Paul O’Connell has arrived in London. Rumour has it that tomorrow Ian McGeechan will announce Paul as the man who will lead the British & Ireland Lions in South Africa.
- Ireland 30 – 21 France
- Italy 9 – 38 Ireland
- Ireland 14 – 13 England
- Scotland 15 – 22 Ireland
- Wales 15 – 17 Ireland
This Ireland team are coming home as legends.
Lose today by less than 13 points, and the Irish team will be welcomed home as heroes.
Win today, and they will be legends.
Irish Team vs Wales, 1948
Irish Team vs Wales, 2009
That’s a scoreline to lift any Munster rugby follower’s heart. Not because it was England that were beaten by New Zealand. Not because Munster came closer to beating the all-conquering All Blacks than any of the full International sides. It’s because all these score-lines have one thing in common:
- England 6 – 32 New Zealand
- Wales 9 – 29 New Zealand
- Ireland 3 – 22 New Zealand
- Scotland 6 – 32 New Zealand
Not one of the Home Nations scored a try against the All Blacks. But Munster did.
Round these parts it will be remembered for one of the greatest games to have ever taken place in Thomond Park, it will be remembered as the night that Barry Murphy scored the only try conceded by the All Blacks on their Grand Slam tour.
“In 1978, Munster supporters left Thomond Park amazed that they had beaten the All Blacks. In 2008, Munster supporters left Thomond Park amazed that they had lost to the All Blacks”.
On Tuesday the 18th November 2008, a new piece of history will be written in Thomond Park. New Zealand will play Munster to commemorate the opening of the new Thomond Park. As it happens, it’s also 30 years since New Zealand were beaten 12 – 0 by Munster. You may have heard about it.
The question on everyone’s lips is will we do it again. No matter what my heart says, my head says “No”. With the Ireland – New Zealand test on the Saturday before, and with Argentina to follow the week after, there’s a distinct lack of first team players available, especially in the pack. (Though I have to say that our back line looks strong).
Despite the fact that the match will be played between two second-string teams, I think it’s going to be a great occasion. For the lads in red, it’s going to be a tough game, but there’s no doubt that they’ll show the All Blacks just how tough they can be.
The Munster Squad vs New Zealand:
Federico Pucciariello, Timmy Ryan, Dave Ryan, Frank Sheahan, Denis Fogarty, Donncha Ryan, Mark Melbourne, James Coughlan, John O’Sullivan, Niall Ronan, Justin Melck, Billy Holland Barry Murphy, Kieran Lewis, Brian Carney, Anthony Horgan, Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Rua Tipoki, Paul Warwick, Jeremy Manning, Conor Murray, Mike Prendergast.
I passed by Thomond Park yesterday and some of the seating has gone into the new West Stand. While there’s a bit of work to be done, it looks like the new stadium is really taking shape. The Munster Rugby website has pictures from June, before the seating went in.
The first match to be played in the new stadium will be a Magners League match against Glasgow Warriors on the 3rd, 4th or 5th October. The first Heineken Cup match will be against Montauban on the 10th October – Friday Night, and the one that everyone is looking forward to is Munster vs New Zealand on the 18th November. Expect to see guys selling their grannies for tickets to that match!
The draw was made this morning for the Pool Stages of the Heineken Cup 2009. This was the first draw to be made using the new ERC ranking system. Having won the Heineken Cup twice in the last 3 years, Munster were ranked number 1. The Pools are:
Munster, Sale, Clermont, Montauban.
Wasps, Leinster, Castres, Edinburgh.
Leicester, Perpignon, Ospreys, Benneton Treviso.
Stade Francis, Llanelli, Ulster, Harlequins.
Toulouse, Bath, Newport, Glasgow.
Biarritz, Gloucester, Cardiff, Calvisano.
The first round of games kick off on the weekend of the 10th October 2008.
Munster have a tough group. There’s no doubt that the away matches to Sale and Clermont will be prove to be both very difficult and very important to our qualification hopes, but the away match to Montauban could be a bit of a banana skin.
Playing any French side in France is tough, but so is playing against a team that you know so very little about. Montauban finished 7th in their first year in the Top 14. That’s not bad. What’s even more remarkable is that they were the first team to beat Stade Francais that season.
I’m back from what has been the best weekend of my life. Munster won the Heineken Cup, and I can say that I was there.
It’s difficult to put into words how amazing the entire weekend was. It started off at 5am on a cold Friday morning and ended at 11pm Sunday night. In between there were bouts of nervousness, awe, joy, anxiety, relief and tiredness. But in the end, this weekend will be remembered for the camaraderie, and the sheer joy of seeing Paul O’Connell lift the Heineken Cup.
I’ll never forget my first view of the inside of the Millennium Stadium. I was awe struck by the size, the noise and the vast sea of red. Thinking back, it still sends a shiver down my spine.
After the lap of honour was completed came the most bitter-sweet image of the day. Declan Kidney approached the fans holding the Cup with Paul O’Connell. He clapped the fans, took a bow and walked back to the rest of the team. The roar from the crowd was unnatural. It reverberated around the stadium and hit me full in the chest. It suddenly dawned on me that this was his goodbye to the Munster Faithful.
Joy tinged with sadness is the most poignant emotion of them all.
The next time the Men in Red run out on to the field, there’ll be no Declan Kidney, Jim Williams or Anthony Foley. The Munster team will continue, and with the current crop of players, there’s certainly more Heineken Cups to be won, but we’ll be without those men that have gone so far to make Munster Rugby what it is.
With the confidence that comes from being a Munster supporter, we booked our trip back in January. So there’s no last minute searching for match tickets or accommodation. Just pack the bags and we’re ready to go.
Munster vs Toulouse – the dream final. Will the dream continue for Munster? Hard to say. Toulouse have an unbelievable Heineken Cup record. But then again so do Munster. We may not have won it as many times, but this is our fourth final, and we have the experience of being here and done that.
The core of the team is the same as that in 2006, but with the added benefit of a much better back line. Mafi, Tipoki, Howlett. These names are enough to strike fear into any team. Then add in the likes of Paul O’Connell, Anthony Foley, Ronan O’Gara, Dennis Leamy, Jerry Flannery. Toulouse will recognise that the Munster squad displays quality in every position.
On the other hand, Toulouse can bring players like Elissalde, Heymans, Pelous, Albacete. All giants of the game.
So it’s not going to be easy, but it is going to be a titanic battle, there is no doubt about that.
After all of that though, I think there are three things that will push the match Munster’s way: 60,000+ Munster supporters, Declan Kidney leaves Munster to take over as Ireland coach, and Anthony Foley plays the last game of his career in a Heineken Cup Final. Sport doesn’t get much more romantic than that. What more could you want?
I can’t wait.
Munster all the way.
It may be a bit premature considering that Munster still have to get past Gloucester and then either Saracens or Ospreys, but I’ve booked my trip to Cardiff for the Heineken Cup Final at the end of May.
The quarter-final against Gloucester is going to be a much tougher game than most people believe – beating Gloucester and winning through to the semi-final will be harder than getting to the final. Though there are no easy games at this stage of the Heineken Cup, I prefer our chances against either Saracens or Ospreys.
No matter what happens next April/ May, I’ll still be in Cardiff come the 24th May. I’ll be much happier if Munster are there too.
As a post-script, this will be my first ever foreign “holiday”. In this age of cheap air fares, most of my friends find it amazing that I’ve made it to the age of 31 without leaving the country.