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Below Par: Cardiff Blues: 25 – Munster 18

A sub-par performance would be good in golf but not in rugby!  Maybe it was down to ten changes resulting in new combinations; maybe the new defence systems are still bedding in; maybe it was just a bad day at the office for a few players too many…   Whatever the reason, the review won’t make for pleasant viewing.  At least Cardiff also beat the Cheetahs in the previous round while the latter’s loss to Glasgow at the weekend ensured Munster remain in 2nd place for now.

Congrats to Glasgow as the first team to qualify for the top 6 across both Conferences. They should have a bye into the semi-finals as with just 5 rounds remaining they would need to have a melt-down to be overtaken at the top of Conference A.  The Cheetahs on paper have an easier run-in including the visit of Munster in April and could well move up to 2nd place giving Munster a more difficult away play-off game against the 2nd place finisher in Conference B hence the 3 / 4 points lost this weekend could be costly.

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Captain Jack O’Donoghue claims the lineout – photo by Daryl Feehely

The scoring timeline taken from the Pro14 site shows how much of a head start was given to Cardiff – the first off a set piece (lineout), another from a block-down and the third from another set-piece, this time off a scrum all within a 9 minute period.   Munster managed to score in the 33rd minute from a maul finished off well by Chris Cloete and enjoyed a purple patch after the break.  Cardiff conceded penalty after penalty to keep them out and it resulted in Matthew Rees being yellow carded.  Cardiff opted to sacrifice a winger to bring on a replacement hooker and after Munster went through phase after phase to suck in the defence it resulted in creating space out wide and Stephen Fitzgerald was the beneficiary.  “Game on “we thought, but that was as close as it got.

ScoringTimelineThe first try started from a lineout in the 17th minute – a line break by the hooker Matthew Rees put Cardiff on the front foot.  Ronan O’Mahony made the tackle to bring him down and seemed to hurt himself in the process.  The Blues kept possession and while there was more than a suspicion of a knock-on in the following phases the referee was satisfied that the ball went backwards.  Several phases later a pass to Macaulay Cook put him in space to score.  It was not converted.

Five minutes later a long kick was not dealt with swiftly.  While Munster got back to secure possession there was no pillar defence in place when Duncan Williams put in the box kick which  was blocked down by his opposite number Lloyd Williams.  The latter reacted quickly to chase the ball and score.  Jarrod Evans converted and Munster were 12-0 down but worse was to come.

The restart went out on the full giving the Blues a scrum on halfway.  From there the ball went quickly to the wing.  A kick ahead by Lee-Lo was chased and secured by Lane who fended off Keatley to score in the corner.  Another successful conversion made in 19-0 and gave Munster a mountain to climb.

The hosts could have had the bonus point wrapped up by half-time but Stephen Fitzgerald nailed the crucial tackle and the danger was cleared.  An offside gave a penalty to put Munster on the scoreboard before half time.  It was kicked to touch.  GG secured the lineout and the maul formed.  When brought down Chris Cloete released the ball and got to his feet before powering forward to get over the line and score.

From the restart Munster played with more intent, imposing themselves on the game and pinning Cardiff back in their own 22 for much of the third quarter.  If they could have sustained that for the full forty minutes this could have been a very different write up.

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Robin Copeland tries to barge through – photo by Daryl Feehely

Pressure chasing up the restart by Rory, Darren O’Shea and Rhys won a scrum on the Cardiff 22m.  From there Rory, Robin and Chris carried with purpose and got Munster to the 5m line.  Arnold was next to carry well, then Kilcoyne, Ryan, GG, Marshall, Keatley, through phase after phase.  Cardiff conceded a penalty for a high tackle and Keatley put it between the posts to make it 19-8 after 43 minutes.  A few minutes later Darren O’Shea claimed the lineout and the maul made some ground before the ball went wide to Fitzgerald.  Copeland carried well then Grobler and Kilcoyne.  Another penalty was conceded by the hosts which Keatley kicked to touch.  Another lineout, this time taken at the back by Copeland and another maul formed.  The breakaway by Kilcoyne, Marshall and Williams crossed the line but could not ground the ball as a Cardiff player got underneath it.  From the 5m scrum Munster went again and kept pummeling the Cardiff defence.  Another penalty, the time for offside resulted in a yellow card for Matthew Rees.  Munster took the scrum forcing Cardiff to bring on a replacement hooker.  The pack took it on.  Daren O’Shea came close before they went to the backs.  Rory Scannell could have gone for the line himself but put Stephen Fitzgerald through to score.

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Daryl captures Stephen Fitzgerald’s try

Cardiff saw out the rest of the sinbinning period without further concessions.  Replacements came onto both sides and whenever Munster seemed to be making progress they were penalized.  Jean Kleyn was penalized for not releasing, James Cronin for off his feet which seemed harsh as it was a Blues player who had turned him so he went off his feet.  That led to a penalty kicked by Evans to put 10 points between the team and a losing bonus point out of reach.  Hence we were surprised when a penalty awarded on 77 minutes was kicked to touch.  Munster lost the lineout to compound the issue and we wondered if that was the last chance as the clock ticked down.  Cardiff had kicked into touch but when Grobler claimed the lineout it was Cardiff who were awarded the scrum put in when Munster failed to use the ball from the subsequent melee.  Somehow Hart came away with the ball and passed to Dave O’Callaghan in support who took play almost up to the 5m line.  Another penalty conceded by the Blues as the clock reached 80 minutes gave Tyler Bleyendaal a final opportunity to take the three points on offer and the more important losing bonus point by making it 25-18.

