'They were knocked to the ground like skittles' – How we reported Munster's famous victory over the All Blacks 40 years ago today

MUNSTER rewrote the rugby record books and defied all known form by beating Graham Mourie’s eight All Blacks at Thomond Park yesterday. A glorious first half try by Christy Cantillon plus a conversion and two superb drop goals by Tony Ward humbled the hitherto all-conquering tourists and brought Irish rugby its first success over a New Zealand touring side.

It was a famous victory, fashioned from the true tradition of Munster football. There were no frill’s, no fancy stuff except perhaps for the fine footwork of Ward and the result was a game that was at all times hard, often fierce but never vicious.

Munster applied themselves diligently to the task at hand, paid undivided attention to the basics of the game, minimised their margin of error and capitalised ruthlessly on the mistakes of the opposition. To a man they possessed an insatiable hunger for work and a thirst for victory that was unquenchable even in the face of persistent pressure which decreed that the major portion of the game was contested in the home half of the field.

As their proud coach Tom Kiernan said afterwards “they had the ability to cope with any eventuality.” Their discipline was remarkable, if somewhat untypical, and out of it came the surprising fact that Munster did not concede a single penalty in their own half. The try, after 11 minutes, was a real beauty. A ruck formed following a line cut around the Munster ten yard line on the right of the field. Donal Canniffe whipped the ball to Ward who chipped perfectly over the defence to find Jimmy Bowen on the hurst.

The Constitution winger, an international two years ago, caught the ball on the bounce and side-stepped three tackles before finding Cantillon in support. The Wingforward finished the move behind the posts and Ward kicked the easy conversion.

The All Blacks played 18 matches on their 1978 Tour of Britain and Ireland, winning 17 and losing one.

40 years ago today….“It’s over, Munster have won! History has been made and the All Blacks have been defeated!”#SUAF ? pic.twitter.com/LsFaYRQR4s

Nine minutes later the outhalf punished the tourists for one of their many unforced errors. He made a poor effort at the only penalty kick at goal in the entire match but the All Black full back McKechnie dropped it and from the scrum Ward picked an ankle, high pass to drop a great goal

These were magic moments in attack during the first half but of equal importance were a couple of wizard like defensive acts. The All Blacks badly needed a score before the interval and poured everything into a pile up of pressure. A score seemed inevitable but five minutes from the end Ward relieved the situation with a 35 yards touch kick from the 25. In the second minute of injury time came the most vital save of all. Centre Gregg Barrett came from nowhere to gather a dangerous ball on the Munster line, dodged the opposition, and kicked a fine touch.

Thus Munster went to the interval with a comfortable nine-nothing lead but still aware that the All Blacks could burst into action at any time in the second half, This home side never relaxed. They resisted everything that came at them and broke up every move that the ‘New Zealanders started.

They closed the door 10 minutes from the end when Ward again capitalised on a mistake. Winger Wilson chased a kick ahead but took a long time to gather the ball and when he did he supped and grounded the ball behind his own line to concede a five yards scrum. From the set piece wing forward Tucker found Ward who dropped another goal despite the attention of several All Blacks. Not since _Murrayfield in 1963, when Scotland earned a scoreless draw, have New Zealand been rendered pointless.

Their last defeat on a British and Irish tour was that spectacular Barbarian victory in Caridiff in 1973 and the last provincial side to down them was Moseley a couple of months earlier. Thus Munster rugby has every reason to be proud of their 15 heroes whose names will surely be carved with pride. Ian Kirkpatrick’s sixth All Blacks had a taste of the Munster fire when they escaped from Cork with an injury time equaliser in 1973. Four days later Barry McGann on the touchline as a reserve yesterday, came within a couple of coats of paint of kicking Ireland out of a 10-10 draw at Lansdowne Road.

This was better than all that. Superlatives could not adequately describe the spirit, courage and discipline of the 15 men who moulded such a stirring success in front of what was surely Thomond Park’s biggest crowd. The support of the fans echoed loudly and consistently around the park and can only have inspired the red shirts and perhaps intimidated the Blacks. The players paid their own tribute when they responded to the demanding shouts of “Munster… Munster…” by reappearing from the dressingroom to share with the spectators a moving moment of rugby history.

From the game’s early moments, the All Blacks whose 15 included 13 internationals, were aware that they were in the midst of the toughest game of the tour so far.

The first chink in their armour was exposed when Seamus Dennison hit the much-vaunted Stuart Wilson with a bone-grinding crash tackle. After the Munster try he did the same to Bill Osborne, who had minutes before replaced the injured Bruce Robertson.

That set the pattern. The All Blacks were knocked to the ground like skittles by the fierce Munster tackling which nailed anything that moved. It was one of the best and most consistent displays of tackling probably ever given by an Irish side and if one singles out the back row of Cantillon, Spring in the middle and Tucker, and the centres Dennison and Barrett, it takes nothing from the rest.

MUNSTER: (15-9) L. Moloney (Garryowen): M. Finn (U.C.C.) , G Barrett (Cork Con.), S. Dennison (Garryowen), J. Bowen (Cork Con.); A. Ward (St. Marys), D.Canniffe (Lansdowne), capt, (1-8) G. McLoughlia (Shannon), P.Whelan (Garryowen), L. White (London Irish), M. Keane (Lansdowne), B. Foley (Shannon), C. Tucker (Shannon), D. Spring (Dublin Univ.), C. Cantillon (Cork Con.).

NEW ZEALANDERS: (15-9) B. J. McKechnie; S. S. Wilson, B. J. Robertson, J. L. Jaffray, B. G. Williams; E. Dunn, M. W. Donaldson, (1-8) B. R. Johnstone, J. E. Black, G. Knight, A. M. Haden, F. J. Oliver, G. N. K. Mourie (capt.), A. McGregor, W. Graham. Sub: W. Osborne for Robertson (12 mins.).

REFEREE: C. Thomas (Wales).

TOM KIERNAN (Munster Coach) – “It is a great moment for Munster rugby. The discipline was fantastic. I think we only conceded one kick at goal throughout the match. We made our luck and I always believe that to beat a touring team you have to get the breaks and Munster certainly got them today.”

RUSS THOMAS (All Blacks Manager) – ” Top marks to Munster for the way they played. It was a great day for Irish rugby. We learned something today. We must eliminate our mistakes and we must get our driving in put right.”

DONAL CANNIFFE (Munster Captain) – ” They tried to come through the lineouts at our half backs. But we foiled that. Then they tried to come around the side of the scrums and then when they switched to their backs we were still able to curtail them. I am very happy indeed at the result.”

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