I had a very interesting experience on Friday night in Thomond Park, Limerick during the match between Munster and Northampton.In my time following Munster rugby a lot of the matches have been important and the opposition have been English, but the reaction of the crowd, myself included, to the Howlett scrum was something I had not experienced before.Over the weekend I have considered the reaction and tried to put a reason to the feelings and emotions that poured out directly after the scrum.For those who did not see this happen on your screen I will explain what happened.
The match was very tightly posed going into the last twenty minutes and the Munster captain Paul O’Connell had just been sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes.Northampton were then awarded a scrum ten meters from the Munster line,now all through the match the Munster scrum had struggled and after losing O’Connell you could not see them survive without conceding a try.The score was very tight at this time, Munster leading 9 points to 6.To try and contain the Northampton scrum Doug Howlett decided to pack down in the scrum to even the numbers at eight players for each side.Even so this should have been a mismatch and Munster should not have been able to contain the Northampton scrum.
This was when the Munster team did what can only the Munster team can do and have done over the years that has led to so much folklore building up around the team.Against all the odds they won the scrum, cleared their line and went up the pitch and scored.It was at the point of them winning what will always be known as the Howlett scrum that the crowd reacted.It was the depth of the reaction and the rawness of it that caught me out as I stood there roaring my approval I looked around me at the faces of the other Munster supporters and I was taken by the contorted look on their faces.The feelings that were pouring out of myself and others were suprising.Having had the pleasure of supporting Munster for over twenty years these occasions are not new to me and the teams ability to pull off the impossible has been witnessed regularly, so why was Friday nights reaction so tribal,so guttural?
During the last few minutes of the match I was thinking about this and when I met with my friend after the match, we were in separate areas of the stand, his first comment to me was about the reaction to the scrum and how two Northampton supporters he had spoken to during the match had gone very quite and pale in the aftermath of the scrum.This confirmed what I had witnessed it was to me a reflection of the position we as a nation have been in over the last twelve months.The raw,naked emotion on display was relief and anger and a release of all the frustrations we as a nation had been caught up in.All the recessionary talk and headlines, all the bad news following bad news.The Ryan report,the banking crisis, all this had contributed to the nerve jangling,awe-inspiring reaction of the crowd on at that winning of the Howlett scrum.
We were not going to have another of our great institutions taken away from us.Munster is seen as the working mans rugby team,the plain honest hard-working players from the Munster team are revered in this country and by God we were not going to have that taken away from us on Friday night.We were so fearful during the match that they could in fact lose, when the scrum was won we knew the match was won and the relief that flooded through the supporters poured out with such venom that it threw me and the Northampton supporters.As games go it was poor but the result was the right one for us.As supporters of the best rugby team in europe we are never arrogant enough to expect results we can always see disaster around the corner and when O’Connell went to the sin-bin on Friday night it was not good.That sinking feeling in the pit of your tummy was saying, oh shit, here goes.The other contributing factor to the reaction was of course built on the fact the team was English.Lets not kid ourselves here it will be a long, long time before that is gone out of our gene pool.We may like to think was have moved on and are bigger then that,but who are we kidding, we still love to stick it to the brits.This of course is not very PC but to deny it is to deny ourselves and our history which is not correct either.We have come a long way to forgive and forget but now and then this emotion reaches the surface and that will help to cleanse the wound.
Anyway Northampton again in April at Thomond Park in the quarter-final, without the French ref, bring it on,Munster Abu.