It took a 76th minute try by flying wing Joe Rokocoko to seal a nailbiting 18-16 win for New Zealand against a determined Munster outfit at Thomond Park, Limerick, on Tuesday.
Rugby 365 reports that the game, arranged to mark the 30th anniversary of Munster’s win over the All Blacks, was a great spectacle – from the very moment when Doug Howlett, Rua Tipoki and Lifeimi Mafi launched into a Haka challenge against the All Blacks, who answered with an equally passionate rendition of their traditional war dance.
But it was on the field where the action – mistakes aside – kept the packed Thomond Park crowd on the edges of their seats.
It started with a lunch for the team of 1978, which beat the Kiwis 12-0, in the city and finished under lights with history nearly repeating itself.
It was a true celebration but one tinged with sadness. A minute’s silence was observed for Shane Geoghagan, the 28-year-old player from the Garryowen club in the city, who was shot dead by a drugs gang in a tragic case of mistaken identity.
This may have been a second string All Black team, but Munster were also bereft of an entire pack of internationals.
Rather than be intimidated, Munster were determined to rattle their opponents and after a blistering start they put the first points on the board with a Paul Warwick penalty.
Stephen Donald replied for New Zealand, but midway through the half Warwick was on target again first with a penalty and then with a sublime drop-goal from near halfway.
Munster had battered into rucks and moved the ball through hand in the lead up to the scores, but exuberance soon gave way to over-confidence. An effort to run the ball from their own 22 saw a pass go to an All Black hand. Half a dozen phases of play later and Donald skipped under the Munster posts.
It should have been the cue for an onslaught and so it was but it was a Munster onslaught.
It seemed as though the team was determined to honour Geoghagan, as Garryowen after Garryowen was launched invariably with success as Munster set about the All Blacks like a pack of lions in pursuit of an ever more startled prey.
But Munster took a 16-10 lead into the half-time break when Barry Murphy strolled over in the corner after a brilliant set-piece move that saw James Coughlan pick up at the base of the scrum and offloading to Peter Stringer, who put Murphy into space. Warwick slotted the sideline conversion.
By the time the half-time whistle blew, the All Blacks had spilled more passes in one half than they are likely to do for the rest of the tour.
The All Blacks came back out with a renewed intensity and an early Donald penalty brought the gap back to three points.
But Munster refused to lie down until they fell down.
Just ten minutes into the second half, four Munster men were down injured with the All Blacks in possession but the red shirts still forced a mistake.
Donald who missed a penalty in the first half missed a couple more in the second half. But he wasn’t the only All Black who had failed to regain composure.
This was how Munster wanted it – loose, tetchy and fever pitch. Old School, hardcore. Going into the final quarter the pressure had been absorbed and Munster were establishing a foothold.
From looking dead on their feet, suddenly they were turning over All Black ball. The energy level was lung-defying, the commitment death-defying. Every back in a red shirt playing like back row forwards at ruck time.
New Zealand simply couldn’t get out of their half as tackle after tackle went in a 15-minute phase of exhilarating rugby driven by a delirious crowd. And then Rokocoko struck.
A line-out ball was worked across the field and a gap appeared for the wing to ruthlessly spoil the moment. The All Blacks led 18-16 after Donald missed the conversion.
There were two minutes left and the All Blacks saw them out. And then stayed on the pitch to salute the crowd. It was emotional.
Man of the match: Normally these votes go to the winning team, but it was Munster’s veteran scrumhalf Peter Stringer who turned back the clock and showed the Irish selectors that he can still perform on the international stage. He gets our vote.
Moment of the match: The obvious choice would be Joe Rokocoko’s 76th-minute try, and it was indeed a great match-winning effort. But in a game where the home team dominated most of the proceedings, we are going for Paul Warwick’s 21st-minute drop-goal from near halfway.
Villain of the match: There were no villains here.
Pens: Warwick 2
For New Zealand:
Tries: Donald, Rokocoko
Pens: Donald 2
Munster: 15 Doug Howlett, 14 Barry Murphy, 13 Rua Tipoki, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Ian Dowling, 10 Paul Warwick, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 Niall Ronan, 6 James Coughlan, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Mick O’Driscoll (captain), 3 Timmy Ryan, 2 Frankie Sheahan, 1 Federico Pucciariello,
Replacements: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Mark Melbourne, 19 Billy Holland, 20 John O’Sullivan, 21 Mike Prendergast, 22 Jeremy Manning.
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.
Referee: Romain Poite
Touch judges: Christophe Berdos, Cédric Marchat
TMO: Eric Gauzins