Sharks in the Heineken Cup.

You would have to agree with him. It was almost perfect. The reason it wasn’t? Well, it did rain a little in the second half.

There are moments in sport that stay with you forever. For me some of the events I will never forget go from John Fenton’s goal against Limerick. Packie Bonner’s save against Romania and Denis Taylor wagging his finger after winning the world title. Events like these may be top of many people’s sporting memories roll of honour, but there is a team in red who seem to want to be top of everyone’s list. That team is of course Munster. Take any of the following moments from last Friday night and tell me that they will not live long with those that were there. Jerry Flannery’s try in the corner. O Connell’s leap over for a try. The performance of David Wallace.

As if winning the Heineken Cup in 2006 and 2008 wasn’t enough, the red army went and ran the All Blacks close. That would be enough for three teams. Not this one though. The game last Friday night might not go down in history as the greatest ever, but the will to win shown by the Munster players was truly mind boggling. Last week I spoke of how some “fans” and some “media” had actually written Munster off. The performances against Ulster and Connacht seemed to be more important than they actually were. The fans had lost their voice. Munster was creaky.

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From Friday afternoon, the signs were there that Friday was again to be a special night. The fans were in town early. The crowd were singing, on their own, before kick off. The most dramatic thing was that almost three years to the day since it last aired, unaided, Stand Up and Fight was sung by the crowd mid way through the second half.

Those effects might have made it memorable for us as spectators, but the players on the pitch had to do the business. Captain Awesome, O Connell. (who, by the way, should be Ireland and Lions captain) commented that the week leading into the game, the players had “given a lot of themselves. They knew that no matter what happened in the terraces, the players needed to perform” That they did. Six tries. Three from backs, three from forwards. Moves that would have looked at home in the southern hemisphere ended in marvellous scores. Rising stars showed that this party won’t be over for sometime. Namely Earls and O Leary. The occasion fitted the stadium. The stadium complemented the fans. The fans chanted for their heroes. The bond between all appears to be as tight as ever.

Munster belong to us. There has been nothing before in a sporting context to be so proud of. Soak in every minute. There are rugby fans out there who watch their team every time and they are not performing superhero feats week after week, season after season. How lucky are we?

On to this weekend then. Munster take on Montauban. The target is simple. A bonus point win secures a home quarter final. In fact, a win would be enough too. The problem will be how much interest do Montauban have. I know they fielded a weakened side against Clermont, but that was for reasons of the French championship. You never know with the French clubs. They could just roll over or they could feel like having a crack off of the Heineken Champions.

The performances so far in the previous five pool games have all been superb. Four wins were secured, with that one loss in Clermont. Don’t forget either that this group had the best of all seeds. Munster are number 1. Sale were the best placed second seed and so on for Clermont and Montauban. When you consider that Cardiff are the only unbeaten team in the tournament, then you know that beyond Saturday afternoon at 3.30pm, we are looking good.

Of course we would never do that. Saturday is key. Then the lads head off to the Six Nations. Let’s hope they come back as good as they went in. After all, they will be playing with inferior  players for a few weeks. Role on Munster. Home quarter to come. Fingers crossed.