Ward 'proud' despite Munster agony
As Paul Warwick rolled back the decades with a consummate dropped goal, the consternation among a delirious crowd was unmistakable - were Munster really about to recreate rugby history? By Chris Barclay, New Zealand Press Association.
The Australian-born first five-eighth did his best impression of Tony Ward circa October 31, 1978, at Thomond Park Stadium this morning, slotting a 40-metre dropped goal in the 20th minute that sent the Munster diehards into ecstasy - and the home side into a 9-3 lead.
And the parallels did not end there. Munster, as they did 30 years ago, harried the All Blacks into conceding a five-metre scrum late in the first half.
At the old Thomond Park, Ward landed a close range dropped goal from that situation; last night after Cory Jane had no option but to force a shonky clearance, Munster became the first team to score a try against the All Blacks on the European leg of their end of year tour.
The second set scrum screwed, opening up a gap big enough for blindside flanker James Coughlan and veteran halfback Peter Stringer to put Barry Murphy over in the right hand corner.
Sadly for a depleted Munster the similarities with their fabled predecessors ended there - they were held scoreless in the second half and when Joe Rokocoko evaded the clutches of old teammate Doug Howlett with four minutes to play, the All Blacks squeezed home 18-16.
Ward, one of the Munster team that famously beat the New Zealanders 12-0, never quite dared to dream another massive upset was in prospect to mark the opening of the province's new headquarters.
"They gave it their all out there, they could have done it," said Ward, who commentated the match for Irish television.
"They got to the stage where the crowd was helping them along like the 16th man and they nearly got there.
"Having said that it looked like the (Rokocoko) try was coming when it did."
The All Blacks eventually emulated qualities that enabled Graham Mourie's pioneering Grand Slam winners to regroup from their shock loss and not drop another game.
Rokocoko's well-taken try was a cruel end to an emotional night for the Munster faithful, not that it was dwelled on in the bars afterwards.
Ward, who instigated Munster's try in 1978 before adding the conversion and two dropped goals, typified the mood of a rugby-mad city when expressing gratitude that Munster B had got so close.
Missing 10 players to international commitments, Munster's red army feared a rout - but their reserves - and a backline featuring four New Zealanders - never wavered.
"I thought they made the night," Ward said of Munster's heroic effort.
"They made the opening of the ground. The fear was New Zealand would cut loose and they'd be heavily beaten but they bought into the legacy of that we did in '78, of the history and tradition of the fixture.
"It wasn't to be for Munster in the end, but it was a wonderful occasion."
All Blacks flanker Scott Waldrom, one of four players to make his debut last night, said Munster at least got one up one New Zealand - on the strength of their passionate crowd.
"It was amazing - 25,000 sounded just as loud at the weekend's game with 82,000 (when the All Blacks beat Ireland at Croke Park).
"To see the amount of jerseys - it was just a blanket of red in that crowd. Playing in front of it, hearing the opposition get cheered the whole game, is quite daunting.
"It's quite different from New Zealand. We're probably not quite as passionate.
"We think we're mainstream rugby, in the blood sort of thing - compared to that atmosphere we're behind."
Waldrom was stunned the crowd was hushed when Stephen Donald lined up a penalty or conversion.
"I can't believe they go quiet, the respect they show for the opposition when they have a shot at goal - that's something pretty special."
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE GAME
Kiwi imports' haka a great honour - Munster captain
Munster captain Mick O'Driscoll said it had been a great honour for his team to be part of the historic pre-match rituals as his side's Kiwi imports laid down a haka challenge to their All Black opposites. By Wynne Gray, New Zealand Herald
Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi, Doug Howlett and reserve back Jeremy Manning laid down the challenge in front of their assembled teammates before the All Blacks responded on a night of incredible colour and passion at Thomond Park.
"Rua in particular, and I don't like singling any of them out, but speaking to Rua he is probably one of the proudest men you will ever meet," O'Driscoll said. "And I think it is something he wanted to do so we all rolled in behind him."
Tipoki, who left the field with an injured knee in the second half, said it was a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to lay down a haka against his countrymen.
"As a Kiwi boy you grow up dreaming as soon as you pick up a rugby ball that you can play for the All Blacks one day and as a Maori, you know, do the haka for the All Blacks.
"I got asked if we could represent our team and we were wary because Munster has already such a rich culture and tradition that we were not just going to come here and place our stamp on here and have people who have supported Munster for years and lived Munster and played for Munster and thought what are these guys doing.
"It was something that everyone we spoke to wanted us to do and we did it on behalf of our team and they supported us. It was a special moment in my career and I will always remember it."
Tipoki said when the crowd went ballistic, Mafi missed the jump at the start and the adrenalin just pumped through the performance of Ka mate. It had been great then to face the All Blacks' response.
All Blacks No 8 Liam Messam said it had been "awesome" facing the Munster haka which welcomed the visitors to Limerick and the match. Messam clapped and nodded his appreciation to Tipoki and his mates for their haka before the All Blacks swept into their response.
"I just wanted to pay my respects to Rua because he was the senior player and used to be my captain in the Maoris and I wanted to show my respect to him in his home game."
Messam said he was not more relaxed than his debut against Scotland because Munster had a lot of history and the match was probably tougher than his start at Murrayfield.
The No 8 thought it was even more intimidating at Thomond Park to go from a massive din to silence during goalkicks, than to listen to the cacophony he was familiar with at Waikato Stadium.
All Black captain Piri Weepu said he had been quite nervous leading the All Black haka response but it had been a great part of a memorable match and stay in Limerick.