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Dave O’Callaghan contests the lineout. Photo by Daryl Feehely

Match report from The42.ie,   the Irish Independent and post match comments from Johann van Graan here

Stats from ESPN show that the 10-1 advantage Munster enjoyed in the penalty stakes was over-turned in the final quarter when they were pinged time and again to end up 12-6

CARDIFF BLUES: R Williams; Summerhill (Myhill 53-63), Smith, Lee-Lo, Lane; Evans, L Williams (T Williams 66); G Jenkins (capt) (Gill 61), Rees (Myhill 63), Filise (Lewis 55), Earle (Turnbull 61), Davies, Cook (Robinson 74), E Jenkins, N Williams.  Replacements not used: Shingler, Edwards.

MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald; Darren Sweetnam, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony (Zebo 56); Ian Keatley (Tyler Bleyendaal 61), Duncan Williams (James Hart 70); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 54), Rhys Marshall (Mike Sherry 62), John Ryan (Stephen Archer 54), Gerbrandt Grobler,  Darren O’Shea (Jean Kleyn 54), Jack O’Donoghue (capt), Chris Cloete, Robin Copeland (Dave O’Callaghan 70).

Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)

As you can imagine the mood in the River Bar with the Munster supporters was partly disbelief at the basic errors and defensive frailties shown.  The referee also came in for criticism particularly for the first Cardiff try with the suspected knock-on and forward pass and the late flurry of penalties which killed off any hope in the final ten minutes.

Positives included seeing more players returning from injury including Tyler while others got game time.  The individual errors are fixable and hopefully the defensive system failings are also.  I got some positive comments about yet another TV appearance at the Zebre game last week 🙂  Fame at last – it would be fun to be a fly on the wall when that happens but bi-location is not possible yet..

I’ll be heading to the game in Cork on Friday.  Glasgow will be missing a lot of players due to the resumption of the Six Nations but Munster can’t afford another slip-up.  It is important to get back into the winning habit before the trip to Edinburgh who are in fine form at the moment and just edged ahead of Ulster into the coveted Top 3 in Conference B.  Hope to see some of you there.

Daryl Feehely’s photos of the game and supporters are here – it will be interesting to share Daryl’s answers in the next Q&A feature due March 9th when there is no game to report on.

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Duncan Williams tries to block down the kick. Photo by Daryl Feehely

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Not black and white: Munster: 33 – Zebre: 5

The loudest, warmest cheer of the Baltic evening was reserved for the arrival of GG, to let him and all watching know that he is not an outcast amongst us but a reformed young man who made a mistake, paid the price and is trying to get on with his short rugby career.  It is not a show of support for taking performance enhancing drugs.  The joint statement from Munster and Ireland rugby was clear on that point.  There was no call for the recent tabloid-esque headline “Munster by the grace of steroids

Hopefully we will remember GG fondly for his contribution to Munster and he will absorb our traditions and values and appreciate our acceptance.  It must have been tough and a shock to become the scape-goat and bullying victim of certain media outlets in recent times.  His past was brought up again in the media coverage this weekend when he was named in the team and reiterated again in the match reports.  It will follow him for the rest of his career.  There may be benefits of the coverage in deterring others from being tempted to go down that path but it became a witch hunt and that is what we do not accept.  Call us one-eyed if you will (again).

GG

Ready for action

The game itself took a while to get going.  The conditions were difficult.  We were sheltered from the worst of the wind and showers by the West Stand behind us but I had walked up to the stadium from the city side and I had to fight the wind in my face every step of the way!  At times the flags blew one way, then the other.  The rain held off for most of the game thankfully but the temperature dropped significantly as the evening went on and by the end we were frozen and glad to hear the final whistle.  Therefore some knock-ons from cold hands and over-cooked kicks out on the full or over the dead-ball line were to be expected.  Penalties were conceded in promising positions and passes did not always go to hand.  Of course we were not impressed by the officials not picking up a blatantly obvious crooked throw into the lineout by Zebre so I smiled as I watched the game back and heard the TG4 commentators share our disbelief.

Robin Copeland was prominent in the loose, winning turnovers and showing great physicality and pace off the back of the scrum.

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Daryl captures man of the match Robin Copeland in action

The opening quarter came and went without a score but not a lack of effort. Can’t you feel the intensity in this great photo by Daryl?  I am sure we were yelling “heave!” at the same time

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Daryl captures the intensity of an early maul featuring Jean Kleyn Photo by Daryl Feehely

An offside advantage gave Munster a penalty in the 24th minute which JJ Hanrahan kicked to touch halfway inside the Zebre 22.  After some good work by the forwards Duncan Williams on his 150th appearance for the province whipped the ball out to JJ who shipped it onto Conor Oliver.  The flanker showed lovely handling as he pivoted to slip the pass to Sammy Arnold who accelerated to take a great line to score in the corner and the deadlock was broken.  Duncan stretched out to hold the ball steady for JJ but the conversion kick went wide.  While Robin was named MOTM I thought Conor had a superb game as did Sammy and I expect both were in contention for the award.

As half-time approached we were hoping for a spark to lead to a second score before the break and we were not disappointed.  An overthrown Zebre lineout on halfway was gobbled up by Conor Oliver and from there quick hands set up an attack through the backline who took play into the Zebre 22.  A subsequent penalty against the visitors enabled Munster to kick for touch.  The maul was set up and it was Brian Scott who twisted and grounded the ball over the line, dragged infield by Robin Copeland when it looked like the Italians would force Munster over the sideline.  When the conversion went between the posts there were happy faces applauding the efforts of the team when the cameras swung by the west terrace.

