The year was 1978. Jack Lynch was Taoiseach, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John were dominating the charts with ‘Summer Nights’ and John Giles was the manager of the Irish national football team.
While the news headlines were dominated by stories of American foreign policy and the arrival of Pope John Paul II, there was a bigger story brewing in Thomond Park, Limerick. The All Blacks were in town and they were in for one hell of a shock. Moss Finn played on the Munster team that day and here on Pundit Arena, he looks back on what was a historic moment for Irish rugby.
I will never forget that fateful day in Thomond Park on the 31st of October in 1978. People wax lyrical about Munster’s 16th man these days, but the crowd in Thomond that day was absolutely incredible. There were 12,000 people in attendance and it was the old Thomond Park, meaning the crowd were right on the side of the pitch.
We went up to Limerick two nights before the match and went for a boat trip on the Shannon together to clear the heads. Tommy Kiernan’s preparation was fundamental to our performance. I was the youngest on the team and I remember Tommy sat us in a room in Jury’s Hotel in silence for an hour. He didn’t open his mouth for about forty minutes. There was absolute silence.
I thought to myself, ‘has this fella gone off his game or something?’, but then he came out with about five or six one-liners that hit home which was an unbelievable level of preparation. When we left that room, we knew we were on the brink of something special.
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) October 31, 2018
The crowd were brilliant from the start, but they reached a new level at the interval. From halftime onwards, they were electric. They never left the volume drop at any stage.
The Thomond Park faithful began clapping at halftime and I can honestly say it did not stop until the final whistle. It was surreal. I have no doubt that the All Blacks found it to be very intimidating. That day was the initiation of what has today become known as Munster’s 16th man. The Limerick crowd were ballistic.
That day felt different to others. The tension was palpable but we were ready for battle.
We had been over on a tour to London prior to the All Blacks game where we played Middlesex and London Irish. Middlesex were one of just six London counties to play the All Blacks that year. Unsurprisingly, the Southern Hemisphere side wiped the floor with all of them.
As a result, New Zealand didn’t expect a lot from us, considering we had already lost to one of the English counties that year.
How wrong they were.
— Niall Browne (@niallbrowne1) October 31, 2018
The game was on a Tuesday after a long weekend and I’d say New Zealand were a bit cold. By the time they realised they were in a match, it was too late to retrieve it. To be perfectly honest, the Welsh referee was probably a bit more favourable to the home side.
With about ten minutes to go and New Zealand still in with a chance, there was a scrum on the far side of the pitch. The referee blew a long whistle and my teammate Moss Keane interpreted it as the final whistle and began jumping for joy. The ref says to Moss,
“That’s not the final whistle Moss, but they can’t beat you now.”
I gathered that we weren’t going to be beaten with that fellow on our side.
The game finished 12-0 with Christy Cantillon scoring the solitary try after a break by Jimmy Bowen, which Tony Ward duly converted. Ward was at his best in those days, adding a further two drop goals to steady the ship. Without Ward, we wouldn’t have won that game. He never passed the ball or anything but he always put the ball into the air and pushed us forward. If we tried to create anything against New Zealand, we would have been destroyed.
The All Blacks played 18 matches on their 1978 Tour of Britain and Ireland, winning 17 and losing one.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) October 31, 2018
One thing that people seem to forget is that the opposition on that day was no ordinary New Zealand team. It was not like the one that played in Thomond Park a few years ago, that was a complete second team. The team that we played was a New Zealand Test team.
Thirteen of the starting team played against England the following week, fourteen of them played on the panel that faced Ireland the following Saturday. This was no reserve team, it was a team of great players.
I was marking Bryan Williams, probably the greatest All Black winger of all time. In the centre they had Bruce Robertson and Bill Osborne who started forty or fifty tests with New Zealand together. They had Stu Wilson, Andy Haden, Graham Mourie. We didn’t beat a second-string team, we beat the All Blacks’ first team. It was a performance of biblical proportions.
New Zealand played 24 matches on that three-month trip and we were the only team to beat them.
We came in off the field at the final whistle and the crowd were still shouting and cheering. The whole team even had to go back out on the pitch again to show our appreciation for the magnificently vocal crowd. I had never seen anything like that. It’s very seldom that people are given actual Munster caps, but we were given fifteen for our historic performance on that memorable day in Thomond Park.
— Niall Browne (@niallbrowne1) October 31, 2018
The victory was an emotional experience, considering that Munster had gone so close in the past, drawing 3-3 in Musgrave Park in 1973 and losing 6-3 on two occasions in the Mardyke. There were a number of close results in Cork and it’s important for Munster to ensure that they always have the two bases because Cork is every bit a contributor to Munster rugby as Limerick ever was.
Our 12-0 win over the famous All Blacks has gone down in history as one of the greatest Munster performances of all time and it’s a moment in my career that I will never forget.
Moss Finn, Pundit Arena.
You can re-live the Christy Cantillon try right here: