For a number of reasons I didn’t get to see the Sale Munster game till gone midnight Saturday night. I’d even followed the ‘Likely Lads’ script of not finding out the score all day so I could fully enjoy the occasion.
Not having the greatest belief that we would get much out of this European campaign, I was ever so slightly amazed to find us leading 23-7 at half time. This was surely going to be one of Sale’s greatest victories ever. And though I was some 12 hours behind everyone else, I would celebrate it as much as the next man.
What I actually was was 12 hours behind the inevitable Munster comeback and ultimate Munster victory. For even I, somewhere in the back of my mind, had that nagging feeling all through the second half. This was Munster. This was the European Cup. This is what they do.
The rest, as they say, is history. A valiant Sale rearguard (the best they’ve played as a team this season, by some margin) wasn’t enough, and the inevitable winning drop goal in the 80th minute meant I was left with that same empty feeling at 2am that every other Sharks fan had been feeling all day long…
Munster have previous with this kind of thing too. Ronan O’Gara’s 50 metres plus penalty for the away win at Leicester in 2006. O’Gara’s late drop goals against Northampton and Castres in 2011.
They even have history with Sale. In 2006 Sale travelled to Thomond park unbeaten in the competition, only to be on the end of a four try (and yes, one was scored in the 81st minute) defeat that gave Munster a home quarter final.
Perhaps most famous of all is the ‘Miracle March’ against Gloucester in 2003. Going in to the game Munster knew that had to win by a margin of 27 points and score four tries to proceed to the quarter finals. The final score? Munster 33 (4 tries) Gloucester 6.
But it wasn’t the only incredible comeback win of the day. Down in the other hemisphere a Malakai Fekitoa try with the last play of the match broke Australian hearts to give New Zealand a 28-29 win. Re-wind 12 months to Dublin. A last gasp Ryan Crotty try gave the All Blacks their 14 consecutive victory and the ‘perfect year’.
This doesn’t just happen to good rugby teams. Remember ‘Fergie Time’ ? Those last few minutes in matches when Manchester United always seemed to score either equalisers or in most cases winners. Remember the 1999 Champions league final?
These ‘unbelievable’ victories by, what many people see as, ‘unbeatable’ teams is not all down to luck. Once or twice maybe, but great teams make their own luck. It’s too much of a coincidence that the best International team and arguably the best club sides of their generations keep finding a way to win these tight matches.
So why is it? What makes them different?
I think habit comes into it. The habit of winning and the habit of finding ways to win. The obstinate will of not wanting to loose.
A fair amount of skill. The skill of the players on show, the skill of the coach guiding them.
A strong leader. Be it a Paul O’Connell, Richie McCaw or Roy Keane. Someone who will never let the team forgot who they are, what it is they are fighting for.
And incredible mental and physical strength. To keep playing till that 85th or 95th minute when the other team have given up.
Find the right balance of these and you won’t end up feeling like I did 2 am Sunday morning!