Tuesday, April 29, 2014

RugbyPuns.com Funny Rugby T-Shirts

I've launched a new site called RugbyPuns.com. The site sells rugby pun related funny t-shirts to all you rugby-lovers out there.

Check out the site here and also have a look at the regular THERE IN NUMBERS T-shirt offer.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


The full set of photos from the match can be viewed here.

What a day, what a scoreline. A six try win over four time HCup winners Toulouse. I must admit, the history and prestige that Toulouse bring had my nerves wrecked coming up to kickoff. Fair play to the Red Army, Fortress Thomond was rocking, and Toulouse were given lots of friendly encouragement on their run in after the warmup. A notable mention must go to the Toulouse mascot, who spent his time before the match dancing around the edges of the pitch making everyone smile, gas man.

Finally the moment arrived, Nigel Owens blue his whistle to mark the beginning of this epic encounter. Toulouse, as if to reply to the encouragement they were given in the warmup put an impressive marker down in the first few phases when Tekori unceremoniously lifted Paulie over his shoulder and carried him in the tackle. That's something you don't see very often and signaled that they meant business.

Thankfully Munster answered back, a brilliant offload in the tackle by Zebo to skip Felix and pass to Earls, who touched down within five minutes of the whistle.

Game on!

5 penalties followed in the first half, two from Keatley and three from McAlister which put the score at 13-9 at half time. Throughout the first half, the fast and loose passing of Toulouse threatened, but Munster succeeded in smothering their possession and holding them with a solid defence. 

A prime example was near to half time when Felix as the last line of defence put in an immense try saving tackle on the Munster 22, which took him a few minutes to recover from. In front at half time was fantastic, but there was lots more rugby to be played. 

The only takeaway disappointment was the retirement of Peter O'Mahony from the game twenty minutes in, with what looked like a shoulder injury. No better man than CJ Stander to come on in his stead though and answer the challenge.

The first ever women's rugby match to be played at Thomond Park took place at half time between 2 under 15s girls teams. The crowd were also treated to a performance by Seo Linn and the MRSC Choir.

Before long the second half was underway and the feeling was almost of a new match. Our game plan was working, but we were ahead by only 4 points. That's nothing in the HCup and certainly not to Toulouse, the behemoths of French rugby. More nerves started to creep in as the teams ran out.

But boy were those nerves misplaced. A savage break by Conor Murray got his head on the line, but unfortunately not the ball. Killer graciously arrived in support and bashed his way through for the try. All this in the first minute. What a way to start the second half, C'mon Munster!

More of the same game plan followed, ferocious intensity at the breakdown and smart covering play in defence. Six minutes later, Murray was off again, breaking through the Toulouse defence and caught just short of the line. This time CJ arrived, picked and blasted through Louis Picamoles as if he wasn't there, TRY!

We were ecstatic, two tries within the first ten minutes of the second half, against Toulouse! We dare not get too carried away with ourselves though, there was a half an hour left for Toulouse to punish our exuberance if we let them do so. But what a lead, the dynamic of the game had now changed to dominance for Munster. Problems in the scrum followed and saw Nigel Owens bin Killer and Montes, with Tommy O'Donnell being sacrificed for the entrance of John Ryan to cover the scrum. This was worrying, 14 v 14 meant more room to throw the ball, more room for those big names like Fritz, Fickou, Medard, Gear and Huget to run. And sure enough, 54 minutes in, Hosea Gear burst from midfield and beat Keatley and Laulala to run in an easy try. In fairness to Keatley, he tracked Gear and would have had him if he had not slipped, and Casey was unlucky with his tap tackle, but still an easy try for Toulouse which Beauxis converted. 

The last thing we wanted was for Toulouse to use this as a springboard to build momentum. We all knew they could and did score a try from nothing. The time had come not to panic, chalk the try down as unlucky and continue to smother them. And that's what happened, but not only that. Every one of the Munster players was on form. Another successful penalty from Keatley was followed by some beautiful outwide passing that opened up the tryline for Casey Laulala to score only his second try for Munster. His try tally does not reflect his work rate and skill level in his time at Munster, and he will be sorely missed next season. Eventually, Toulouse regained momentum and phased successfully to our try line with Tekori setting down a well worked physical try.

