19th November 2008: Munster 16 – All Blacks 18
I have the tickets here in my hand. I’m looking at them.
They’re saying, You know what, Bock? You could probably sell us for a large amount of cash.
And I’m replying Yes. You’re right of course, but I’ll never sell you. I’m going to hold you close. I won’t let you out of my sight because you’re … well, you’re like a … like … dammit, you’re like a ticket to me.
I wipe away a manly tear.
The young fella and myself are off again tomorrow but this time it’s more than a match. It’s an iconic moment. As you know, we’ve been to a lot of big games together in recent years, including the two European Cup finals that Munster won, and we’ve had a lot of nervous moments along the way, a lot of disappointments and a lot of big days, but this one has an entirely different flavour.
I don’t know what to think about this.
On paper and in theory, we shouldn’t have the remotest chance of beating this crowd. Look, let’s be straight about it: these Maori lads are the super race. There’s no other way to put it. They’re bigger, stronger, faster and more skilful. For Christ’s sake what else would you expect from people whose ancestors went thousands of miles out into the Pacific in little open rowing boats and colonised every goddam island from Hawaii to New Zealand? I find that terrifying.
Truly, I do. I find such enterprise and self-confidence terrifying. Such fearlessness. These people are not easily defeated, especially when you remember that they’re not only fearless, but also bigger, stronger, faster etc etc etc …
God almighty, they’re also nicer than us. I hate them.
And that’s only the Maoris. That doesn’t include the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. It’s simply astounding.
So. What do you think?
They announced the Munster team yesterday and it doesn’t look too bad, but I had a bit of an experience last week that made me shut up about such things. I was collecting my tickets from a gentleman who happens to be a rugby referee, and you know, in such company I should just keep my stupid opinions to myself, but did I?
Correct. I did not.
Look, I said, we’ll have Freddie, Frankie and Mushy in the front row. We’ll have Donncha Ryan and Micko. We’ll maybe have Denis Leamy back from injury. We’ll have Stringer at scrum-half, and you know Warwick has really lifted his game too. We’ll have Dowling, Murphy, Mafi and Tipoki and we’ll have Dougie at full-back. Not bad, is it?
He studied his pint for a moment, while nodding slowly.
True he said. Not bad at all.
I basked in the glow of his professional approval.
Of course, he went on, you realise that’s pretty much the team Ulster beat 22-6.
Right. Now you understand why I’m making no predictions about Munster winning this game. The truth is, we haven’t a goat’s chance of beating these fuckers unless something magical happens and somehow a happy conjunction of pride and spirit combine to lift the Munster players to another plane of existence for eighty minutes.
Look, don’t dismiss the possibility. It happened in 1978 and, remote though the likelihood is, it could happen again. At least, that’s what all Munster rugby fans hope, and that’s what everyone in the ground will be thinking. Everyone in the ground, and everyone in Limerick watching the game at home or in the pubs.
Hey. Cut us a bit of slack. It’s been a dark week.
Now really. Seriously.
Who would have thought that a Munster second selection would rattle the All Blacks so badly that they’d need a try in the last three minutes to beat us?
Who’d have thought it? And yet, who today isn’t proud of our lads who could quite easily have won this game, had it not been for one moment of brilliance from a gifted New Zealand player?
We were all over them and they knew it. Perhaps they thought they were coming here to give an exhibition match, I don’t know about that, but in the end their captain was one happy man to pick up the ball after they had edged past Munster by 18 points to 16.
One relieved man, having faced the probability of defeat for 77 of the preceding 80 minutes.
This was not some casual throwaway encounter in the course of an all-conquering Northern Hemisphere tour. This was a test more intense than most full internationals, and certainly tougher than the Ireland XV were able to produce. This was a Munster team that put it up to the world’s foremost internationals and left them reeling for the entire game.
I saw no triumphalism from the All Blacks at the end of this game. I saw only relief, and though they won in the end, their victory was earned at the expense of pain and effort and respect for their opponents. This was no whitewash. This was no crushing of some upstart challengers. This was a game between equals where nothing more than the swing of a pendulum decided who the winner was going to be.
When it was over, I was proud of our players, but I was even more proud of my son, who shed tears of anger that we didn’t finish them off.
Also on Bock