With the New Year fast approaching, Last Word On Rugby are reflecting back of a fine year. From the International matches to Premiership and European Championship Rugby. The LWOR highlights for 2016 are wide and varied.
As part of the MCXM Top 10 memories of 2016, the second in our series has contributions from resident Welsh writer Robert Rees, and Premiership writer James Barker. A balance of rugby respect for a fallen hero, and the memory of a player who performed a master class in front of an away crowd. So enjoy our 2016 reflection on some great moments in rugby.
#3: Munster V Glasgow: Rugby Pays Respect
The most outstanding rugby memory of 2016 for Robert Rees has to be Munster v Glasgow, at Thomond Park, in the Champions Cup. The occasion not only saw a great game of rugby, but the celebration of Anthony Foley’s life. The Munster coach had sadly passed away whilst in France with the team a week prior.
The game of rugby was a very good game, that ended with Munster taking the win 38-17. Munster battled on with spirits high in celebration of Anthony Foley (Axle) despite an early red card to Keith Earls for a dangerous tip tackle. That resulted in a farcical exchange between Earls and a few of the Warriors players that continued all the way to the sideline. Clearly he was upset with the whole situation becoming overwhelmed by emotion–but Munster battled on, and if anything it spurred Munster on even greater.
The red card and the mass of passion inside of Thomond Park that day pushed Munster to a 19 point lead at half time, despite what seemed like every adversity being chucked at them along the way. In fitting fashion, they continued that fine form into the second half where the sides played wonderful football. The crowd were raucous, and the players thrived off this. It was a game that no matter what, you couldn’t see Munster losing.
Tyler Bleyendaal began his form that continued right through the group stages, grabbing a try, a penalty and converting all four of the teams tries. The match saw Munster take five points and brought a smile to fans of the Limerick club–on such a somber day.
The day will be remembered much more by the sold out Thomond Park for the celebration of Anthony Foley the man, and what he meant to the province. Much more than what the rugby was on the day, all week tributes poured in from pundits, ex-players, fans and current players. The number eight was seen all around the ground in respect of the Munster legend. In a telling stand, CJ Stander [who played at number eight that day] wore the number 24, as Munster retired the eight jersey that day in memory of Axle.
A very well observed minute’s silence was undertaken prior to kick off, and as the referee blew to end it, the stadium erupted as if the men in red had won the European cup–something Foley did twice as a player with Munster.
Crowd Stand in Respect with Family and team mates
Fittingly, the game ended as it had began with a tribute to the great man himself, this time from the players alone. Joined on field by Dan and Tony (main picture) Foley’s sons, who sang ‘Stand Up And Fight’ to complete silence and tears of joy from the many in attendance. Then, in full voice the masses joined in, mostly dressed in red, as a mark of respect for the rugby family of Munster.
All in all, Saturday the 22nd of October will be remembered for the occasion it brought upon the entire rugby community. A lasting memory for many, that will live in rugby folklore as a one of the LWOR highlights for 2016, and for all who knew Axel Foley.
#4: Dan Carter against Leicester proves his class
Endless superlatives have been thrown at Dan Carter over the years. He has won virtually everything a Southern Hemisphere player can win. After retiring from the international game after the 2015 World Cup Final he turned his attention to Northern Hemisphere success.
After ending his debut season a Top 14 champion with Racing 92, we saw the Dan Carter against Leicester Tigers that All Black and Crusaders fans know and worship. And for James Barker, his performance at Welford Road demonstrated his natural class–even with his Racing 92 side losing 27-17.
European Champions Cup: Leicester 27 Racing 17
It seemed that Carter would finish his career with a short, unfulfilling spell at Perpignan sitting uncomfortably on his CV. True, the Catalan side did win the French Top 14 that year but Carter could not entirely claim much credit for this. With a French league medal in the bag, the only major prize left for Carter is the European Champions Cup. After a final defeat to Saracens in May Carter is clearly still hungry for more honours.
Racing’s first match was tragically cancelled following Anthony Foley’s premature death (tribute from Last Word on Rugby above). Therefore a cold Sunday evening in Leicester was Carter’s first chance to launch his attack on the biggest European prize. At 34 years of age, and 14 years into his playing career, the Kiwi still shows incredible hunger to win. Unfortunately in this particular game his teammates were not as engaged or driven.
The obvious standout moment was a delightful try early in the second half. As with most of his movement it seemed effortless. He first darted between two scrambling defenders, albeit backtracking forwards. He then sold a textbook dummy to the covering tackler and finally brushed past the final defender without a hand barely being laid on him. Moments like this are what many of the crowd came to see (your LWOR correspondent included).
Both Fans and Media Transfixed by Dan Carter
That particular moment brought Racing back into the match, with Carter inevitably nailed the resulting conversion. He very nearly scored another try later on in the half, falling centimetres short with a reach for the line. This was a performance that showed he could ‘grab the game by the neck’ and lead his team forward. Unfortunately Leicester were bouncing back from a drubbing to Glasgow, and were a team full of Dan Carters.
In the end, Racing 92 had little chance to steal the result. Yet the direction and influence Carter provided at fly half meant it was a tight game, until Freddie Burns’ late intercept that sealed the game.
Looking back, it was not quite ‘Leicester Tigers vs Dan Carter’ that night but it was his demonstration of natural ability and attitude that ensured the Kiwi stood out on a pitch full of big name internationals. The cold hard truth of professionalism is that Carter is maximizing his pension before he must eventually retire–which he has freely admitted. Still, with his desire to endure and maintain his performance levels, he deserves the money he is paid.
On this evening, these LWOR highlights for 2016 show the rugby world that he can still deliver when his team needs it most.
Enjoy our seasonal wrap-up of some of the ten most memorable moments for Last Word On Rugby contributors. For more, see LWOR Highlights for 2016 – MCXM I
“Main photo credit”