Historic clash awaits in Limerick
November 17, 2008
Munster's 'Red army' of supporters are sure to make themselves heard when the All Blacks visit the new-look Thomond Park on Tuesday night © Getty Images
A star-studded guest list and a capacity crowd of 25,600 will pack into the new-look Thomond Park on Tuesday night to witness the historic visit of the All Blacks.
The likes of U2 front man Bono, twinkle-toed Michael Flatley and golf star Padraig Harrington will join Taoiseach Brian Cowen among the throng in Limerick to mark the 30th anniversary of Munster's famous victory over the mighty All Blacks and celebrate the official opening of the re-vamped stadium.
The match, organised to commemorate the Munstermen's 12-0 defeat of Graham Mourie's Grand Slam winners in 1978, will be the culmination of a week-long of activities that will also include former All Black Jonah Lomu lighting the city's Christmas tree this evening.
The defeat against Munster, on the afternoon of Tuesday October 31, 1978, was the only reverse on an 18-game tour and remains the only time that an Irish rugby team has beaten New Zealand. Such is its place in the Irish folklore it has since spawned an industry all to itself with Alan English's book Stand Up and Fight, John Breen's play Alone We Stand and a rumoured David v Goliath big screen adaptation.
"Munster 12, New Zealand 0 did shock the rugby and sporting world for the simple and straightforward fact that NOBODY, least of all the players, saw it coming," explained Tony Ward in the Irish Independent this week. And he should know having lined up at fly-half against the tourists that day.
He converted the try by Christy Cantillon and dropped a goal in each half and played his part in a defensive display that shut out an All Blacks side that included the likes of Andy Haden, Frank Oliver, Andy Dalton, Stu Wilson and Bryan Williams and Doug Bruce.
Ward and his team mates from that day will be among the guests of honour at Tuesday night's clash with the exemption of Micky O'Sullivan who has since passed away and they are assured of top billing. Among them will be former Ireland international and British & Irish Lion Moss Keane who inspired the forward effort on that famous day and Donal Canniffe who led the side to a glorious victory only to find out moments after the game that his father had collapsed and died at his home while listening to the match on the radio.
Despite handing the tourists a copybook-blotting defeat that day the ties between the two countries have if anything have grown over the past 30 years and in recent years have strengthened with former All Blacks Christian Cullen and Doug Howlett linking up with Ireland's dominant province.
Howeltt and fellow Kiwis Rua Tipoki and Lifeimi Mafi are set to face the All Blacks at Thomond Park ater being named in their squad for the clash and will have the strange experience of facing down the haka for the first time in their careers.
At least 11 Munster frontliners, including fly-half Ronan O'Gara, lock Paul O'Connell and flanker David Wallace, may be missing on Irish Test duty when the team are named but the presence of the New Zealand trio adds an element of intrigue to the match.
Winger Joe Rokocoko is the only member of the starting 15 who beat Ireland 22-3 at the weekend named to start against the Heineken Cup champions but eight other members of the Test 22 will feature with scrum-half Piri Weepu set to become the All Blacks' 64th captain. And as we have been told on this tour already, there is no such thing as a New Zealand second XV, such is the strength in depth that they can call on.
The All Blacks took their helping of humble pie shortly after arriving from Dublin yesterday when they were treated to a performance of Alone It Stands, the play which recreates events from that remarkable afternoon of 30 years ago. Every effort has been made to prevent history repeating and everything says the All Blacks should be too strong and too-wise to another upset. But history has a funny way of repeating itself.
Tomorrow night's fixture will be preceded by a minute's silence for murdered Limerick rugby player Shane Geoghegan after which prepare for the Munster roar.