The Magic of Thomond Park Part 3: The Play

27 Nov

A long time ago, when I was a kid, my family and I attended a Cal Bears football game at home in Berkeley against arch-rival Stanford.  The game was a tightly fought contest and in the final seconds Stanford were up by a single point.  Seizing the moment of imminent victory, the Stanford marching band descended from the stands to rush the field in celebration.   Unfortunately, there were a few seconds left on the clock and the Berkeley team hiked the ball into play and – using the tubas and bass drums as interference – ran the ball via a series of lateral passes into the endzone for a touchdown to win the game. 

They called it “The Play” and people talked about it for years.

The Northampton team had less brass

I have a feeling I witnessed something like this at the Munster game the other night.

Northampton were up 21 to 20 with less than a minute of play left on the clock, the only hope for Munster was to score in the last 45 seconds and it didn’t look too good – but they were almost in range of a dropkicked field goal which would score them 3 points and win the game – if only the Northampton team would make a mistake and allow them a clear shot at it.

One of the amazing things about Rugby is the way that the play keeps going when American footbal would stop and start.  The Rugby ball can go down, the player carrying it can fall and yet there are ways to keep the play going and get the ball moving again.  You would see this kind of play happen throughout the game with three or four or five “phases of play” as they are called.  I thought about my grandfather playing American football back in the thirties and forties and thinking that what I was seeing here probably looked more like what Grandpa played than what you see in modern American football these days.  I think he would have loved watching these guys playing this game. 

Another interesting thing about Rugby is that when the clock runs out on the game, the game continues until the play in progress is over.

And here’s where these two unique aspects of Rugby combined to form a play that was nothing less than magic.  The Munster team passed the ball laterally and backwards, and ran it back and forth and front and back and were tackled and pushed the ball forward and pushed the ball backward and ultimately played flawlessly for a full ten minutes with over 40 phases of play – that’s like 40 downs in American football – and they kept the play going long after the clock had run out and tried over and over and over to get a clear shot at the goal and the ball into the hands of their star kicker Ronin O’Gara.

And then, after all this astounding effort, as the fans were holding their hands over their eyes and pounding each other on the backs and nearly weeping with the agony of the striving in front of them…..O’Gara was in the clear…..they passed him the ball….

Don't pay any attention to those huge mean looking guys...

and it was like O’Gara was in his own world…a calm island in the middle of a raging sea of huge men straining against each other bring the game to an over due end….O’Gara tosses the ball in front of himself to set it up for the kick….

Perfect form!

The stadium fell silent once again, but it wasn’t the respectful and studied silence of the penalty kick.  The silence that fell over the crowd at this final moment was one of pure shock – of breath held – from both sides – as everyone stopped to see if the kick would make it – which way would the game go? it was all, literally, up in the air – and the crowd was silent for that few seconds as the ball left O’Gara’s foot….

I love this picture of O’Gara after the kick because it looks like he is floating from elation – and this is pretty much what the entire staduim did at the same moment (there weren’t very many Northampton fans there).

Walking on Air

So the magic of Thomond Park held true and the miraculous victory was earned once more. 

Frankly, I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to go to another Rugby game after this: the box seats, the Munster crowd, the gorgeous stadium and The Play….oh The Play. 

Even if everyone else eventually stops talking about this game, I’ll always be quick to re-tell it…it was just too good.

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