Rugby

How Munster Had A Good Friday Against Ireland In 2001

How Munster Had A Good Friday Against Ireland In 2001

In early 2001, Irish professional rugby's already meagre fixture list had a few items removed from the menu when an outbreak of foot and mouth disease brought the country to a halt.

Ireland's final three games of the Six Nations - away to Scotland and Wales, and at home to England - were postponed until the autumn.

Prior to the Six Nations, Munster had beaten Biarritz 38-29 in a bruising Heineken Cup quarter-final at Thomond Park.

This was the season before the beginning of what would be called the Celtic League, now known as the Pro14. The Irish sides had played their interprovincial games long before Christmas.

With their semi-final against Stade Francais to be played on April 21st, it meant Munster would be three months without action heading into the game at the Stade Nord in Lille.

The Six Nations postponements was also a problem for the Irish players with ambitions of heading to Australia that summer with the Lions.

Many, like Brian O'Driscoll who lined out for Blackrock, got game time with their AIL clubs but it was a snack compared to the main course required. While playing for Cork Con against St Mary's, Ronan O'Gara was 'cut in two' by Trevor Brennan and was put out of action for three weeks.

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The solution: On Good Friday, eight days before the semi-final, Munster would play a Rest of Ireland selection at Thomond Park. A similar match had taken place as a World Cup warm-up in 1999 with Munster winning that day.

munster beat rest of ireland 2001

Rugby fans drinking pints after the match between Munster and Rest of Ireland at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

That year, O'Gara bought his first house with his clubmate Donal Lenihan - also manager of the Lions - sorting out the mortgage in Irish Permanent. Lenihan was there in Thomond Park along with Lions head coach Graham Henry and assistant coach Andy Robinson.

"It was basically a final Irish trial for the Lions," says O'Gara in his first autobiography.

"The Munster players would have another chance in Lille but for other guys it was shit or bust."

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Munster vs Rest of Ireland April 13, 2001

Munster:

Dominic Crotty; John Kelly, Mike Mullins, Jason Holland, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O'Gara, Tom Tierney; Peter Clohessy, Frankie Sheahan, John Hayes; Mike Galwey, John Langford; Donncha O'Callaghan, Jerry Murray, Anthony Foley

Replacements: Jeremy Staunton for Crotty, Dion O'Cuinneagain for Murray, Colm McMahon for O'Cuinneagain, John O'Neill for Mullins

Rest of Ireland:

Girvan Dempsey; Denis Hickie, Brian O'Driscoll, Shane Horgan, Tyrone Howe; David Humphreys (capt), Brian O'Meara; Justin Fitzpatrick, Shane Byrne, Simon Best; Gary Longwell, Malcom O'Kelly; Eric Miller, Andy Ward, Victor Costello

Replacements: Jonathan Bell for Dempsey, Tony McWhirter for Costello, Guy Easterby for O'Meara, Peter Smyth for Byrne, Martin Cahill for Fitzpatrick and Bob Casey for Longwell

11,000 showed up for the game.

"It was far from a friendly arrangement as a second-half punch-up involving Mick Galwey and Eric Miller among others illustrated," reported Mick Cleary in The Telegraph.

Dion O'Cuinneagain had only flown into Shannon four hours before the game. So, playing at blindside flanker, a 22-year-old Donncha O'Callaghan was given his first start of the season.

munster beat rest of ireland 2001

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"I nailed it," recalls O'Callaghan in his autobiography.

"I was so pumped up that I accidentally broke Victor Costello's arm in a tackle. I was running around like a fella with my hair on fire, as Eddie O'Sullivan used to say. Dion came on for the last 20 minutes but I knew I'd done enough to make them think seriously about me for the semi-final."

Munster won the game 24-22 with a try by Anthony Foley and two from Jeremy Staunton. Eric Miller, Brian O'Driscoll, David Humphreys and Tyrone Howe all touched for the Rest of Ireland XV.

munster beat rest of ireland 2001

"I was fierce rusty," O'Gara said about the game.

"Started well and faded. Landed three kicks and missed four. I was desperate to find the form I'd shown two months earlier but I probably forced it too much. If the Lions selectors came to Limerick looking to be convinced about me they would have left unconvinced."

The following weekend in Lille, Munster fell just short of reaching their second European final in a row. They lost 16-15 to the French side in a game which saw John O'Neill controversially denied what appeared to be a perfectly good try.

For O'Gara, there would be a consolation. Along with fellow Ireland internationals David Wallace, Keith Wood, Jeremy Davidson, Malcolm O'Kelly, Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Henderson and Tyrone Howe he would be part of the Lions trip that summer.

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PJ Browne
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