The East Terrace - For the rugby football enthusiast

Stand up and Fight: When Munster Beat the All Blacks

Stand Up and Fight
Stand Up and Fight

Published by Yellow Jersey Press

By Alan English

The East Terrace, to accompany its review, caught up with Alan English, sports editor for the UK Sunday Times, and spoke with him about his wonderful new book detailing the famous Munster victory against the 1978 All Blacks.

Firstly, what were your personal memories of that famous day at Thomond Park?

I was thirteen years old at the time and sadly was not at the game; I was more of a soccer follower in those days. I actually was doing my first paid job around that time as a steward at Limerick racecourse. The All Blacks actually came along to the races when I was working during that tour. They were huge, intimidating men.

One of the most remarkable things a reader picks up from the book is the way rugby has utterly transformed since professionalism, for both better and worse. The depressing side of the old amateur days comes through in your accounts of Bill O’Brien (Secretary of the Munster Branch in those days). The most ridiculous is the story of a Munster player once being forced to play in a red t-shirt because the branch didn’t want to fork out for a new jersey!

Those are the forgotten conditions of those days. There were some marvellous aspects in the amateur time, but there was certainly too much power for people like Bill O’Brien, far too much. Players from those days tend to laugh about it now when they recall. In the book I didn’t try to paint an unfair picture of Bill, I think I just called as it was.

The book, certainly to those readers outside of Ireland, really reveals some wonderful aspects of the traditions and culture surrounding rugby in the Limerick area and what makes it tick. Is this something you set out to do when you wrote it?

Certainly, I had two aims with the book. Firstly, to provide a full account of the game, the day and the drama around it. Secondly, to explore the culture and history of the game in Limerick; getting beyond those standard clichés of dockers and doctors, working-class and middle-class playing together. The challenge was marrying those two threads together.

Did you have any major surprises when you researched the book?

Apart from the obvious difference in the playing eras, the main shock was the truth about the ticket situation in those days. Although the ground held only 12,000 over 100,000 are said to have claimed to be there that day. Despite the fuss and difficulty in getting tickets for big European Munster games nowadays, it is actually a myth that the tickets were gold dust for that New Zealand game. Tickets were available up until the day and there was no black market operating. None of the players were besieged for tickets by family, friends and supporters - they weren’t given any by the Munster branch anyway!!

Despite the result of the game being so well known to rugby folk, many readers will surely be surprised to find out that the father of the Munster scrum-half that day, Donal Canniffe, died during the match (although he was not in attendance). It must have been hard to relate this tragic aspect to the narrative of the game?

Yes, of course. The balance was extremely hard to get and Donal had sketchy memories of the day. The gentleman who had been with Donal’s father when he was dying had never really talked about that day in such detail as he had with me. Ironically, it happened as Donal was giving his famous half time speech: “We are forty minutes form immortality”.

What was it like interviewing the various players and characters involved in that famous day?

Some of the New Zealanders - with over twenty-five years having passed since the game – were perplexed it was still being talked about. Others, such as Graham Mourie and Stu Wilson were a dream to interview. Gerry McLoughlin (prop for Munster) is one of the main narrative voices of the book, and I knew within minutes of talking to him that he would play a central role in the book. The second time we met he clammed up a bit, worrying he had said too much the first time, but he soon relaxed again.