Northampton 36 — Munster 51

At half time it was 19 each.

I glanced at Wrinkly Joe and he glanced back at me.  Jesus, we could actually do this.

Do what?  Go to Northampton, that’s what — sorry, to Milton Keynes — and secure at least one point to guarantee a home quarter-final.

On paper it didn’t look good, for many reasons.  First, Northampton are a fine outfit who took us to within a whisker when they came over here.   They beat us by a single point in the 2000 Twickenham final, they’d want revenge after ROG stole the home game in the 84th minute, and they’d be looking to qualify for the Amlin challenge.

Much respect here.

Furthermore, the referee, Romain Poite, was booed off the pitch at Thomond Park after his disgraceful handling of the All Blacks game, and is no friend of Munster.

It’s true that Northampton were missing Ashton, Wood and Lawes, but Munster are missing Howlett, Leamy, Wallace, Flannery and Ronan, so we can call that even.   Nevertheless, it all looked very tricky in theory leading up to the game and I must confess I wasn’t feeling especially confident.  I thought we might steal a losing bonus point, but I never thought for one second that we’d witness a complete demolition of the home team, with Simon Zebo securing a hat-trick of tries and Munster scoring at will.

By half time, we had weathered the inevitable early surge and the home team were going in with no advantage after expending vast reserves of effort.   I felt fairly happy with that, but you can’t afford to be complacent because you never know what’s going to happen in the next phase of the game.  I certainly didn’t expect two tries in rapid succession from Johne Murphy and Simon Zebo, but I also didn’t expect Romain Poite to award a second penalty try against Munster whose scrum, in fairness to Northampton, was completely destroyed.

Zebo’s Forrest Gump interception killed off the Northampton challenge, with his try guaranteeing a home draw no matter what happened, and after that it was just a kick-about in the park.  Zebo ran in a ridiculous third try, converted by Keatley, who came on for O Gara, and although Armstrong managed to get over the line in the last minute, it was scant consolation for the Saints, whose conversion was the last kick of the game.

You might find it strange to hear me saying this, but I didn’t rejoice at such a comprehensive defeat of Northampton at home.  They’ve always been honourable opponents and we didn’t need a huge victory to become top seeds.  I’d have been happier if they had sealed their place in the Amlin Cup.

I know.   You’re probably shrugging, but that’s how I feel about it.

On the other hand, it’s very nice to see Munster emerging from the ruck as top seed, ahead of Leinster, and undefeated in six games.  I don’t know yet who we’ll face in the quarter finals here in Limerick, but I think it will either be Edinburgh or Ulster.  We’ll establish that tomorrow, but one way or another we know that three games now stand between us and a third Heineken Cup.  Say it quick and it doesn’t sound like much, but each of these challenges will be huge.  If we get through the first, we face a bigger one and if we get through that we face something enormous, but you know what?

We’ve been there before, and we’ve won this competition twice, so let’s be a little optimistic for a while.   It’s not as if we don’t need a bit of optimism for a change.



16 thoughts on “Northampton 36 — Munster 51

  1. Sorry. You’re absolutely right. I was there when it happened. A drink-addled moment out of me, and I hope you don’t mind if I correct that.

  2. A quick read of one of the Northampton rugby forums afterwards, and was interesting to hear the Northampton fans saying that it felt half those present were Munster supporters. All ‘home’ advantage neutralised.

    Looking forward now :-)

  3. Well said Bock – and especially your comment about the Saints. Great team, wonderful supporters.
    Even as a Leinster fan, I’d have to admit that the revival of Irish rugby this last decade is all down to great team performances like this from Munster. Marvelous stuff.

  4. Great win! I agree with your comments regarding Northampton. A great club with great supporters. We owe Munster so much. They have given us great days and more to look forward to!

  5. If they play like last night, progress to the final should be smooth.

    Ulster are much improved, but would you think it likely they would beat Munster at Thomond?

    Beyond that, a home fixture against Edinburgh or Toulouse – Edinburgh are not in Munster’s class, and the cliche about French clubs not travelling is still valid.

  6. What’s the final shape of the draw? I’ve been tied up with doing stuff, and didn’t get a chance to follow the rugby today. Who’s playing who?

  7. From the ERC Site:
    The Heineken Cup 2011/12 quarter-final rankings are confirmed as:
    1 Munster Rugby
    2 Leinster Rugby
    3 Edinburgh Rugby
    4 Saracens
    5 ASM Clermont Auvergne
    6 Toulouse
    7 Cardiff Blues (Best Pool runner-up)
    8 Ulster Rugby (Second best Pool runner-up)

    The quarter-final matches, to be played the weekend of 6 / 7 / 8 April, will be:

    (1) Munster Rugby v Ulster Rugby (8)
    (2) Leinster Rugby v Cardiff Blues (7)
    (3) Edinburgh Rugby v Toulouse (6)
    (4) Saracens v ASM Clermont Auvergne (5)
    (To be played 28 / 29 April)

    The winner of the first named quarter-final in each semi-final pairing will have home country advantage.