One minute later however, in answer to the Toulouse try, Felix made a break and offloaded to Zebo, who faced two players inside the Toulouse 22. No sooner had Felix gotten the pass away that he was shouting and pointing to Zebo to go for it, not that he needed the encouragement. What defenders? Zebo burst through them to touch down, no need for any fancy footwork on this occassion, just route one. Incredible physicality from the winger who some say, including myself, has a tendency to stand off. Not today. Rumors were that Joe Schmidt was in the crowd, and if he was, it was fitting that Zebo showed what he is capable of at this level of intensity. 

And that wasn't the end of it. The last play of the game saw JJ Hanrahan make a great break into the Toulouse 22 to unleash the unstoppable Paulie. Even if the 15 Toulouse players had been in front of him, there was no way he was not getting though. Touch down, conversion, game over. The mighty Toulouse came to our house and we sent them packing, unbelievable!

The team walked a lap of honour to thank the crowd after the match, and that's what it sincerely was, a thanks. 

The red army stood up and were counted yesterday. To conduct an adrenalin pumping rendition of the Fields of Athenry, followed by applause and then complete and utter silence so that McAllister could take his kick, all within the space of a minute, is something truly breathtaking in the realm of sport in my opinion, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Birthday boy CJ Stander received a well deserved man of the match, but it could easily have been awarded to any other member of the team. Commendations are also deserved of Nigel Owens, who conducted the proceedings with great composure and attention to detail. He was in position to award the tries, was fair and consistent to both teams and didn't kill the pace of the game. His April Fool's tweet during the week about his impending retirement did send a chill through the rugby community. Despite everyone knowing it was a joke, and a well orchestrated one at that, it still forced us to contemplate what the game would be like without the best referee in the business.

So, where to next? Today we find out our fate, travel to the capital to face the old enemy in their backyard, or abroad to face the superstars of Toulon. Nobody ever said the HCup was easy :-).

View the full set of match photos here.


March on Marseille it is then.

Friday, April 4, 2014


In preparation for Munster's #OldRivalsNewArena HCup quarter final match with Toulouse tomorrow, I've resurrected a match report I wrote for the now defunct ThisIsLimerick.com site that shows just what Munster are capable of at HCup level.

The match report is from November 2011 and describes the now legendary 40 phases match (even though at the time I had quoted 42). Even now, three years later, reading this gives me goosebumps.

Tomorrow, be loud, be proud, let's show them that we are the Red Army!


The first pool match against Northampton promised to provide the famed festive pre-match atmosphere in Limerick city that comes with a Heineken cup home weekend. And as usual, I missed it, the pre-match atmosphere that is. I found myself hurridly making my way up the hill to LIT 15 minutes to kick-off. I must admit, it was a strange experience. There wasn't a sinner to be seen, every postage stamp size piece of tarmac and grass had a car parked on it, and I honestly thought I had gotten the kick-off time wrong until I heard the stadium announcer calling the remaining supporters to gain access to the ground as soon as possible. Fortress Thomond was a beacon of light beckoning me up the hill and as I got closer, I was met with fellow latecomers rushing to enter the cauldron to soak up the excitement before the team run-out.
I made it in just in time to start the chant as the teams appeared. Thomond was full and everyone was nervous and excited about the impending challenge against last year's runners up.

Munster could not have started better, putting huge pressure on Northampton resulting in Varley going over in the first few minutes, what a marker to put down. Northampton's wide explosive play threatened each time they got possession though. They replied to our first try with fast wild passing and running jinks testing the Munster defence. Within 10 mins, they had run around Munster's defence and were in for an easy try. The majority of the first half was spent in Northampton's half of the pitch, with Munster playing steady repetitive forward play, a dominant Munster scrum and high-ball attacks from Murray and Murphy. The problem of ill-discipline began to appear, but thankfully not to the extent of last week's match against Leinster. A forward pass on the line denied Munster a try at the end of the half, but not to be outdone they rallied again, with the sniping Doug Howlett running in for the last play of the half, putting Munster ahead 17-13 going in.

