Munster produce a performance the early 2000s team would have been proud of

While it was not enough to beat Toulouse, it shows that Munster DNA is still there.  New coach Graham Rowntree now needs to bring it to the fore on a regular basis.
Munster produce a performance the early 2000s team would have been proud of

Munster fans in full voice at the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final in Aviva Stadium. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

MUNSTER last won the Heineken Cup in 2008, beating Saturday’s opponents Toulouse in Cardiff 16-13 on a never to be forgotten day at the Millennium Stadium.

It was their second success in the blue ribband event of European rugby. I was fortunate to be there covering the game for this paper.

I loved that team. They played a huge part in our lives. We were all on a journey with them. 

The names still fly off the tongue like as if it was yesterday.

Howlett, O’Gara, O’Leary, Hayes, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Quinlan, Wallace and Denis Leamy to name but a few of the successful team that day.

They were a joy to watch. They represented the province in a manner that made you proud, regardless of the result. 

They left it all on the line and the Red Army that followed them all over Europe could never find fault with their application, their effort, their commitment to the jersey.

They lost a lot of big games, semi-finals and finals, but never did you feel short-changed.

They were managed by a Liverpool boot-room style management team. People who had been with the province for years, Declan Kidney, Niall O'Donovan knew the club, knew the people, knew the history and that can never be overestimated.

Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue celebrates as Alex Kendellen scores a try. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady
Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue celebrates as Alex Kendellen scores a try. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

The last successful Munster side was similar. Back in 2011 when they beat reigning and new Heineken Cup champions Leinster 19-9 for their second title in three years, the squad was more or less the same, there were some changes, but what didn’t change was the love of the jersey and the desire not to let the Red Army down.

O’Gara, O’Connell, O’Callaghan, Howlett, Wallace and Hayes were the key men of that side. Incredibly both Keith Earls and Conor Murray played in that final and again on Saturday last they were still two of Munster’s key men.

These guys are old school. So too is Peter O’Mahony. They are made of the same DNA as their more famous predecessors from the early 2000s.

They bled Munster red.  They did so again on Saturday in the extra-time loss to the reigning champions Toulouse.

But I have to say ever since then when the golden generation retired, I have found it hard to love Munster and their style of rugby as the various coaches came and went over the years without success.

I know it is the rose-tinted glasses, but for the past decade, despite the varying degrees of success, not in terms of silverware, but in terms of effort and commitment, as well as support from the fans, I found it hard to love those Munster teams.

I always felt there was something missing. Maybe it was me, but when ROG, Strings, O’Connell, O’Callaghan, Wallace, Howlett and the others retired and moved on, my love affair with Munster ran out of steam and interest.

On Saturday Munster backed by a huge red army of more than 40,000 supporters made the Aviva Stadium resemble Thomond Park in the old days.

I was there again covering the game for this newspaper.

It was another quarter-final tie against Toulouse, their fifth meeting at this stage of the competition with Munster hoping to avenge the 33-40 defeat at the same stage last year at an empty Thomond Park.

The stadium was rocking from early in the day as the Red Army sang louder and better than a certain Ed Sheeran whose concert the previous two nights has seen the game moved to the Aviva.

You could sense the excitement and optimism in the air. The pre-game atmosphere was carnival-like. It reminded me of the old days.

Munster were hoping to reach their 15th semi-final, but the Aviva has not been a great venue for Munster teams.

Just one win in 13 trips to the Aviva is a slender return for those trips to the capital, though nine of the dozen defeats were regular-season league encounters with Leinster.

They came into the game in good form in the league and the Heineken Cup with two great wins on the road this season at both Wasps and last month in Exeter.

They played superbly, led the game for long spells and looked as good as their more illustrious opponents.

Munster's Joey Carbery takes a kick. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady
Munster's Joey Carbery takes a kick. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

But Toulouse with their star-studded team led by the magnificent world rugby player of the year Antoine Dupont, Rhynhardt Elstadt and Pita Akhi found a way to stay in the game and force extra time as regulation ended at 24 a piece and then won the tie on penalties.

Graham Rowntree takes over from Van Graan in a few weeks time. He played with Leicester in the same era as the great Munster teams of the early 2000s.

Leicester’s DNA was similar to Munster’s. Rowntree has watched Munster closely, learning all the time in his role as forwards coach for the past two seasons.

The good news for Munster is his DNA is the same as those players he regularly came up against.   Saturday showed that DNA is there is these Munster players.  It just needs to be brough to the surface more often in games.

Rowntree knows what it takes to win and with Mike Prendergast now on board, and maybe Denis Leamy joining them the old style boot room is back. That fills me with confidence.

It’s time to throw away the rose-tinted glasses and get behind this Munster team again.

They deserve it.

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