Zebre almost got in for a score before the break but a forward pass meant it remained 12-0.  However they were first to score in the second half after a grubber kick ricocheted off a Zebre leg to put Munster under pressure, conceding a penalty.  From a excellent position the visitors went through thirteen phases before a kick ahead rebounded over the Munster line off Zebo’s knee giving the visitors another attacking scrum.  The lively scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani charged from the base of the scrum to score.  The conversion went wide but at 12-5 with the game in the balance Munster were re-energized and quickly brought play to the opposite end of the field.

Conor Oliver may well have scored the third Munster try if the referee had gone to the TMO but play continued and seconds later Robin Copeland made no mistake in being seen to ground the ball.  Ian Keatley converted successfully with support from Duncan Williams to make it 19-5.

Steady

Duncan Williams holds the ball steady for the conversion

Talk about impact subs!  Fresh from their involvement with the Irish team at Carton House we saw good interplay between Ian Keatley and Rory Scannell result in the latter scoring the bonus point try in the 58th minute to make it 26-5.

With the 5 points secured the bench were unleashed, Kevin O’Byrne and Dave O’Callaghan coming on alongside the aforementioned GG and scrum-half John Poland who were both making their senior debuts.  Poland had been playing in the U20s Six Nations in 2016 so I was interested to see his impact at this level.  I thought he did well.

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John Poland ready to move the ball from the scrum

Robin Copeland won another turnover when Zebre were on the attack and enabled Munster to clear the danger out of their half.  Jeremy Loughman made his senior debut replacing James Cronin after 69 minutes.  I see he was born in Reno, Nevada, a place I have visited for work on several occasions and it could be a useful piece of information for some future quiz night.

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The packs fight for possession as the backs and Conor look on

A penalty in the 72nd minute set up the final score of the night.  From the lineout Dave O’Callaghan secured possession.  Keatley passed to Loughman who carried strongly in midfield, bringing play over the gainline.  Poland got the pass to O’Byrne who offloaded to Rory as he was tackled.  Scannell juggled the ball before passing as he was tackled in turn to his midfield partner running a great support line.  Sammy had a clear run in from there to score the final try of the night.  Keatley maintained his 100% conversion success rate to bring the score to 33-5.

Cardiff beat the Cheetahs to give us some breathing space in second place in Conference A and it will be interesting to see how we fare there next weekend.  Glasgow only managed a draw in Dragons so hopefully we can take advantage of their depleted resources during the international window when they come to Cork in 2 weeks.  It is great to have strength in depth during this period with Dan and Dave returning from long term injuries to add to the selection options.  It was also encouraging to see Tyler taking part in the warm up also as he continues his rehab.

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Warming down after participating in the warm-up – Tyler in his baseball cap alongside Chris

Match stats from ESPN are here

Match report from The42.ie,  Irish Times, and Independent.  The Irish Examiner report includes the post match thoughts of Johann van Graan.

More of Daryl’s photos are here while some more of mine are on the blog Facebook page.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Dan Goggin (Rory Scannell 52), Alex Wootton; JJ Hanrahan (Ian Keatley 52), Duncan Williams (John Poland 59); James Cronin (Jeremy Loughman 69), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne 59), Brian Scott (John Ryan 54); Jean Kleyn (Gerbrandt Grobler 59), Billy Holland (capt); Jack O’Donoghue (Dave O’Callaghan 59), Conor Oliver, Robin Copeland.

ZEBRE: Ciaran Gaffney; Gabriele di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni, Faialaga Afamasaga, Giovanbattista Venditti (Rory Parata 61); Serafin Bordoli (Maicol Azzolini 75), Guglielmo Palazzani (Riccardo Raffaele 57); Cruze Ah-Nau (Andrea de Marchi 61), Tommaso d’Apice (Luhandre Luus 57), Eduardo Bello (Roberto Tenga 57); David Sisi, George Biagi (capt) (Leonard Krumow 61); Renato Giammarioli, Johan Meyer, Jimmy Tuivati (Derick Minnie 57).

On the weekend that Joy Neville made Pro14 history as she refereed Ulster versus the Southern Kings in Belfast it was good to see two young female referees taking charge of the half-time minis.

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The MAR referee wasn’t much taller than the minis playing but the example of Joy Neville will inspire others to take up refereeing.

Afterwards I popped up to the MRSC bar to thaw out.  It was great to catch up with Geraldine and Kevin and hear about the recent Q&A which they had attended with Jerry, Aled and Rhys and to compare holiday plans.  They surprised themselves with how much they could remember about the Q&A.  It would be great to have something like that in Dublin at some stage as it is too far to travel for an hour!  Dave Kearney (not that one!) was having his beard shaved for charity and it was strange to see him bare-faced!  I am sure he missed the facial insulation on his way home!  I also met Carmel down from Wicklow, Tony had the second necklace for me and I enjoyed a chat with Aine and the Graces before heading home.  Before the game I had met Eamon there and was able to speak knowledgably with him about Tipp football and their loss to the Rossies (since my sister and her Roscommon-born husband (and their three teenagers) had attended it the previous Sunday).   On my way down I managed to bang the side of my knuckle against something and was surprised to see it would not stop bleeding.  Thanks to the paramedics for putting a plaster on it for me.

We were missing a few of the regulars and could have done with their presence to keep us warmer.  I read in one of the match reports that while official attendance was swelled by season ticket sales they estimated only five thousand were in attendance.  I was impressed that Mark had managed to get down from the Aviva after the Ireland game to Thomond for this one!  It was good to see Eilish back with her husband  (in his Leinster jersey again but over the bad flu that had hit him when he came to support them on Stephens Day) while steward Darren got asked about his recent TV appearance on Winning Streak – not successful enough to give up his role at TP!  Thanks to Pascal for a photo of the usual suspects in situ from the Castres game, a nice souvenir.  Back to the River Bar next Saturday with the Dublin crew to support Munster v Cardiff.  May see some of you there or in Cork the following weekend.  Thanks for likes, comments and shares.