The crowd were treated to a very impressive rendition of Nessum Dorma by the Celtic Tenors and the Munster Choir during half time. The time flew and the teams were out for what I knew was going to be a tough half between two different but evenly matched teams.  It was going to go to the wire, this is what Heineken Cup rugby is about, bring it on!

The punch for punch contest between the two teams continued well into the second half, with both out-halves slotting over penalties early. Northampton continued to be unpredictable in play but in a structured manner, a dangerous combination. Their probing was finally successful and Northampton ran in again for another easy-enough try, putting them a point in front.

They pushed again, and found themselves behind Munster's defense, with what should have been a certain try. Somehow, their winger (Artemeyev I think) couldn't collect the bouncing ball and knocked on.

The relief from the crowd was palpable.

Munster persevered under the testing attacks of Northampton, and were steadied with the entrance of Leamy, O'Leary and the ever over-enthusiastic Donncha O'Callaghan, who warmed up twice as hard and fast as the other replacements and almost blew a complete ruck of players away in his first act on the pitch. The crowd bemoaned his exuberance, but deep down were happy to see him enter the fray and inject his enthusiasm into the game.  Time was ticking on, but we were only down by a point, come on Munster.

And time did tick on, with Northampton holding Munster around the half way line close to the 80th minute. Phase after phase of Munster play couldn't break the Saint's defense, and then they started to push us back.

Was this the end?

Munster in possession but losing territory and time was in the red. I hate to say it, but the crowd, me included, lost faith at this point. With each phase, Munster couldn't get over the gainline, and each successive cheer rang out quieter than before :-(

And then it happened.

In all the years of the legendary 16th man spurring on the team, urging players to dig deep when all was lost, instilling the pride in the red jersey, proving that Munster isn't just 15 men on the pitch and those in the squad but a red army of thousands!
In that testing moment, when even the red army faltered for just a moment, the players didn't. They picked and went, pushing forward, phase after phase, forwards and backs putting their bodies on the line.

They did for us what we have tried to do for them at every match, they showed us it wasn't over.

The crowd grabbed the outstretched arm of the team with both hands, and then it got loud. All eyes were on Ronan O'Gara, time to do what he does best. He'd done it so many times over the years, could it happen again, just once more?

Perception of time is a funny thing. As I watched each phase inch closer, it felt like an eternity, with ROG back in the pocket waiting. And then the pass came from Paulie...short, forcing ROG to come forward and take it into contact. They had done so well, I haven't seen that level of composure or control since 2008 in Cardiff against Toulouse. More phases, I couldn't believe it, could we, to quote Ryle Nugent, get a second bite at the cherry?

Even with some questionable one handed ball carrying from Leamy, Munster kept possession, and phased on, it was incredible.With every ruck, three words rang out in the minds of every supporter, "in the pocket!". I later found out the passage of play was 42 phases long, but as I said, I had no perception of time at that point. In slow motion, I saw the pass, ROG steady himself, and take the kick. He had won a grand slam this way, could he do it again?

I had time to take a photo, put the camera down and watch the ball slowly sail through the air. It was good, the crowd erupted, we had won, what a finish, what a match!

The exit from the stadium was filled with an atmosphere of relief mixed with residual excitement. A text from a fellow Munster supporter who watched from Canada summed it all up, "if it was a movie, you couldn't write that into the script because nobody would believe it!". Walking back down the hill, I heard the crowd questioning "How many phases?" and stating that "I haven't seen them do that in a long time".

It was game one in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup, a game we had to win. As important as that is, to me last night has another significance. It was when our faith in the religion that is Munster Rugby was tested and restored in spades, and when the hope of another Heineken Cup victory was created.

To the Brave and the Faithful, Nothing is Impossible.