During a weekend with as many sporting highlights as there are Dublin busses, it’s hard to know where to begin. Between Clough-Ballacolla ousting Kllmacud Crokes from the Leinster Club SHC, Katie Taylor recording a 20th Professional win, the Irish U-23 team striking glory in cross country Athletics, Arsenal winning minus their petulant skipper. And so the list could go on.
For now though, this perambulation must begin with rugby. Starting before there was a ball kicked in this year’s European Champions Cup. Owing to the manner in which some if not all of the teams were decimated by Covid-19 outbreaks. Few if any of them to the same extent as Munster.
Their players having been struck down with the wretched virus while in South Africa for intended United Rugby Championship fixtures which didn’t take place in the end.
As a result of the misadventure in the land of the Springbok, by the time their EPRC opener against Wasps had concluded, no less than 10 players had made their senior debuts for the Red Army.
Among them, All Ireland MFC winner Patrick Campbell. Another budding GAA star lost to the lure of professionalism and the few bob. Still the GAA continue to sleepwalk through player drop off. Instead of properly remunerating players thereby enticing them to stay playing our games.
Anyway, in mitigation for the London side, they played the majority of the game with 14 men and even a portion of it with 13. Yet on the evening in question I don’t think it would have mattered if the English side had 16 players. Munster were simply in that kind of humour.
Tell them they can’t do something and they will patiently, brilliantly and gleefully set about proving you wrong. Even by their own standards, it was hard to disagree with Captain Peter O’Mahony’s summation that it was “Up there with (our) greatest ever European performances”.
Consider that 22 young players – that’s nearly an entire squad – had to be registered as additions to their squad in the week before the match. Ten of whom saw game time before Romain Poitte called time on his evening’s work.
For all those Munster were short, two of the ‘old hands’ Keith Earls and Joey Carbery (conversion and two penalties) essayed them into a 13-7 interval advantage. With Wasps having lost skipper Scott Shields to a harsh looking red card, it was the least Johann Van Graan’s troops would have desired and demanded of themselves.
However, it didn’t take long in the second half for the reality that Cork’s loss was very much the oval ball’s gain to manifest itself. With the debutante full back showing composure and skill which completely belied his dearth of experience at such a level when gaining possession out the field and registering a five-pointer with gusto.
As a contest, the game was boxed off soon thereafter when the ever reliable Andrew Conway took advantage of his side’s numerical advantage when going in under the posts for Munster’s third try before another of the newcomers, hooker Scott Buckley, combined superbly with Tadhg Beirne to touch down and bank the bonus point.
When it’s considered that early in the week it was thought the game wouldn’t even go ahead, what O’Mahony and his colleagues produced was nothing short of astounding. But then, it’s Munster, so we shouldn’t be surprised!