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Q&A with WTViewer: Babs

DressOff

Who wears it well? Babs v Killer: the dress-off

A lady who needs no introduction after being name-checked by Ugo and Donncha as she was caught on camera praying for a successful penalty kick during the game at Welford Road in December, here we get to read Babs in her own words describe her love affair with Munster Rugby.

Are you Munster by birth or Munster by the grace of God?

Definitely by the grace of God!   My mother is Irish but by area of birth would be Ulster and by inclination, Leinster as she adored BO’D.

Tell us a little about yourself and your history as a Munster supporter:

I’d been to Thomond Park a few times with Quins over the years but it was only when Paul Burke returned to Munster that I went to watch THEM play.  Paul and his family were always very good to me so I used to pop along the M4 to see him when Munster played in Wales.

Was I seduced? adopted?   BOTH!   Pat Geraghty and John O’Sullivan adopted me and I suppose Paulie, Donners, Strings, Quinny et al seduced me.  I defy anyone to watch Munster play and not be captivated. The ‘seduction’, if you will, has continued and I adore as many of the current squad as I do ‘the old guard’.

Do you get to many live rugby games a year?

I keep saying I’m going to cut back on my Munster fixes and not renew my season ticket but the boys really do help me keep sane.  My mother is now 96 and suffers with dementia.  I visit her in her nursing home 2/3 times a week and it can be very distressing.  Rugby is my escape from that.  I probably still do about 10 or so games now – B&I cup, Pro 14, Heineken…they’re all the same to me.  HC home games were way beyond my reach as an associate member so I did 2 years where I didn’t miss a home or away Magners League game …including Ulster for a rearranged game on a Tuesday I think.  That’s how I got to know all the players, management and the lovely Munster Branch presidents.  The latter all seem to live in fear of me making them dance with me. I can’t imagine why!!  I’m going to South Africa to celebrate CJ’s and my birthdays.  He’s only a day younger than me, you know. He’s just a lot fitter.

Gayl:  I can see that in this photo of you both with John  🙂

What was the best game you’ve been at (or seen on TV) from an atmosphere perspective?

Cardiff final 2006.  Unbelievable.  I was a newbie, ‘blow-in’ back then but it was amazing.  I nearly burst with excitement and then John O’Sullivan found me in the crowd, wearing my Munster jersey and Quins chef trews, and took me into the post match party. “Keep quiet and we’ll say you’re my mammy!”  I thought 2008 would be an anti-climax.  Had a great time partying the night before with friends and was quite calm until I got into the stadium, where I promptly burst into tears.  I love Cardiff.

I hadn’t planned to go over for ‘The Glasgow Game’ but was in bits back home after I heard about Axel, so spent a fortune on a flight and went over.  I’m so glad I did.  Just to be around people who understood helped enormously.  Barry Coughlan from The Examiner had kept in touch all that week and was a great comfort.  Pat G had introduced us years before and we were firm friends.  The staff at The Clarion, who treat me like a favourite mad aunt, were lovely too.  Hugs all round.  We all know how special that game was.  Such a tribute to our fallen friend and hero.

What was the best away trip you have been on for Munster or Ireland rugby and why?

I’ve had so many great experiences with Munster.  Brilliant nights in Wales before games. The legendary “Away to The Borders” trip….Such a shame that team folded….but the stand out trip for me had no rugby.  We didn’t even get to see the 2006 final, the reason for the 2016 trip to Spain. THEY HAD ONE JOB TO DO!!!  It had been Axel’s idea to get as many of the boys from the 2006 final’s squad together for a few days.  There was some golf, some drinking, a lot of reminiscing, a few songs and Axel himself was so relaxed (after one hell of a season).  Just watching the lads catching up with each other and enjoying the craic was a privilege to be part of.  Jerry Flannery, in particular, made sure everyone was included and of course Quinnie, Donncha and Paulie were their inimitable selves.  Jerry, Strings and Wally didn’t play golf and just stayed by the pool, looking for all the world like male models on a photo shoot!!  BE STILL MY BEATING HEART.

How would you rate Munster’s season so far?

I’m happy. Despite having some long term injuries and Donnacha Ryan’s and Francis Saili’s departures, we’re hanging in there in the Pro14, have a home 1/4 final in the HC and stand a good chance of retaining the B&I cup.  Alex Wootton is growing in experience and stature every week.  (I love having someone else with an English accent around)  Rhys Marshall has been a great import (up there with Rua Tipoki IMHO).

Jean Kleyn is the “big hairy arsed, baby eating” lock that every team would kill for, and Chris Cloete is a freak of nature. I LOVE HIM!   He pisses off every single member of opposition teams.  What a find!  Simon Zebo continues to excite and Keith Earls (former baby lion) is playing out of his skin.   My beloved Keats and Duncan are finally getting the recognition they deserve so I’m a pretty happy bunny.

Thanks for clarifying via Twitter Babs that As long as I can remember supporters had a “hairy-arsed, baby eating lock” on their wish list. We had some good ones but I never actually “examined their credentials” 

What are your hopes / expectation for this season / next season?

I’d love us to win the HC again this year.  Especially for Simon Zebo, Billy Holland, Jerry, Felix, Rassie etc.  I won’t make either of our 1/4 finals for personal reasons but will make sure candles are lit, prayers are offered and Holy Water is sprinkled and look forward to 2 semi-finals.  We should still be up there for the knock-out Pro14 games and I want us to retain the B&I cup, especially as it’s finishing.  Surely we get to keep the trophy then!

