On October 31, 1978 Munster managed to beat the All Blacks. Piri Weepu has just been appointed to captain the All Black dirt trackers on Tuesday against Munster. Let’s have a look at the teams for this weeks match and do a little bit of reminiscing as we read about the 1978 match.
Munster squad: 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
New Zealand: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Isaia Toeava, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Piri Weepu (captain), 8 Liam Messam, 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Hikawera Elliott, 17 John Afoa, 18 Brad Thorn, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Richard Kahui, 22 Mils Muliaina.
Danny Coyle writes for International Rugby News about the famous Munster Victory in 1978.
When New Zealand arrive in Limerick this November, their midweek clash with the champions of Europe will revive memories of the day, 30 years ago, when Munster downed the most feared team on the planet.
The joke is as famous as the act it describes.
Jimmy Bowen is sitting in the Mastermind chair when asked by Magnus Magnusson: “What did you do with the All Blacks’ line at your mercy?”
The man who caught that pass, the man who has been dining out on the joke ever since that famous day on October 31, 1978 is Christy Cantillon, the uncapped student flanker who entered Munster folklore after scoring the try that downed the All Blacks at Thomond Park.
In the 30 years since, no game of rugby has been romanticised as much as that 12-0 victory.
There have been plays staged, after dinner speeches made and most recently, Alan English’s excellent book, Stand Up and Fight: When Munster beat the All Blacks, all recalling the day Tom Kiernan’s side, a collection of bankers, teachers, builders and students, went toe to toe with those legends of New Zealand rugby: Stu Wilson, Frank Oliver, Andy Haden, Graham Mourie.
The irony is that broadcasters paid little heed to the game back then, uninterested in airing a match destined to be a slaughter. The only footage is grainy and from a poor angle.
The try is on YouTube but somehow to watch it in full colour takes away the mystique of a 20-second passage of play that is burned deep into the memories of Munster supporters – even those who weren’t there.
As the Munster loosehead Gerry McLoughlin tells English: “One hundred thousand people say they were at Thomond Park that day. Ninety thousand of them are liars.”
It’s when you read the stories in English’s book, or hear from the people involved that you realise what it meant for them to play the All Blacks back then, never mind entertain the notion of beating them.
This was the sixth time the All Blacks had come to Ireland. No Irish team had ever bested them.
“There was a huge aura around them,” says Cantillon. “They had been in Ireland in 1974 for the Irish Rugby Union centenary, and in 73, when I played for the Irish Universities against them. I scored a try that
Little did Cantillon know he would be righting that particular wrong five years later. No one outside the group of players gave the province a chance.
They hadn’t lifted the provincial championship in 10 years and if the players were honest with themselves, they probably only rated their chances as slim to none of pulling off the ultimate upset.
Cantillon recalls: “When you’re in the dressing room 15 to 20 minutes before the game, you think to yourself, ‘what the hell am I doing here’. The brain is twitching big time, you know?
“I remember sitting down across from Seamus Dennison, and his eyes were rolling in his head. I said to myself, ‘if he’s like that, I’m okay!’”
School teacher Dennison, whose tackling power was more than double that of any other man his size, made a tackle that day to spark the belief that this Tuesday afternoon could belong to Munster.
Cantillon remembers the incident well. “We had a video of the All Blacks playing Cardiff,” he says. “Stu Wilson coming through the centre was the main danger, he was breaking the gain line and they were scoring what looked like easy tries, but it was the angle they were coming in at.
“There was a reunion with the Munster team through Crosshaven Rugby Club, about 12 months ago now, and I got Stu over as a guest speaker. He’s a fabulous character. He said: ‘I came through one hole and I was expecting to waltz through the next. Next thing I knew I had this little fucker in front of me. It was like hitting a stone wall.’”
The stone wall was Dennison, who hit Wilson like a freight train, dislodging the ball and blunting the tourists’ primary attacking weapon.
The move was called again. The same result ensued.
“The next time they called a move on Stu, he said ‘forget it, I’m not going up there again!’” says Cantillon.
It was the granite-hard style Kiernan knew his side needed to adopt if they were to have a cat in hell’s chance, which is more than they gave themselves after being destroyed five weeks earlier in a tour match against Middlesex, 33-7.
“The All Blacks played the London Counties, who had four of the players from the Middlesex side we’d lost to, and they hammered them by 20-odd points,” says Cantillon. “We thought: “ we’re going to be in the height of trouble here.”
And there was no reason to suspect otherwise after Munster were annihilated in the first scrum, McLoughlin struggling against his opposite number Gary Knight, whose face was almost mummified in bandages after a dose of herpes that McLoughlin still claims to suffer with as a result to this day.
Then came the game’s first lineout – a Munster throw, and the start of the move that would send Cantillon and his team-mates into immortality:
A catch at the front by Brendan Foley, the ball eventually finding its way from scrum-half and captain Donal Caniffe to Tony Ward, Ward’s dink over the defence, the bounce falling perfectly for Bowen, taking him past Stu Wilson in the same stride.
Bowen swerves past full-back Brian McKechnie and, just as he is about to be flattened near the line, his pass inside to the galloping Cantillon sends Thomond Park into rapture.
That’s the short, accurate description, but Cantillon has perfected an account of his own. “Pa Whelan throws the ball in, it hits Foley on the head, lands at Caniffe’s feet, Caniffe throws it over Wardy’s head, Wardy jumps and catches it, then Wardy tries to kick it over the stand but didn’t kick it long enough so it falls to Jimmy.
“Jimmy now is making a burst. He’s going to the left and looks on the outside and sees three Limerick fellas on the outside of him, they definitely weren’t going to get the ball. Jimmy’s from Pres
(Presentation College, Cork).
“Greg Barrett was inside and Greg was from Christians, he definitely wasn’t going to get the ball, so he keeps going, and when he’s over the line, he realises there are three All Blacks who want to kill him, so he throws the ball away, and the ball lands to me.”
Five minutes later, a rattled Brian McKechnie knocked on on his own line and from the resulting scrum a Ward drop goal put Munster 9-0 up.
Despite incessant second half pressure, Ward repeated the trick in the last quarter of the match to take Munster over the line and spark scenes at Thomond Park that have yet to be rivalled, despite all the modern day team’s heroics.
Whether the celebration match on November 18 between the two sides will manage to revive the same romance is doubtful, given that both teams’ best players will be rested following the Test between the All Blacks and Ireland three days earlier.
In ’78, three of the side that toppled the All Blacks on the Tuesday played them again in the Test four days later.
Times have certainly changed. Cantillon retired at 28 with a knee injury, having never won a cap, but went on to enjoy a successful coaching career with Cork Constitution and University College Cork. But he says the Munster ethos is still very much the same.
“Everything about the present team, we experienced that type of atmosphere then,” he says. “We can certainly identify with what those players go through.”
So what price a repeat of one of the greatest ever upsets? “I think Munster play the same type of game as the All Blacks and that’s why they don’t like playing us,” says Cantillon. “The brand of rugby is
quite direct, quite in your face, you take no prisoners but you’re the best of friends afterwards.”
It could be another game to remember.Tweet