Munster celebrate Patrick Campbell's try. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Good start

This magical Munster mission to Coventry has energised the province

The travelling support made their voices heard before, during, and after the win over Wasps.

THE FLIGHT TO Birmingham yesterday morning was partly filled with a few lads from Ennis.

Now, it’s nothing remarkable that Munster had supporters travelling from the County Clare town but it was very special that they were en route to Coventry to cheer on three of their own – Tony Butler, Ethan Coughlan, and Conor Moloney.

All three of the youngsters got off the bench in the second half of a memorable day that made many people around the province very proud.

Waterpark RFC product Eoin O’Connor’s blockdown just before half-time was a highlight for folk in Waterford, they would have been beaming in Kinsale to see Scott Buckley’s second-half try, while any Cork football fans watching might have groaned in dismay at a possible superstar lost when 19-year-old Patrick Campbell glided over for his own score just two years after winning an All-Ireland minor title.

Daniel Okeke, also just 19, showed his promise to suggest that the old Limerick production line of forwards isn’t completely dormant just yet, while Bandon man James French battered his way through 55 minutes of action at tighthead – having made the transition from loosehead.

These are just a few hints of why and how this Munster game against Wasps – which ended in a 35-14 bonus-point win – has served to energise the province. In fairness, the story has attracted a fair bit of attention outside the southern province too. Everyone was behind Munster for this one, a little like the old days. 

At the Coventry Building Society Arena, it felt like Munster were playing a home game. The contest started and finished with The Fields of Athenry booming out around the stadium, while we heard that famous song earlier in the day too as the Munster fans warmed their voices on the bus from the plane to the terminal in Birmingham Airport.

Even as Munster’s post-match press conference began more than 30 minutes after the final whistle, we could still hear the travelling fans singing outside the stadium.

munster-fans-celebrate-during-the-game Munster fans in Coventry. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Earlier, they had given a first rendition of their new ‘Oh, Daniel Okeke’ chant to the tune of Seven Nation Army. They had roared their relief at Peter O’Mahony’s try-saving tackle in the second minute and their joy at every single one of the Munster’s momentum-grabbing breakdown turnovers thereafter.

Of course, we have to mention Wasps’ travails in the build-up to this one. Already down 18 injured players, they were hit by Covid late in the week and weren’t even sure they would have enough bodies to field a team as late as Saturday morning. 

In the end, they lost their starting second row pairing and first-choice out-half, meaning they had to reshuffle their side greatly. And then just 25 minutes in, captain Brad Shields was sent off for a high tackle that many felt was more deserving of yellow. 

Munster were already 6-0 up at that point and were able to enjoy a numerical advantage for the remaining 55 minutes, while they scored two tries during Wasps hooker Dan Fish’s spell in the sin bin, running riot with the hosts down to 13.

Every time the ball bounced yesterday, it seemed to pop up in Munster’s favour – as for Keith Earls’ first-half try off Conor Murray’s speculative kick on penalty advantage. Earls looked as surprised as anyone that it fell his way.

In that sense, even the ball appeared to understand that this was Munster’s day. They were deprived of 34 senior players and their entire senior coaching staff, but the Munster men who were left standing seemed to thoroughly enjoy the unique challenge.

Having nine internationals available was a huge positive for Munster and Wasps simply had nothing like that quality in their team, but the other players who stepped in for the Irish side were immense.

Perhaps the most exciting of all is 22-year-old openside John Hodnett, who had a year out of the game due to an Achilles tendon injury but reminded everyone of why he is rated as a major prospect in Irish rugby.

scott-buckley-is-presented-with-the-heineken-champions-cup-player-of-the-match-award Scott Buckley was named player of the match. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The senior players – the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Tadhg Beirne, and Conor Murray – showed their quality too in guiding the younger guns every step of the way.

Of course, no one lifts trophies in December.

Munster will be well aware that they have simply won a pool game in the Champions Cup. But this feels like it could be a springboard for something better if Johann van Graan and co. can bottle the spirit and energy of yesterday.

It has been a challenging fortnight for Munster but a revitalising one too. They face Castres next in Limerick on Saturday night and Joey Carbery looks likely to miss out after suffering what appeared to be a bad shoulder injury yesterday.

Munster are set to welcome back a host of senior players now that they’re finished self-isolation but there’s no doubting that their fans will be hoping to see more of the exciting young talent that everyone got a glimpse of in Coventry. 

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