Who do you think is the most important player for Munster to have a strong finish to the season?

To me it’s never down to one player….win or lose.  I guess a lot of people would go for Conor, and he is very special.  If pushed for an answer I’d probably say, Keats. With Tyler injured and JJ not having started games I’d feel most confident with Ian at the helm.  I sometimes wish we didn’t lose any players to Ireland.  Why does it always feel worse if they get injured playing for the national side?  Please send them back fit and well, Joe.

Who is the unsung hero in the Munster squad in your view?

All the backroom staff to be honest.  From Niall, having to deal with all the logistics, to the kitman, to the medical staff, to the S&C guys (I’m so going to miss Aled) to the nutritionist and George Murray, the analyst. He’s been doing that job for decades and still looks only 24!  They get no recognition from any of us supporters but the lads would be lost without them

Which of the younger players are you most excited about breaking into the senior team?

Dan Goggin is a good prospect as are the Johnston brothers. I guess Sammy Arnold has already arrived!  I love watching the B&I cup games as these lads are the future.  Poland doesn’t look old enough to be out without a permission slip but is a fine player.

How long have you been following the WestTerraceView blog?

About 2/3 years I guess.  It means more to me since I met Gayl and had the pleasure of staying with her last year.  I’m not sure she’s recovered from breakfasting with me yet!! How she manages to support (shout loudly), watch and remember enough to write a blog is beyond me.  She has very sound knowledge too.  If I ever took to blogging it would be more haircuts, rolled down socks, who needs a new razor and best calves and thighs!!

Gayl: it was an experience Babs, you had so many stories to tell so just as well we were not in a rush!  There will be a Failte here for you anytime.  Your blog would probably get more hits than mine with that proposed content 🙂

What do you enjoy most about it?

The personal stuff.  If I haven’t managed to see the game live or even on the box (problem of living in the UK) it goes a long way to helping me feel as if I were there.

Babs

Babs in her Munster dress, since “donated” to David Kilcoyne at Thomond Park

Thanks for taking the time to contribute to this new “feature” Babs.

There are 2 weekends with no Munster rugby game in March so hopefully this will inspire a few folks to volunteer to give it a go (email me at WTView@live.ie or contact me via the comments below, Facebook or Twitter).  Feel free to skip some questions if you wish or suggest additional / replacement questions, it’s just a bit of fun 🙂

 

 

 

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Q&A with WTViewer: Luke

Are you Munster by birth or Munster by the grace of God?

I am Munster by Birth, I am a  proud Cork Norrie (northsider) originally from the Old Youghal Road.  
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Flying the flag proudly in Oman

 
Tell us a little about yourself and your history as a Munster supporter:
So I am a 37 yr old  father of 2  who has spent most of my life living outside of Ireland.  I spent most of my childhood in Holland, in my late teens and twenties I travelled with work throughout Europe and for the  last 5 years I have been working in what we call the Sand pit (better known as the Middle East) Bahrain for 2 years, Qatar for 1 and now the amazingly beautiful Oman. This has obviously hindered my direct involvement as a Munster supporter however I had enough exposure in my little time at home during my late teens to “catch the bug” so to speak. I played youths rugby for Old Christians in Rathcooney, Cork (on the same team as ex Munster no.8 James Coughlan) and grew my love for the game there and in turn my love for Munster and Irish rugby in general.  I remember  when I was playing rugby in Ireland I regularly visited a very different Lansdowne road for internationals and Musgrave park for local rugby matches. I suppose I started supporting Munster religiously in the early 2000’s during Kidney’s reign like most others my age … the rest is history.
In case you missed it you might be interested in this interview with James Coughlan last weekend about his coaching in Pau.
Me and my son Tommy

Luke and his son Tommy enjoying the sunshine in Oman

Do you get to many live rugby games a year / live Munster games?

We make sure to get to a game everytime we are home, as this usually falls around x mas time the St Stephens day match is a must and I usually purchase the match tickets before the plane tickets home ::-)

I play for Muscat here in what would be the 2nd division of the middle east rugby set up so I regularly travel to Kuwait , Bahrain , Qatar and Dubai for matches with the highlight of the season being the Dubai 7’s in early December where in particular this year I had the pleasure to share a few pints with former Munster centre James Downey.  Despite living in the Middle East rugby is a stable diet for our family.

Luke and James Downey dubai 7's 2017

Meeting James Downey at the Dubai 7s in 2017

What was the best game you’ve been at (or seen on TV) from an atmosphere perspective?

 I always remember the Munster V Clermont game in Thomond Park when Paulie and Jamie Cudmore had a scuffle, the noise during that was ferocious and it got the adrenaline going and the rest of that game was intense to say the least.
Second to that would be the heineken cup annihilation of Ospreys in 2009. For the first time I stood down on the terraces near the try line , I was able to see two of the best wingers of their time Bowe & Williams ….gladly get shown a lesson by a superb Munster backline. The atmosphere was brilliant as everyone was just loving it.
One of the more poignant ones was when a friend of ours passed due to cancer,  we used to watch and travel to matches together. On the day of his removal Munster were playing Montabaun away in France, we all gathered at his house and as he was laid out (with a Munster jersey on) we watched the match together for the last time …can’t remember the score but was happy to watch one more game with him before we said our goodbyes.
 
