A shrill toot on Joel Jutge’s whistle, and it was all over.
Leicester Tigers travelled to Limerick with a quiet air of confidence, Aussie coach Pat Howard stating that Thomond Park was just another rugby pitch, his assertions backed up with actions. Perhaps the fact that Leicester Tigers are littered with Irish players who know every aspect of Munsters strengths and weaknesses gave the visitors an advantage. But when you weigh it all up, few could deny that the best team won on the day.
O’Gara’s forthright assessment of the situation summed up the immediate thoughts after the game. “We made a balls of it and let the whole province down, that’s something we have to live with” a sentiment that was very much echoed by the print media in the days following the game.
Leicester’s victory meant that Munster’s ten year unbeaten home run at Thomond Park had finally came to an end, however could this be a blessing in disguise?
There is no doubt, that when Munster held aloft the Heineken Cup in May 2006, the match day 22 walked the last 100 yards of a journey that began over ten years previous. The players were the first to acknowledge the efforts and sacrifices of their forefathers, the men who set Munster on the road to European success, however this debt was repaid last May and now it’s time to move on.
Tradition can be a wonderful thing, but it rarely serves any tangible benefit in the here and now. As the record books slammed in unison with the gates of Thomond Park which will now undergo significant re-development, I feel we could be witnessing the rebirth of Munster Rugby which up until now had been very much based on the success of many fantastic results and oodles of playing greats. The final monkey is off their back.
For the Munster supporters it was disappointing that the final game, in a stadium that has thrown up so many outstanding contests, had to go the way of the visitors, however it will make little or no difference to the outcome of this years Heineken Cup and Leicester may actually have done Munster a favour.
Ahead of the game, there was much chat about home quarterfinals and where they would be played. Limerick hacks were talking up battles with the local GAA who were remaining true to their convictions. All this provided a mildly amusing precursor to the main event but had it actually come to fruition, one gets the feeling that it would have taken a weary toll on the players and supporters of Munster Rugby. Instead, Munster will play their quarterfinal against Llanelli (who also beat the All Blacks!) at Stradey Park in Wales. Hopefully players will return from Six Nations action with their limbs intact so that Munster can concentrate on playing pure rugby without the added distraction and media hype of history and record books.
I’m not doing a disservice to the players who have gone before, and speaking to several Munster legends after the game, they were in total agreement that the time is right for Munster Rugby to move on. Paul O’Connell, John Hayes, Peter Stringer, Ronan O’Gara and the rest of the senior players will be mindful that they are in the process of creating their own legacy, for they will become the forefathers sooner than they think, besides if things go to plan Munster may well get the opportunity to dish out a bit of revenge in the Semi Finals…