Munster 12-0 New Zealand
The All Blacks' great blemish
Martin Williamson
October 31, 1978
A programme from Munster's win, Munster v New Zealand, Limerick, October 31, 1978
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Players/Officials: Jimmy Bowen | Tom Kiernan | Graham Mourie | Tony Ward
Date/Time: Oct 31, 1978
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick
Munster 12-0 New Zealand
Half-time: 9-0
Try: Chris Cantillon
Con: Tony Ward
DGs: Tony Ward

In the history books Munster's defeat of the All Blacks at Limerick in the autumn of 1978 might only be a footnote, but it is still talked about locally and it still rankles in New Zealand.

In 2008, Doug Howlett, who was born only 40 days before the game, admitted that in the history of New Zealand rugby "there is that blemish that keeps cropping up".

Post-war All Blacks' tours of the British and Irish isles were a procession of wins at both Test and club level. In 18 internationals between 1953 and 1978 they won 15 of their 18 Tests, drawing two with the only loss against Wales in 1953. In club games they had been undefeated in 1973-74 and on their 1978 visit they won 17 of their 18 games. The blemish was Munster.

Munster's record going into their match in October 1978 was as good as anyone's. In five post-war meetings they had lost four times but two of those were by only three points, and in 1973 it took a last-minute penalty to get New Zealand off the hook in a 3-3 draw.

The All Blacks started their tour with four wins in 11 days before heading to Ireland where they were scheduled to play their first international on Saturday, November 4. Four days before that was their last warm-up match at Limerick.

Munster were expected to provide a tough test for an almost full-strength New Zealand side but no more than that. The Irish took the game very seriously but two matches in London as preparation did not go well. They were thumped 33-7 by Middlesex and scraped a 15-15 draw against London Irish.

Under coach Tom Kiernan - a British Lions captain who had twice played for Munster against the All Blacks - they trained hard at an army barracks using car headlights as impromptu floodlights in the evenings. On the day their XV included five of the national side named for the Test.

All 12,000 tickets had been sold weeks in advance and the small ground was packed to bursting point. Such were the crowds that the Munster coach got stuck in traffic and only arrived half-an-hour before the start.

From the kick-off Munster took the attack to the tourists who were surprised by the intensity of the opposition. "Looking back we were very complacent and we certainly paid the price," All Blacks wing Bryan Williams said. "It became apparent pretty early on that Munster were really fired up. And they weren't going to take any prisoners. The longer the game went on, the worse we became. They realised they were in with a shot and we were struggling to pull ourselves together."

In the 11th minute Munster won a lineout from which the outstanding fly-half Tony Ward delicately chipped the ball over the Kiwi backs and left-wing Jim Bowen gathered, brushing aside three tackles on a 40-yard run before passing inside to Christy Cantillon who scored by the post. Ward slotted the conversion.

"They played the type of game we try to play - pressure and cutting down on mistakes - but they played it better"

Six minutes later Ward extended the lead with a drop-goal "under the warmest pressure from a solid scrummage heel and service picked up around his ankles" reported Peter West in the Times. If the noise inside Thomond Park had been loud when the try was scored, it then "erupted in a torrent of sound".

Munster's incessant harrying caused errors in the usually dependable New Zealand backs - ward's drop-goal came from a scrum following a knock-on under pressure - and their tackling was ferocious. "The alignment in midfield was indifferent, the passing inaccurate," wrote West.

The All Blacks improved in the second-half but still could not get close enough the Munster line to threaten. Shortly after the hour mark, Ward, who had slightly blotted his copy book with a couple of poor kicks, sent a deft diagonal kick to the corner where Stu Wilson was forced to concede a five-yard scrum. From that Ward kicked his second drop-goal.

At the final whistle the crowd surged onto the pitch and the Munster players returned from their dressing-room for a lap of honour.

"The place went berserk when we won," Donal Canniffe told the Times. "We were mobbed and took an age to get into the dressing-room. The noise was such we could not hear ourselves think. I took the players out again to acknowledge the crowds and when we came back in I had a phone call. A friend told me my father was in hospital having collapsed. I was numb. I got a second call minutes later and it was the friend again saying, 'I'm sorry, your father's died'.

"I was out of the place and gone within ten or 15 minutes of the final whistle. I couldn't take it all in. Instead of going back to celebrate I was going to Cork to organise his funeral. It was bittersweet. You have to deal with the good and bad in life, the ups and downs, and accept what fate brings."

The All Blacks, who had failed to put a point on the board on tour for the first time since 1963, were gracious in defeat. "They played the type of game we try to play - pressure and cutting down on mistakes - but they played it better," said Graham Mourie, their captain. Manager Russ Thomas, who stood up with the crowd to applaud Munster at the end, said: "It was a marvellous effort by Munster and a great thing for Irish Rugby."

Four days later New Zealand beat Ireland 10-6 at Lansdowne Road. Munster's next game, three weeks later, was against Connacht. They lost.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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