Updated: Saturday, 05 April 2014 01:58 | By Agence France-Presse

Munster's 'Red Army' ready to roar in crunch European tie

When four-time winners Toulouse run out to play twice champions Munster in a European Cup quarter-final at Limerick's Thomond Park on Saturday, they'll also be playing the 'Red Army'.


Munster's 'Red Army' ready to roar in crunch European tie

Munster's fans react during a European Cup rugby union match at the Mosson Stadium in Montpellier, southern France on April 27, 2013 - by Pascal Guyot

Munster have lost just two of their 58 European Cup matches at Thomond, while the Red Army, the collective name for their fans deriving from the team's red shirt, has proudly displayed the banner 'Irish by birth, Munster by the grace of God' in rugby grounds across Europe.

Limerick has been hard-hit by the economic crisis that has gripped Ireland but Helena Joy, a supporter in her "late forties," said the Munster side were a "shining light". 

"The team is a positive feature of the city," Joy told AFP.

"Anytime Limerick is in the news, it is never for anything very good. It's like there is unemployment, murders or gangland… It had a very poor reputation and the one positive shining light is Munster Rugby and Thomond Park."

David Duffy, an economist at Dublin's Economic and Social Research Institute, confirmed to AFP that Limerick had been been particularly affected by the Irish downturn.

"Limerick has been quite badly hit by the recession and will be slower to recover," he said.

"Even though the unemployment rate has come down, there is still a lot of people that have been unemployed for more than a year."

Often seen as a 'posh' sport in other parts of Ireland, such as Dublin and the surrounding province of Leinster, in Munster rugby union is still a working man's game.

"In Leinster, a lot of people that support rugby are from private school, are people who have a little bit more of money," Joy said.

"In Munster, and especially in Limerick, everybody supports rugby. A guy who sweeps the streets will support Munster and will travel to follow Munster.

"Limerick is a working-class city. We are very proud of the team and Thomond Park. 

"Leinster play like Toulouse, a lot of back-play, pretty rugby. 

"In Munster, we love our forwards, we love scrums, we love mauls. That is a style of hard work.".

That may be true but Munster fans are also renowned for their all-round appreciation of rugby and respect, with Thomond Park falling eerily silent even when an opposition player is taking a kick at goal.

- 'Extension of our family' -

For all that they won the European Cup in 2006 and 2008, perhaps the result that defines Munster rugby above all others is their 12-0 win over the mighty All Blacks in 1978, a result made all the more impressive given the full Ireland side is still waiting to record its first victory against New Zealand.

"Munster Rugby is an extension of our family," said 66-year-old fan Ger Noble.

"All the players live in Cork or Limerick, they are part of our community. 

"No other team in Ireland has beaten the All Blacks. On October 31st 1978, on a Tuesday, we beat them in the old Thomond Park 12-0. It was just amazing. 

"The capacity at the time was 10,000, 100,000 say they were there but I have proof," he added.

"Imagine the excitement. 

"I remember going to the pub and the Guinness was just flowing."

His wife, Mary, added: "Our last grandson, Luke, was born in January. On the first day, I bought him a full outfit, jersey and shorts.

"I changed my car a few years ago, it had to be a red car, it had to be a Toyota (Munster sponsor), on my back window.

"We live, sleep, breathe Munster Rugby. It's a passion, it's a way of life. We just live it."

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