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Munster comeback stuns Newport

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Malachy Clerkin

Munster 39, Newport 24

DUBLIN — This is all going to sound just a bit familiar.

Twenty minutes had elapsed in last Saturday’s European Cup match between Munster and Newport at Rodney Parade and the Irish side were being destroyed. They hadn’t looked at all like scoring and had spent the majority of the match pinned back in their own half, defending against wave after wave of Welsh pressure. Spirited though their resistance had been, they had still conceded two tries and were 15-0 down.

But anyone with any experience of this astounding bunch of men will have a decent idea of what followed. Yep, you guessed it. They dragged themselves up by their bootlaces, scraped and scrapped for possession and points, and hauled themselves into the winning enclosure with breathless intensity. Same as always.

And let nobody say for a second that this was a case of Goliath waking up and squashing David after not being caught napping. This was a classy Newport side that had been beaten only once in their last 20 home games. And for those first 20 minutes, they outclassed Munster in a manner reminiscent of the bad old days when Irish teams were little more than cannon fodder in Europe.

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Their forwards, led by former South Africa captain Gary Teichmann, were rolling mauls right up the center of the pitch, their centers were powering miles over the gain line, and out-half Shane Howarth was running the whole show with bewildering dexterity. His variety of passing was giving Munster’s defense problems that they could not cope with. Missing their first-choice midfield of Mike Mullins and Jason Holland at the start, their first-up tackling was nowhere near as good as it should have been.

Newport’s opening try was the result of multiple switches of direction and thrillingly quick ball. Eventually the Munster defense became so stretched that Peter Clohessy was left facing Matt Pini. The legendary prop is many things, but light on his feet he most certainly is not. And so, as he was reaching out and grabbing a handful of turf, upfield, Pini was putting in Matt Mostyn for the try. Soon after, Newport were 15-0 ahead when Pini himself scored after bad mistakes from each of the Munster half-backs.

Munster were being outclassed and overpowered and many began to get seriously worried that this time, they didn’t have it in them to come back. The anxiety was, as usual, unfounded. Sleeves were rolled up a little bit further, minds were focused a little bit sharper and calls were roared a little bit louder. All they needed was a break.

They got it in the form of Mostyn, himself an Irish international in the not too distant past. When the winger was sent to the sin bin for taking his man out in midair, a foolish rather than malicious transgression, the Munster forwards snorted defiance. It was the turning point.

The leader of the resurgence was David Wallace. Devastating on the burst, he had already swallowed up great tracts of territory when he set up Munster’s opening try. Rescuing a dreadful pass of Peter Stringer, somehow he got the ball back over the gain line, initiating the charge, which culminated in Ronan O’Gara reaching over from short range.

Halftime was reached with Munster still 11 points in arrears (21-10). But they plugged away and scavenged for what crumbs and scraps they could get, making sure they added to the score with almost every attack. O’Gara sniped over two drop goals and a couple of penalties. Meanwhile, Howarth was pretty much matching him down the other end.

And so the sides reached the denouement with a point between them. Where others would have panicked and kicked the ball away at every opportunity, Munster held on to it, confident in their ability to press home their advantage as the clock ticked down.

And well they might have been. Mike Mullins raced home for the winning try two minutes from time, his pace and power proving too much for full-back Pini to handle. Anthony Horgan scored an intercept try deep in injury time to put a flattering look on the scoreline.

The result means that Munster are certain of a quarterfinal spot. They need beat only bottom-of-the-table Castres next Saturday to assure themselves of a home draw. European Cup quarterfinal.

Thomond Park packed to the rafters. Munster on a roll. All sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?

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