    Semi-final 1: Saracens or ASM Clermont Auvergne v Leinster Rugby or Cardiff Blues
    Semi-final 2: Munster Rugby or Ulster Rugby v Edinburgh Rugby or Toulouse

  8. Thanks for that information, and especially for the thought that Stringer might end up playing Leinster. That could be fun.

    How do you feel about entertaining Ulster at home?

  9. I’ll try to field that one Bock. Ulster are gaining a level of consistency that has been absent since, well, 1999 when they won the cup.

    Stephen Ferris’ fantastic form combined with their trio of Saffers (especially Terablanche) has made then a very tough outfit. I was very impressed with their demolition of Leicester and they sure gave Clermont Auvergne a big fright in the arse end of France.

    I’d imagine that their supporters will take full advantage of the 25% of tickets allocated to them.

    They look like a teak tough opponent and I predict that things might not necessarily go Munster’s way.

    Anyhow the HEC is almost like a new competition when it restarts in April. We’ll have Wally, Jones, Sherry, and with the help of St Jude, Flannary back in harness by then.

    Having said all that, that performance was the greatest I have seen from Munster since The away Perpingnan match two years ago.

    We now have new team evolving. Zebo has nailed his place after yesterday, Peter O’Mahony is a monster, Donnacha Ryan is the last person on Earth I’d get into an argument with, Denis Hurley has eventually recovered from his ’08 nightmare and is proving to be a worthy full-back, Earls just might be proving that he is a genuine 13.

    This outfit never fail to confound all and defy prediction – wonderful, isn’t it?

  10. ock,

    ….. I was about to attempt some response to this article but I would have had to make comparison with your ‘Used to be this place was angry’ piece and I know I would have wasted much time on this lovely day. Perhaps later you might help this fool understand how you write Munster off as has-beens one day and then follow through with Cup Final aspirations.

    Munster were, yet again, more than the sum of their parts, yet again the High Queens of ERC drama, the team was like a cat who has been fed well and toys with his food until someone tries to take it from him. Northhampton were hell-bent on dismantling the so-called mighty Munster yesterday and for a few minutes that seemed to be the way things might go, but honestly, who did they fool?… only themselves?
    The cat put it’s paw forward on the floor as a sign of warning, clamped it’s jaws firmly on it’s prey and growled, a low threatening growl that even still today, I am sure, echoes throughout Europe.
    We are a long way yet from what might be another glorious day for this proud team and province and it’s hardly prudent to think it impossible. If yesterday had been a semi-final….. would anyone write them off for the last game?… but it wasn’t, all Munster have done is scrape through 5 games and then detonate a bomb of – what was the term again? – shock and awe, proportions.
    That was not a response… I rant at times.
    The performance yesterday was very satisfactory, we should savour it as like all those other times these ‘actors’ have taken to the stage and displayed hilarious and incredible talent.
    Beautiful, beautiful Munste!

  11. Matt » The simple answer is that I didn’t write the post you refer to. That came from Mr Sniffle, who submits the occasional piece when he feels something needs to be said.

  12. Bock, I was mistaken and for that I apologise.

    Mr. Sniffle is, most likely, under siege today but I am sure he will weather that storm admirably.

    He was right, as so many others are, to question the team and their management and correct also in his post-post comment replies to question the authenticity of the supporters.

    I think the team answered very well with this performance. Their transitory phase is beginning to show dividends, the youngster’s are really getting into the swing of things and the old-timers continue to astound.

    Even late in the game Munster were still growing and the passion and of Saturday’s performance will have the effect of re-igniting the love affair between No’s. 1 – 15 and 16 which seemed dampened by the need to feed the drama merchants rather than the need of love based on success.

    So here we are yet again and – excepting last season’s blip – as all years gone by since this great competition’s inception on the cusp of the 6 Nations imposed hiatus with the cut and thrust of knock out stage rugby to look forward to. Ulster will be formidable opponents but fuck it, we know strange things happen at the citadel and it is our friend. They might be just the opponents we need to bring our team to full battle speed.

    It’s all drama from now on in any case, one loss and they are vanquished, our dreams shattered, but let’s keep faith in this team and hold fast by our dreams and what wonderful dreams they can be… a quarted final at H.Q. then – as far as I can get my sore head around the possible combinations – a visit to our Eastern capital and, hopefully, after that, a sunny day in May on Twickers hallowed grounds quite possibly facing our greatest rivals in front of a heaving, blurry mass of bodies, 82,000 in number and dressed in, well… purple!

    Or, more succintly, one dream Bock! 4 hours of tick-tock on Rugby’s clock to drink once more from that well shined silver we covet like none other.

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