I’ve been watching rugby both ‘live’ and on TV for more than 50 years now – I know, I don’t look my age (although I realise you can take that different ways!)
I can’t remember ever seeing a match that was anywhere near as emotional as the one at Thomond Park yesterday afternoon.
The tributes and singing before the match were almost overpowering in their intensity. There were Irish rugby legends wherever you looked and the atmosphere was hard to describe accurately.
The singing was emotional and moving –
Not least ‘The Fields of Athenry’ –
CJ Stander wore the number 24 on his shirt in respect to Axel – but there was no shortage of number ‘8’s’ in the crowd – on shirts, flags and even faces. Red flags bled throughout – only broken by the blue and black ones of Shannon rugby club.
The raw emotion continued when the players finally emerged – every shirt – Munster and Glasgow bore the name ‘Axel’. In another game later in the afternoon, the Scarlets all had the number 8 embroidered on their shirts in memory of a great player and man.
Before the game everyone had been concerned with how difficult a match it would be for both sets of players – no one mentioned the ref.
The game kicked off and around the twenty minute mark Jérôme Garcès was faced with a problem he could have well done without! Keith Earls made a dangerous tackle and after review Mr Garcès took out a red card. With an hour of the game still to go the crowd were understandably upset – as was Earls.
But you have to hand it to the Thomond crowd – when Finn Russell lined up to kick there was the same silence that greets Munster penalty takers. The word is ‘respect’. Thomond fans are a credit to rugby they always fall silent for opposition shots at goal – other crowds would do well to follow their example.
The match itself was almost irrelevant in that atmosphere – except of course it wasn’t.
It was full of fury and pace and the Munster pack were immense.
The home side were always in control, although in the last 10 minutes Glasgow finally made use of their man advantage and there was just the smallest hint of another ‘miracle’ match.
It was never going to happen and the 38-17 final score was testament to the Munster superiority.
At the final whistle the crowd never moved and clapped as the squad were joined by Tony and Dan, Axel’s two sons to link arms and sing ‘Stand Up and Fight’ –
It was a hugely emotional end to the day.
I suspect any neutrals (if there are any) would not be unhappy if Munster went on to win the Champions Cup this season.