Rugby: Munster just fail to repeat history

The legendary Munstermen of 1978 still stand alone.

History did not quite repeat as the All Blacks marked the 30th anniversary of one of New Zealand rugby's most famous defeats with an 18-16 victory at Thomond Park Stadium tonight.

Wing Joe Rokocoko scored the decisive try in the 77th minute after Munster had dominated for long periods.

Expectations had not been high of another Munster victory among the 26,000-capacity crowd, especially after 10 of the province's leading players watched the match in Dublin while on test duty with the Irish national team.

But the depleted side made a mockery of their second-string status by hoeing into the All Blacks.

It would have been an uncomfortable and eerily familiar experience for some members of the 1978 All Blacks who tonight returned to the scene of their 0-12 loss.

Four of the side who suffered the only loss on that 18-match tour were guests for the rematch - captain Graham Mourie, Bryan Williams, Mark Donaldson and Gary Knight.

For the New Zealanders on the Munster side the one-off match was also a memorable occasion, particularly before kickoff when Rua Tipoki, Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi and Jeremy Manning stepped forward to perform a rousing haka while the All Blacks stood motionless in their own formation.

It was a gesture that brought the crowd to fever pitch, not that the occasion needed an extra spur.

Munster initially rode the wave of emotion as the All Blacks struggled to adapt to their hostile surroundings.

While the New Zealand contingent laid down the challenge before kickoff it was an Australian who provided Munster with the start they craved.

First five-eighth Paul Warwick landed an eighth minute penalty and although Stephen Donald levelled the scores a minute later the Australian poked the home side in front again with a 35m dropped goal.

Again the All Blacks muffled the crowd quickly, as Isaia Toeava handled twice before No 8 Liam Messam put Waikato teammate Donald over the tryline by the goalposts.

Donald converted and although Munster appeared to be finding it hard to live with the All Blacks up-tempo game, committed defence forced enough errors to keep them in the match.

Munster rallied superbly near halftime, pressuring the All Blacks to concede a 5m scrum.

New Zealand resisted the first shove but when it was reset blindside flanker James Coughlan transferred quickly to halfback Peter Stringer, who put wing Barry Murphy over untouched in the corner.

Warwick converted and suddenly Munster's belief had manifested into a 16-10 halftime lead.

Donald narrowed the gap with a 45th minute penalty but then missed two other offerings from French referee Roman Poite.

Those misses kept Munster's dream alive, even when the combative Tipoki limped off with a leg injury in the 54th minute.

Again Munster responded to adversity, keeping the All Blacks honest at the breakdown while continuing to pepper the back three with high kicks.

The All Blacks had to go to their bench during a fraught final quarter, bringing on test stars Brad Thorn and Mils Muliaina, who both had a hand in Rokocoko's matchwinning try.

 

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