What was the best away trip you have been on for Munster or Ireland / Lions rugby (if applicable) and why?
 I have believe it or not never seen Ireland play outside of Ireland , I have been lucky to have seen the lions play the barbarians in Hong Kong but the best away trip I ever had was a Heineken Cup Final without Munster in 2010 , I had bought tickets for the final in Paris as I was so confident we would beat Biarritz in the semi but alas we didn’t, me and a buddy decided to heck and we would go to Paris anyway , to our amazement there were obviously alot of other optimistic Munster fans who had bought tickets and we spent 2 or 3 days (can’t remember) with hundreds of other Munster fans in Paris. Other away days fondly remembered are trips to Ospreys in Wales one in particular which was the first time my father joined us was during a very, very snowy winter where we were nearly snowed in , luckily we battled the weather conditions and were able to get the ferry home.

How would you rate Munster’s season so far?
Hit and Miss.  The disruption in the management can’t help and must be frustrating for the players. We have seen glimpses of what we can achieve but on the flip side have shown how we can collapse and be left very vulnerable (Leinster first half St Stephens day game and the second half with Ulster in Ravenhill).
 
What are your hopes / expectation for this season / next season?
For this season I would be happy with a semi final in the Pro14 and maybe a quarter in the Heineken cup at a push a Semi final there aswell. For next year I just want to see a season with no turmoils, scandal, management changes etc. etc. Let’s concentrate on the rugby and build a decent squad and achieve a consistent season.  I would also like to see Thomond Park becoming a place where teams fear to travel to again, a fortress, a place of no hope for others.
 
Who do you think is the most important player for Munster to have a strong finish to the season?
I think if we can keep Conor Murray fit and fighting right to the end of the season then we will be doing very well, he contributes a serious amount of tries and I think if world class players are on form it rubs off on all the others, they will take confidence from him and his performances. He seems to ooze confidence at the moment and never seems fazed on the pitch , a successful 6 nations with Ireland will only aid us on his return.
 
Who is the unsung hero in the Munster squad in your view?
Billy Holland for me, and believe this or not but I was one who a few years ago was thinking it was time for him to move on, how wrong was I.  He has been awesome and deserves more than the 1 cap for Ireland (not sure if that’s correct) , he is Mr Dependable and like James Coughlan in many ways as one of the most consistent unrated performers in Irish rugby.
 
Which of the Academy players are you most excited about breaking into the senior team?
Calvin Nash has alot to offer but I think we will see more of Bill & David Johnston especially during the 6 nations. Both exciting prospects.
 
How long have you been following the WestTerraceView blog?
Good question but I think it must be 5 years
 Very close – you were the first WordPress account to subscribe to the blog on Feb 11, 2013 so it is coming up on 5 years!  Thanks for all the views since then 🙂
 
What do you enjoy most about it?
I have finally mastered the dark arts of internet streaming so usually get to watch most matches uninterrupted.  however with the 4 hour time difference the 19:45 kick offs at home are on at 23:45 here , and with the weekends being Friday and Saturday sometimes they fall on a school night so its just possible to stay up.  Worse again the early Sunday games are on during work hours here, its those matches in particular that I look forward to reading the blog. I usually read the blog first then watch the highlights as it gives me the fans view instead of the broadcasters.

Luke_CJ

The day Luke stood me up – we had planned to meet on his annual Christmas visit to Thomond but his good excuse was he took the opportunity to meet CJ instead!  No competition!

Thanks to Luke for volunteering to take the Q&A when I suggested this feature a few weeks ago.  I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did.  Hopefully reading this may encourage others to volunteer so that this is not a one-off.  We have a couple of weekends with no Munster games coming up so I would love to have a few Q&As to publish then to keep the blog active.  You can skip some questions if you wish or suggest additional / replacement questions, it’s just a bit of fun 🙂

 

In case you missed it – interesting 2 part interview with Donncha on Sky Sport this week, here are the links: Part 1 and Part 2.

 

 

13 Comments

Swept Away: Munster: 48 – Castres: 3

As thoroughly as the ground staff swept away the surface water and forked the pitch to aid drainage, the team did likewise to the challenge posed by Castres in the final pool game.  It took a while to break them down but the intent was visible from the off with the linespeed and workrate of the team.  Fair dues to the workrate also of the ground staff who worked tirelessly in lousy weather to get the pitch ready.  By the end of the game there was not much evidence of damage from the scrums in particular from my vantage point on the terrace which is testament to their efforts.
Five hours on the terrace waiting for kick-off is a new if unwanted record!  However any day your team qualify for the 17th time for the playoffs of the European competition and do so in style to secure a home quarter-final has to be a good day.

WT MUNvCO

Leicester v Racing on the big screen as many of the WT regulars huddle in for a photo

I had picked my way through puddles from the LIT carpark to the west terrace, glad I had worn my boots and long waterproof coat to the game.  It had rained incessantly the whole way down from Dublin but the forecast was for it to improve and it had never struck me that the game could be in doubt until I arrived.  I could see them working on the pitch and we were told that the referee would be doing an inspection at noon.  Twitter updates were shared.  As time passed by and there was no sign of anyone beginning to warm up concern grew.  About 12.30 we were told that the game was delayed by 3 hours and we could leave and return later.  Many did so and unfortunately some were unable to return due to travel plans / other arrangements including Mark and his friend who had to travel back to West Cork.  John had to make some phone calls to get cover for his shift but managed to do so while those availing of public transport had to make new arrangements also.  I went out to get some food.  The bars and supporters club were packed so I headed back into the terrace to watch the Leicester v Racing game on the big screen.  The snow covered ground looked less playable that Thomond but that game went ahead on schedule.

