When Ben Healy returned to his gaff after the extraordinary drama at Lansdowne Road, there was likely a gift waiting for him on his doorstep. A kick t-shirt. Adorned with black and red ribbons? Gallows humor is a well-practiced art form in Munster and the events of this quarter-final offer prime material.
Martyn Williams, one of the big contenders in the back row, described the experience he had in 2009 as “terrible” when Cardiff lost a goal-shooting match with Leicester to see who went against in that season’s Heineken Cup final Leinster would play. That was really bizarre, with the responsibility drilled down to the forward pack to separate the teams. Williams, the flanker, missed; Jordan Crane, the Tigers’ No. 8, didn’t.
At least the starting time wasn’t a clause in Williams’ contract. For Healy, on the other hand, it’s the tools of his trade. Besides, he’s very good at it. One might surmise that ‘terrible’ doesn’t even begin to describe his failure on penalties, given the chances he had in both regular and extra time. Everything about Healy indicates he will get over it and scars like these are an integral part of the goalscorer’s journey.
The trip looked safe for Munster – if that isn’t insane sentiment against a club like Toulouse who, like Munster, see themselves as an integral part of Heineken Cup history. But a 10-point finish by the French in regulation time brought us to the level of pegging and an extra 20 minutes. When that didn’t work, the next criterion was the try count – three each – and then it was only the second time in European history that tees had to be kicked.
“I told my wife there, it was like the 2015 World Cup semifinals, which I was involved in, that we (South Africa) lost 20:18 to the All Blacks,” said Johann van Graan afterwards. “This feeling that we gave everything we have, the players gave everything they have. Management, employees, the people of Münster gave everything.
“We need to know this is a game. Anyone associated with Munster Rugby will be incredibly proud of the 23 lads who got up and fought today.”
They will also be incredibly disappointed that they dragged themselves back into the game when they couldn’t get it over the line in the first half. Much of the effort has been focused on guiding their top men. Peter O’Mahony, a shoo-in for man of the match – quite an achievement in a game of this quality – and Conor Murray were at their best. Damian de Allende was their guaranteed gain line operator, playing like a man desperate to nail down some silverware before his time in Munster is up.
“We left the hotel saying, ‘For the brave and the faithful nothing is impossible’ and I think the way our captain Peter O’Mahony played, literally when his body couldn’t take it anymore, then came Jack Daly to make his European debut in this cauldron – the incredible thing about rugby is that it gives you an opportunity to witness things like what happened today,” added Van Graan. “The difficult thing is we could have won it in the last game of the game – we had a chance or two but now it’s gone. The sun will rise early tomorrow.”
He’s right about that. And if he survives the next two weeks well enough, Münster can build on his very good form again. Surely Niall Scannell is aware of that.
“I think we’ve improved massively in the last few weeks and it’s starting to click and there’s a lot more confidence and excitement about that and you can see it, especially in the forwards,” said the hooker.
“There are a lot of guys who are driving great lines, there are guys who maybe a season or two ago weren’t ready to give that pass, that tip-on that it is now.
“We trust the communication we get from behind and I think our game is growing but I think we had faith that that was going to happen all year and we had to believe that on the big days it would be good would become.
“Of course it wasn’t enough today, but I still think we put on an incredible attack and I would hope that we can continue to build on that. If we can trust it will be there because I think in other years maybe we didn’t push hard enough in the winter months and then on the tough tracks against the big boys we just didn’t have that in the closet.
“So here we’ve tried to expand our attack and hopefully now we’ll see it pay off in the URC.”
Don’t be surprised if Ben Healy delivers something special in this competition to get his team where it needs to go. Talent like that doesn’t go away after a bad day.
Munster: M. Haley (B. Healy 72); K Earls, C Farrell, D de Allende, S Zebo (C Murray 97); J Carbery, C Murray (C Casey 60); J Wycherley (J Loughman 55), N Scannell (D Barron 55), S Archer (J Ryan 51), J Kleyn (J Jenkins 60), F Wycherley (T Ahern 72), P. O’Mahony (Captain) (J. Daly 65), J O’Donoghue, A Kendellen.
Toulouse: T Ramos; D Delibes (M Medard 44; P Fouyssac 72), P Fouyssac (B Germain 64), P Ahki, M Lebel; R Ntamack, A Dupont; R Neti (C Baille 47), J Marchand (Capt) (P Mauvaka 47), D Aldegheri (D Ainu’u 51), R Arnold (yc 51-61), E Meafou, R Elstadt (A Jelonch 47), F Cros, T Flament.
Note: L Pearce (England).
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/van-graan-satisfied-munster-gave-it-all-after-shoot-out-agony-41628960.html Van Graan was satisfied that Münster had given their all after the penalty shootout