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Oh So Close

November 20, 2008 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

With a little over four minutes of time remaining Munster looked like they were about to pull off the shock of the century when they led the All Blacks by 16-13.

And with play near half way, albeit the Blacks in possession, and Munster prepared, as they had been all night to put body and soul on the line, things were looking promising. Then however, referee Romain Poite, penalised the lion-hearted Mick O’Driscoll and the resultant line-out and maul gave the visitors the platform that ended in the winning try from Joe Rokokoko.

It wasn’t the only questionable decision from the French official but O’Driscoll afterwards refused to complain saying simply, “I’d have to look at it (the video) but I was sure the ball was out when I came through.” Whatever about the captain’s diplomacy, it was a very close call but like all the close calls on the night it went the Black’s way, particularly in a second half where the French referee awarded Munster just one full penalty.

A few minutes before Rokokoko administered the coup de grace, replacement Jeremy Manning was wide with a drop goal and although Munster didn’t manage to score in that second half, there was not one person in the packed stadium who would have begrudged them had they held on.

Put simply, the twenty players who saw duty were absolutely outstanding led by a magnificently brave skipper in O’Driscoll. The Corkman covered every blade of grass, put in astonishing hits and literally ran himself to a standstill. He mustered a similar response from his teammates who made a nonsense of the prematch predictions that Munster wouldn’t live with a side who had put Scotland to the sword with ease.

To Munster fell the honour of the first score when Paul Warwick knocked over a penalty from near the half way but Stephen Donald equalised seven minutes later. A further penalty and drop goal from the outstanding Warwick had Munster supporters in raptures but in the 24th minutes the visitors took the lead with a converted try from Donald.

Lesser sides might have succumbed but Munster ratcheted it up a notch and from a five metre scrum, James Coughlan fed Peter Stringer and the scrum-half’s perfectly timed pass took out Hosea Gear allowing Barry Murphy score on the right. Warwick knocked over the conversion and Munster led 16-10 at the break.

By then however, they were without  Denis Leamy who had gone off injured in the 24th minute and he was joined in the dugout by Rua Tipoki minutes after Donald had cut the lead to three with a 47th minute penalty. Tipoki’s replacement, Jeremy Manning moved to out half with Warwick switching to full-back as Munster continued to thwart every effort by the Blacks until that late Rokokoko try.

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: B Holland for Leamy (24 mins), T Buckley for T Ryan (half-time), J Manning for Tipoki (53 mins), D Fogarty for Sheahan (63 mins), J O’Sullivan for Ronan (80 mins). Not used: M Melbourne, M Prendergast.

New Zealand: C Jane (Wellington); H Gear (Wellington), A Tuitavake (North Harbour), I Toeava (Auckland), J Rokocoko (Auckland); S Donald (Waikato), P Weepu (Wellington, capt); J Mackintosh (Southland), C Flynn (Canterbury), B Franks (Canterbury), R Filipo (Wellington), J Eaton (Taranaki), A Thomson (Otago), S Waldrom (Taranaki), L Messam (Waikato). Replacements: K Read (Canterbury) for Thomson (51 mins), J Afoa (Auckland) for Franks (55 mins), H Elliott (Hawke’s Bay) for Flynn, A Mathewson (Wellington) for Weepu, R Kahui (Waikato) for Gear (all 63 mins), B Thorn (Tasman) for Filipo, M Muliaina (Waikato) for Tuitavake (both 71 mins).

Referee: Romain Poite (France).

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