So how did we pass the time?  Besides watching the game we were chatting about life and rugby in general.  There had been good representation from the west terrace south at the game in Paris so I was curious to hear their first-hand accounts.  None envied the Parisians their state of the art facility.  There is something special about Thomond.  There was also talk about the media coverage during the week and many of us had read Donncha O’Callaghan’s article in the Times about it which struck a chord.  Anne, Brian and Eoghan had been at the A team game in Cork on Friday and it was good to hear that GG got a warm reception there after what must have been a horrendous week.  Congrats to the A team who won their final pool game in the B&I Cup and as a reward get to pit themselves against Leinster A in Dublin at Easter in their quarter final!  If you missed it the twitter feed from Munster Rugby of the game by Sam Armold is great craic.

We were sheltered from the wind and the worst of the showers by the west stand.  At 2pm someone said it was time to reboot, our normal pre-match routine should kick in!    “Welcome back” came the announcement over the P.A. to our amusement as we had remained in situ.  Only the soloist for Stand up and Fight and the flag bearers were allowed onto the pitch pre-game.  The choir and 27 Brass Band were not.  The heat from the flames launched skyward as each Munster player was announced had us feeling toasty as eventually 4pm came around.

Good intensity and linespeed on limited possession was the main feature of the opening quarter as Munster employed the kicking tactic.  Simon Zebo was in full control at full back and dealt with several early garryowens, calling for the mark and pushing the visitors back up-field.

We were busy singing Stand up and Fight (and featured in another tv appearance) when a scuffle broke out after Munster won a penalty from a strong scrum in the 12th minute.  We were not so impressed to see that penalty reversed and it was only watching back the highlights on TG4 that I saw what Jean Kleyn had done to warrant the reversal.  Castres  took the lead through that early penalty but overall Munster managed to keep the penalty count down to single figures (6) in this game after recent high numbers.

It was good to hear that Jean does appreciate what we bring to the game as he said in his post match interview: there were times in the second half when the fans really carried us through. Whenever The Fields of Athenry starts, you just get pumped.

Scannell, Stander and Cloete carried well after a Munster scrum in the build-up to the first sustained period in the visitors 22.  Wave after wave of willing carriers got close to the line as Castres conceded penalty after penalty to stem the tide.  It was disappointing to see Dave Kilcoyne limping off after injuring his knee in those phases but we are fortunate to have a player of the caliber of James Cronin to take his place.  From the penalty opportunity Ian Keatley tied the score at 3-3 after 17 minutes.

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Munster launch an attack from a scrum on half-way. Photo by Gayl

Again Scannell carried strongly in midfield and got over the 10m line.  A knock-on gave Castres a scrum but excellent pressure from the pack won a penalty for Munster and you could feel them ratcheting up the pressure.  Murray took a quick kick which was chased by Zebo and Conway.  It was called back and but a marker had been laid down by the pack. Munster took the three points on offer through Keatley with Murray stretched out on the wet pitch to hold the ball steady in the swirling wind.

More penalties were conceded and the referee issued a team warning to Castres.  Munster kicked for touch.  From the lineout they drove for the line.  Holland came close.  Possession was retained.  They probed wide through Conway then back though Kleyn and the phases kept coming as did the referee’s outstretched arm.  Eventually the referee had no option but to blow it up and send #13 Thomas Combezou to the bin.  From a scrum Munster won another free kick.  Murray took it quickly and passed to Keatley whose pass was flicked on by Zebo to Earls who dived in at the corner.  The excellent conversion made it 13-3 after 34 minutes.

A super break by Chris Farrell with Murray in support looked certain to yield a second try before the break but Conor decided to pass to Conway and the attack broke down.

It was disappointing for the minis not to get to play at half-time but hopefully they will get another opportunity later in the year.  There was applause in honour of the recently deceased Dolores O’Riordan when they played The Cranberries during the break as they had also done during the warm-up.  A sad day for her family, friends and fans.

Munster came out determined to put more points onto the scoreboard and wasted no time.  An early penalty was kicked to touch.  While that lineout was stolen, they had not long to wait for the next penalty opportunity.  This time they made no mistake and a powerful maul marched inexorably for the line.  Rhys Marshall scored the try.  Another successfully conversion by Keatley made it 20-3.

Another scrum won another penalty, this time kicked to touch down the east sideline by Rory Scannell.  Munster through CJ Stander driven on by the pack was over the line but could not ground the ball.  From the resultant 5m scrum their dominance continued to win more penalties.  Keith Earls crossed the line but was called back to our disgust.  The scrum seemed to yield a try for Conor Murray but from the replay the TMO/referee decided he had lost control.  A change of props did not improve the scrummaging by Castres as Munster went for the jugular.  Their efforts resulted in a second yellow card (after a short reprieve for the new prop as he got off for “a first offence”) but it was only a matter of time.  Munster called for the scrum again and this time got their just rewards with a yellow card for the replacement tighthead prop.  Munster opted for the scrum again and this time a penalty try was awarded in the 56th minute.

There was still plenty of time for the bonus point try and what a try it was.  Shortlisted for try of the round (vote here)  it was started by Keith Earls on the half-way line.  He danced his way over the 10m line and got midway to the 22 before linking up with Simon Zebo who finished the move with a most ungraceful swan dive after the twinkle toes shown by both players in the build up.

Having secured the bonus point and with it third seeding, it was time to give the remaining substitutes some game time.  Alex Wootton came on for the battered Keith Earls and was only on the pitch a few minutes when the ball squirted back towards him.  He scooped it up and managed to twirl his way past a few tackles before scoring the 5th try.  JJ Hanrahan added the extras.

On 75 minutes Darren O’Shea won a Castres lineout and Jack O’Donoghue carried it forward as the replacements continued to make their presence felt.

