Munster return to Cardiff today, back to the city where they won the Heineken Cup, although the Biarritz wing Sereli Bobo probably remembers it more like the scene of a crime. Bobo bought a dummy beyond price in the Millennium Stadium last May, and the man who sold it to him has been reliving the moment ever since. "I can enjoy it now and relax when I watch it on video," said Peter Stringer, "but it was at a big stage of the game. I just had to sell it properly."
Many tales grow taller in the telling, but the way the scrum-half describes his match-turning try - and certainly as it appeared to those of us lucky enough to be among the 75,000 mostly Munster-supporting throng - it was stunningly simple. The ball in the scrum near the right-hand touchline; Bobo drifting infield to cover some alternative threat; Stringer's eyes brightening at the sight of the shortside gap but determined not to betray that knowledge to his Fijian opponent. Fetching it from the forwards' feet, he was away, and into the history books.
"It looks simple now and it probably was at the time," said Stringer. "I had a glance as the ball was in the scrum; for it to come off I couldn't look back at the winger, eyeball him or look at the touchline either. I went on instinct, really, and hoped he'd bought it and gone infield. I felt like I ran much further. I probably ran more in the in-goal area than before I got into it."
Munster won 23-19 and as Bobo looked in vain for a friend, Munster's hordes of delirious followers went mad. It fell to Stringer to boot the ball out at the final whistle; he sank to his knees and the tears flowed. Yet even as the trophy was borne back to the dressing room - the most glorious swab on the wounds of Munster's previous near-misses - the Irish province were looking to the future.
The players spoke there and then about it being a beginning, not the end. Arriving home at Shannon airport in the early hours of Sunday morning, captain Anthony Foley told a 5,000-strong reception party: "Some people think this is the end of the journey, but I've news for you: this is only the beginning."
Now they are two matches into the follow-up campaign and doing well, with wins away to Leicester and home to Bourgoin, and Stringer says the team are coping well with the expectation. "We've no choice but to deal with it because we know more often than not we're going in as favourites and it's more pressure than we've ever experienced. Teams are raising their game against us so we've got to be more focused than we have been over the years.
"Everyone is aware what's at stake if we really want it. We've worked really hard to get where we are, too hard to be satisfied with what we achieved last season. And we've got new faces in the squad whose enthusiasm rubs off. You're doing an injustice to yourself and your family if you don't give 100 per cent and try to win the competition again."
Cardiff - as in the old club - hold a 3-0 record against Munster in Europe, including that rare bird of an away win, albeit in Cork in 1997 and not at the Limerick stronghold of 25 unbeaten Heineken Cup matches, Thomond Park, which will host next week's return fixture.
Today the teams meet next door to the Millennium at the Arms Park club ground where, in September in the Magners League, the Blues won 22-13 against a weakened Munster lacking Stringer and the other Irish internationals. "It's a totally different challenge in a much smaller ground. I haven't played in the Arms Park before and I'm looking forward to it."
This time there will be a bit more blue than red in the 12,120 sell-out crowd, although Munster's spirited followers bought all their allocation of 2,000 tickets, with plenty more snaffled up in Wales. "We didn't really know how our supporters would take to the new season and the new adventure," said Stringer, "but the way they turned out in numbers at Leicester is a credit to them. Meeting them afterwards, they're fully committed to following us again however far we go. That's quite something, that they're willing us on to win another one."
There is one tall tale around: that of the tape as Stringer confronts the Blues' Wales scrum-half, Mike Phillips. It's 5ft 7in and 11st 4lb of Munsterman against the Welshman's 6ft 3in and just under 15st. "It's a different type of scrum-half than you normally come up against," said Stringer. "He's like a back-up to their back row and he likes the quick tap and breaking around the fringes. We'll have our homework done as best we can."Reuse content