Joe Rokocoko recalls the 2008 night he broke Munster hearts at Thomond

The All Blacks wing scored a try in the closing minutes to deny Munster another famous win.

18 NOVEMBER, 2008 was easily one of the most memorable and special nights in Thomond Park’s history, even allowing for the fact that the famous Limerick venue has seen many of them.

Most of those storied occasions ended with a Munster win, but that agonising 18-16 defeat to the All Blacks on a Tuesday night in 2008 was sensational even without the desired and deserved outcome.

Joe Rokocoko scores the match winning try Rokocoko scores the try that broke Munster hearts. Source: Photosport/Tim Hales/INPHO

A largely second-string Munster team came within four minutes of repeating what their 1978 brothers had achieved 30 years before.

The unforgettable evening began with Munster’s quartet of Kiwis, Doug Howlett, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi and Jeremy Manning, performing their own haka before the All Blacks responded in kind. Spine-tingling.

Among the New Zealanders facing down Munster’s war dance was Joe Rokocoko, who will play again at Thomond Park this evening in the Barbarians’ clash with Ireland.

The whole event was awesome, being a part of that Munster game, the build-up and everyone turning up and just the atmosphere; it was just a huge occasion to be a part of,” says Rokocoko of the 2008 visit.

“Earlier in the week we went to watch a play on the historic ['78] win against the All Blacks, ‘Stand Up and Fight’. I tell you what, in that last ten minutes or so we were really thinking these guys are going to make a play for us and we don’t want it.

“It was an awesome occasion.”

Source: markcaver1/YouTube

Rokocoko at that time was still a Blues player, with two more years of international rugby ahead of him. Despite having already achieved so much in the sport, including 25 tries in his first 20 Test matches, the Kiwi ranks that Munster game as one of the best experiences he has had in rugby.

The fact that he scored the winning try in the 76th minute, beating his old mate Howlett on the way to the tryline to break Munster hearts, makes it all the more memorable for him.

“It might be nearly seven years, but even many more years down the track it will still be clear in my mind,”says Rokocoko, now 31.

Not just that last moment and the try but the whole week was outstanding and I am pretty sure most of the boys will still say that is one of the top experiences they have experienced in their career.”

Side stepping inside Howlett, the last defender, for his try left Rokocoko with sympathy for his friend, formerly a teammate at the Blues, but even with the Kiwi allegiance, Rokocoko was just happy to get out of the bear pit with a win.

“I played against Dougie, with Dougie and I looked up to Dougie coming up,” says Rokocoko. “Obviously there was other boys there, Rua Tipoki as well. I felt sorry for them in the end. I felt sorry for the Munster team because of the amount of passion they put into that game but we were happy that we did enough in the end.”

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Rua Tipoki, Doug Howlett and Lifeimi Mafi lead the Munster Haka Manning, Tipoki, Howlett and Mafi perform the haka. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

And so Rokocoko finds himself back in Thomond Park years on from that win over Munster, this time looking to upset Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.

He’s not wearing the All Black shirt this time, but he feels similarly honoured to wear a renowned black and white jersey.

“From the first time I got named for this team and until now, the feeling is the same,” says Rokocoko of playing for the Baa-Baas. “Aside from the All Blacks and trying to make a national team, I am sure the other players will agree, this is number two that you want to be a part of.

There’s so much history, so much legacy behind the Barbarians.

“When I was a kid I watched Barbarians videos which my uncle had, so to be a part of it again I am excited. We know what we have to do to carry on the legacy and respect what the Baa-Baa boys have done in the previous years.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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