All Blacks produce great escape
November 18, 2008
All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko touches down for the match-winning try at Thomond Park
© Getty Images
A late try from winger Joe Rokocoko ensured New Zealand escaped with a narrow 18-16 victory over Munster in their clash at Thomond Park.
The haka war was a draw. Munster's New Zealand contingent famously pre-empted the All Blacks pre-match ritual with a stirring rendition today, adding more emotion to a match held 30 years after Munster beat New Zealand 12-0.
Rua Tipoki, Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi and Jeremy Manning took centre stage before a capacity crowd of 26,000 at Thomond Park Stadium, performing a haka as the All Blacks stood respectfully over halfway.
Once the quartet had completed their challenge -- to rapturous applause -- a hush descended over the ground as the All Blacks, led by captain Piri Weepu, replied with a flawless performance of Ka Mate.
There had been suggestion last week that Munster's ex-pats would respond to the haka.
Instead, they got in first when Tipoki, a former New Zealand Maori captain, motioned the New Zealanders forward from their teammates.
Howlett, who played 62 tests for the All Blacks before joining Munster last season, and Mafi, a former Taranaki midfielder, joined Tipoki while the least known New Zealander, Manning, who played in Wellington before relocating to Cork, was at the right end of the chain.
The New Zealand quartet's challenge represented the most stirring pre-match interlude involving the haka since Willie Anderson famously shuffled his side towards the All Blacks in Dublin in 1989, with the Irish captain ending up eyeballing his counterpart Wayne Shelford.
As for the game itself, Munster came within four minutes of repeating their 1978 victory over New Zealand as a late try from Joe Rokocoko spared the All Blacks' blushes.
Rokocoko was the only surviving member from the side that beat Ireland at Croke Park, but Munster were also missing 10 first-team players in their first game since October 24. Leading 16-10 at half-time and 16-13 in the closing stages, Munster had the All Blacks rattled, as evidenced by Stephen Donald's uncharacteristic return of three penalties from seven attempts.
But coach Graham Henry was able to use an experienced bench and, allied to some energetic carries from number eight Liam Messam, Rokocoko's dancing feet eventually proved decisive.
Munster initially rode the wave of emotion as the All Blacks struggled to adapt to their hostile surroundings. While the New Zealand contingent laid down the challenge before kickoff it was an Australian who provided Munster with the start they craved.
First five-eighth Paul Warwick landed an eighth minute penalty and although Stephen Donald levelled the scores a minute later the Australian poked the home side in front again with a 35m dropped goal. Again the All Blacks muffled the crowd quickly, as Isaia Toeava handled twice before No 8 Liam Messam put Waikato teammate Donald over the tryline by the goalposts.
Donald converted and although Munster appeared to be finding it hard to live with the All Blacks up-tempo game, committed defence forced enough errors to keep them in the match. Munster rallied superbly near halftime, pressuring the All Blacks to concede a 5m scrum.
New Zealand resisted the first shove but when it was reset blindside flanker James Coughlan transferred quickly to halfback Peter Stringer, who put wing Barry Murphy over untouched in the corner. Warwick converted and suddenly Munster's belief had manifested into a 16-10 halftime lead.
Donald narrowed the gap with a 45th minute penalty but then missed two other offerings from French referee Roman Poite. Those misses kept Munster's dream alive, even when the combative Tipoki limped off with a leg injury in the 54th minute.
Again Munster responded to adversity, keeping the All Blacks honest at the breakdown while continuing to pepper the back three with high kicks. The All Blacks had to go to their bench during a fraught final quarter, bringing on test stars Brad Thorn and Mils Muliaina, who both had a hand in Rokocoko's match-winning try.
From a lineout the ball was carried forward in a maul before Mils Muliaina sent Rokocoko stepping past Doug Howlett - the man whose All Black try-scoring record he is chasing - and over the line to deny Munster a famous win.
Munster: D Howlett; B Murphy, R Tipoki, L Mafi, I Dowling; P Warwick, P Stringer; F Pucciariello, F Sheahan, T Ryan; M O'Driscoll capt, D Ryan; J Coughlan, N Ronan, D Leamy.
Replacements: D Fogarty, T Buckley, M Melbourne, B Holland, J O'Sullivan, M Prendergast, J Manning.
New Zealand: C Jane; H Gear, A Tuitavake, I Toeava, J Rokocoko; S Donald, P Weepu (capt); J Mackintosh, C Flynn, B Franks, R Filipo, J Eaton, A Thomson, S Waldrom, L Messam.
Replacements: H Elliott, J Afoa, B Thorn, K Read, A Mathewson, R Kahui, M Muliaina.