Munster viewpoint: Foley's heroes paint heaven blood-red for a day

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The Independent Online

Irish by birth, Munster by the grace of God. That's what they like to say in Cork and Limerick and if it has a grain of truth then there must have been a round of applause when this result rat-a-tat-tatted out on the heavenly vidiprinter.

Somebody up there was certainly smiling on Peter Stringer, or perhaps it was a someone down below who sowed the seed of an idea in Sereli Bobo's mind that induced the Biarritz wing to leave his defensive station blind-side at a scrum in the 31st minute. Stringer couldn't believe his luck, Irish or otherwise, as he scooted unimpeded over the line.

It was the moment which made Munster believe the trophy they had twice before competed for in finals would finally be theirs.

Just because their incredible and raucous support turned up in huge numbers did not give Munster a divine right to the title. It was right and just that they had to fight for it against a Biarritz side lifted by a dubious early try. But then Munster's battle cry, "Stand Up and Fight", is not just for show.

They stood up and fought, tooth and nail, for what they so badly wanted.

Of course a Millennium Stadium awash with Munster blood-red for the afternoon was hardly going to be a hindrance. This amazing travelling support has grown organically in a field fed and watered by the Heineken Cup. You would have been considered daft to have predicted it on days like the one in Toulouse 10 years ago when Mick Galwey's side shipped 60 points and did better at the hotel karaoke than they had on the field.

Very few fans were with Munster back then, but the runs to the finals of 2000 and 2002 fuelled the fervour, to such an extent that the streets of Cardiff yesterday were thronged with the Irish. Long queues of the ticketless formed outside pubs hoping for a glimpse of a TV screen. Inside the stadium, heavy-jowled farming types mingled with the Cork City kids who apparently are just as likely now to carry their school books in a Munster backpack as wear a shirt of Manchester United or Liverpool as they used to. For long spells of the match they sat and stared anxiously, though a chorus of "Fields of Athenry" was never far away.

And has there ever been a team more suited to be heroes of the people as this rugby-playing Addams Family of disparate characters? From the bullish prop John Hayes, who every one says cannot scrummage yet ploughs on regardless for province and country, to the donnish line-out master Paul O'Connell. Outside them, Ronan O'Gara, always with the body language of a nervous breakdown, but umbilically linked to his boyhood pal Stringer, the scrum-half with the cue-ball hairdo.

There is talk in Munster already that they need to move to a new level, spending cash on foreign players to add to what they have. They will dabble with it at their peril.

When Anthony Foley, the captain, fixes you with a beady stare and tells you this was for his friends and family, you sense the deep well of emotion behind the words. Many other sides around the Six Nations would love a bit of that.

O'Gara kicked his goals to embellish the tries by Trevor Halstead - one of the two non-Irishmen in the Munster XV - and Stringer, and so what if he took more than the odd wrong option. He and the rest will be fêted at home for days, weeks, months, probably years. They wrote a play, Alone it Stands, about the 1978 win over the All Blacks. They can start scribbling a new one. Working title: Stringer's Stroll to Glory.

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