Munster coach Tony McGahan made some interesting observations in the wake of his team’s startling 37-11 defeat to Ulster in Thomond Park on Saturday night.
"If you look back at the games that have been played here this season, every side that has come here has played extremely well," noted the Australian. "It’s one of the things with a new stadium — it’s very comfortable, it has great surroundings, a great crowd, it’s a great field, so every side that come here play very well."
Aside from some minor gripes, the reaction to the redevelopment of Thomond Park has been overwhelmingly positive.
Yet, once you set aside the epic occasion that was Munster’s tilt and near-triumph against the All Blacks, the atmosphere at the new Thomond has been uncharacteristically muted, something that has been reflected by the performances on the pitch.
Munster took their bow at the new stadium on October 4 against Glasgow. Yet it was the visitors who finished the stronger to leave the final score at a less-than-convincing 25-17 to the home side.
Montauban arrived for their opening Heineken Cup pool game and it was the unheralded French side that garnered the plaudits after they came within six minutes of a remarkable victory before Ronan O’Gara galloped to the rescue. A few weeks later, Ireland took on Canada in new Thomond but, while the facile 55-0 victory arrived with some flowing rugby, the atmosphere never rose above the conversational.
For the visit of New Zealand, the stadium came alive and was rewarded by a performance laced with passion, skill and desire from a vastly under-strength Munster outfit.
Clermont Auvergne rocked up last month and it took a couple of Munster tries in the final two minutes to put the exhausted French away. And then we had last weekend’s loss to Ulster. There is compelling evidence in the Montauban, Clermont and Ulster matches to prove that the new surroundings inspire visiting teams without drawing a similar response from their hosts.