Ward proud despite Munster agony
November 19, 2008
New Zealand's Scott Waldrom takes the attack to Munster during Tuesday night's clash at Thomond Park © Getty Images
As Paul Warwick rolled back the decades with a consummate dropped goal, the consternation among a delirious crowd was unmistakable -- were Munster really about to recreate rugby history?
The Australian-born first five-eighth did his best impression of Tony Ward circa October 31, 1978, at Thomond Park Stadium last night, slotting a 40-metre dropped goal in the 20th minute that sent the Munster diehards into ecstasy -- and the home side into a 9-3 lead.
And the parallels did not end there. Munster, as they did 30 years ago, harried the All Blacks into conceding a five-metre scrum late in the first half. At the old Thomond Park, Ward landed a close range dropped goal from that situation; last night after Cory Jane had no option but to force a shonky clearance, Munster became the first team to score a try against the All Blacks on the European leg of their end of year tour.
The second set scrum screwed, opening up a gap big enough for blindside flanker James Coughlan and veteran halfback Peter Stringer to put Barry Murphy over in the right hand corner. Sadly for a depleted Munster the similarities with their fabled predecessors ended there -- they were held scoreless in the second half and when Joe Rokocoko evaded the clutches of old teammate Doug Howlett with four minutes to play, the All Blacks squeezed home 18-16.
Ward, one of the Munster team that famously beat the New Zealanders 12-0, never quite dared to dream another massive upset was in prospect to mark the opening of the province's new headquarters.
"They gave it their all out there, they could have done it," said Ward, who commentated the match for Irish television. "They got to the stage where the crowd was helping them along like the 16th man and they nearly got there. Having said that it looked like the (Rokocoko) try was coming when it did."
The All Blacks eventually emulated qualities that enabled Graham Mourie's pioneering Grand Slam winners to regroup from their shock loss and not drop another game.
Rokocoko's well-taken try was a cruel end to an emotional night for the Munster faithful, not that it was dwelled on in the bars afterwards. Ward, who instigated Munster's try in 1978 before adding the conversion and two dropped goals, typified the mood of a rugby-mad city when expressing gratitude that Munster B had got so close.
Missing 10 players to international commitments, Munster's red army feared a rout -- but their reserves -- and a backline featuring four New Zealanders -- never wavered.
"I thought they made the night," Ward said of Munster's heroic effort. "They made the opening of the ground. The fear was New Zealand would cut loose and they'd be heavily beaten but they bought into the legacy of that we did in '78, of the history and tradition of the fixture. It wasn't to be for Munster in the end, but it was a wonderful occasion."
All Blacks flanker Scott Waldrom, one of four players to make his debut last night, said Munster at least got one up one New Zealand -- on the strength of their passionate crowd.
"It was amazing -- 25,000 sounded just as loud at the weekend's game with 82,000 (when the All Blacks beat Ireland at Croke Park). To see the amount of jerseys -- it was just a blanket of red in that crowd. Playing in front of it, hearing the opposition get cheered the whole game, is quite daunting. It's quite different from New Zealand. We're probably not quite as passionate.
"We think we're mainstream rugby, in the blood sort of thing -- compared to that atmosphere we're behind."
Waldrom was stunned as the crowd was hushed when Stephen Donald lined up a penalty or conversion. "I can't believe they go quiet, the respect they show for the opposition when they have a shot at goal -- that's something pretty special."