AS THE victorious Nottingham Forest team gathered at Munich airport in May of 1979 after beating Swedish side Malmo by a Trevor Francis goal to nil in that year’s European Cup Final, a tired and emotional Brian Clough’s thoughts regressed back to a long-forgotten match from two and a half years previous.
It was to a night long forgotten by most, but one that in Clough’s mind was to be the springboard to all the success that his great Forest side were to achieve.
The Anglo-Scottish Cup was a trophy, the legendary Forest manager had said, that most managers didn’t want to p*** in, yet in December of 1976 Forest thrashed Leyton Orient in the second leg of the final of that competition by 4-0 to secure their first piece of silverware since winning the FA Cup in 1959.
Clough would later tell Duncan Hamilton: “The Anglo-Scottish Cup was something to us, to the club and to the players. It provided us with a cup, and players who hadn’t won anything with a medal – players like Woodcock, Withe and half a dozen others who had got nothing out of their careers until we got our hands on that trophy.
“Success of any description was something this club hadn’t known for nearly twenty years.
“Our lot tasted champagne, for the first time, and found they liked it.”
Today the Rainbow Cup is being viewed in a similar light by rugby supporters, media and probably the players themselves to how the long-defunct Anglo-Scottish Cup was contemplated back in 70s.
Ultimately the competition does not matter one iota, except for what it can do in terms of enhancing the confidence levels of the team as a whole and providing development opportunities for younger members of the squad.
If Munster were to win the competition out it will not get mentioned in the sporting end of year reviews, but you have the sense that if Munster could climb back to the summit of European rugby within the next few years that it could well be referenced as the starting point of that journey, just like Clough identified that 1976 win for Forest as being a pivotal moment for his team.
It is now officially over ten years since Munster have won silverware, with the 2011 Magners League, as it was called then, being captured in a 19-9 victory over Leinster at Thomond Park.
Keith Earls and Conor Murray both started that day, while Stephen Archer was an unused replacement, but the trophy cabinet has been bare since, and Munster need to rectify that.
If it is to be the Rainbow Cup that allows Munster’s players to sip on some cheap champagne in victory then so be it.
It’s a truly bizarre tournament, especially so when you consider that none of the teams currently know what their fixtures are going to be in Rounds 4 and 5, but having scalped Leinster at the RDS by 27-3 two weeks ago, Munster look to be in a great position to have a right crack at winning this competition now.
They have two home ties next up, with Ulster this Friday at Thomond Park being the next opportunity to try and nail down one of the top two spots that would secure a place in the Final on June 19.
Ulster will be smarting from their defeat at the hands of the Leicester Tigers in the Challenge Cup semi-final last weekend, as well as the last-second loss at home to Connacht in this competition the week before.
Obviously, they will be eager to ensure that they don’t lose three on the trot, but it is also likely to be a tough ask for them to get up for this game, as they will already have realised that the defeat to Connacht two weeks ago makes their qualification for the final unlikely, unless they win every game from here on in.
You would expect Munster to go with a strong enough line-up again on Friday night, although a few cameos from the younger brigade is essential in this tournament.
Ultimately if Munster are to win this competition then it is these younger players who stand to gain the most from it in terms of confidence.
When Clough got back from Munich he compared the side that had beaten Malmo, and collected the European Cup, to the one who had beaten Orient two and a half years earlier. Seven of them had played in both, while Martin O’Neill would have been the eight had he been fit for Munich.
Years later he recalled that: “You’d think we’d won the European Cup that night. We were drunk on success – which, bearing in mind it was the Anglo-Scottish Cup, was a bit like being drunk on half a pint of shandy.
“You got the sense though, that it was also like we’d been given a shot of something positive that only a trophy, whatever it is, can bring.”
Whatever it is, hopefully, Munster get to experience it come June.
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