Darren

Darren O’Shea steals their lineout ball

Fun moment watching the interaction between Ian Keatley and Keith Earls on the big screen when the latter was named Man of the Match. Both men had great games and will join the other 8 Munstermen heading to Ireland camp with a spring in their step – James Cronin was a late call-up due to the injury to Dave Kilcoyne.  Hopefully Killer will be back in action soon.  All but Zebo from the starting Munster backline were included along with four forwards (yes you read that right, what is the world coming to when Munster provides 6 / 16 backs but only 4/20 forwards?)

Castres had a scrum in a good position but there was no let up in intensity as they were driven back and conceded another penalty.  Sometimes when there are a lot of substitutes there can be a drop in cohesion and performance but that was not the case.
As the clock ticked down there was time to kick one final penalty to touch.  Darren secured the ball and the maul formed.  Niall Scannell had it at the back, then Peter but somehow it was James Cronin who popped up with the ball after scoring the final try of the game.  Andrew Conway held the ball steady as JJ Hanrahan kicked the conversion to bring proceedings to an end.
Bigger challenges lie ahead but this was a comprehensive performance given the conditions and the disruption to preparations.

Highlights on Sky Sports are here
Match reports from The42.ie, Irish Examiner and Irish Times
Post match thoughts of Johann van Graan here
Stats are here from ESPN.

Photos from MRSC photographers are on their Facebook page here

Munster: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (c), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.

Replacements: James Cronin for Kilcoyne (18 mins), John Ryan for Archer (43 mins), Niall Scannell for Marshall (49 mins), Darren O’Shea for Holland (62 mins), Alex Wootton for Earls (63 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (65 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for Kloete (66 mins), Duncan Williams for Murray (69 mins). 

Castres Olympique: Geoffrey Palis; Kylian Jaminet, Thomas Combezou, Robert Ebersohn (c), David Smith; Julien Dumora, Rory Kockott; Antoine Tichit, Jody Jenneker, Damien Tussac, Alexandre Bias, Thibault Lassalle, Yannick Caballero, Steve Mafi, Alex Tulou.

Replacements: Kevin Firmin for Jenneker, Tudor Stroe for Tichit, Victor Moreaux for 5 (all 48 mins), Daniel Kotze for Tussac (54 mins), Tussac for Tulou (56-66 mins), Yohan Le Bourhis for Palis, Afusipa Taumoepeau for Combezou (both 61 mins), Yohan Domenech for Kockott (71 mins), Baptiste Delaporte for Tussac (66 mins). 

Footage in this post match interview with the two Chris’s gives an insight into the conditions after the heavy rainfall pre-game.

I had parked in LIT and planned to let traffic ease before heading back to Dublin but after the long day and almost 7 hours spent on the terrace I decided to go straight back.  Big mistake.  The carpark was a log jam.  Eventually we got out the back exit and turned right.  I had Dee, Joe and another Dee for company.  Joe plotted a route to avoid the traffic, guiding me through Parteen and O’Brien’s bridge (I think!).  I was glad to rejoin the motorway at Birdhill and it was plain sailing from there.  I was tired after the thirteen hour day.  It was a pity that Sean who had planned to travel with me was unable to go but hopefully he will be back to SUAF soon.  With no game next weekend I am planning to start my new Q&A feature with readers of the blog.  Hopefully it will inspire some more of you to volunteer to participate 🙂

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From darkness into the light of the U Arena: Racing 92: 34 – Munster: 30

Ad

From an email from Francis whom I met with Racing came to Thomond 12 months ago.  It’s not often the waterboy makes pride of place on the advert 🙂

From the blackness on the TV screen I knew this was no ordinary venue.  Instead of starlight or moonlight as we sometimes see at Thomond there were just flickers from camera phones in the stands before strobe lights swept across the pitch.  The players emerged as the tunnel was illuminated, running onto the dark pitch as the lights came up fully.  The video clip in the tweet below is worth watching if you missed the game.  It was the type of spectacle you would find at a concert and I look forward to hearing from friends who were there what they thought of it.  I read some comments about piped music and a trumpet player so what was it like?  Speaking of music it was great to hear the Fields of Athenry ring out during the game and to see familiar faces in the crowd scenes when the cameras swung their way to capture their celebrations of Munster scores.

Is this the future?  Not many clubs could afford that level of investment in their facilities.  Do the artificial 4G surface and the closed roof – eliminating any wind advantage / disadvantage – sterilize some of the elemental nature of rugby – nullifying the whole game of two halves scenario when the conditions can equate to a 10 point spread etc?  Plenty to discuss next Sunday on the terrace before the Castres game or please add a comment with your views.

So on to the game in hand.  A losing bonus point and holding Racing 92 to fewer than 4 tries was the minimum requirement before the game.  After going 10-0 down within 8 minutes I would have grabbed it but looking back on the game there is a sense of opportunity lost.  The opportunity to qualify for a home quarter final is one key element.  Of course there were several shocks over the weekend which changed the potential make-up of the quarter-finalists so who knows how things will unfold next weekend.  Having a Sunday kick-off means that the permutations will be a lot clearer after the games on Friday and Saturday as to the likely make-up of the last eight.  The bad weather forecast over the coming week may also have an impact, especially on the ability to score a bonus point try.  Leicester sent a very callow team to Castres so will they roll over when Racing visit or put on more of a fight for their home support?

A penalty conceded in the first minute again set the worrying tone of the first half as Munster racked up 8 penalties (plus four in the second half).  It gave early momentum to the home team.  An impressive sprint across the pitch by CJ Stander to combine with Conor Murray succeeded in shutting down an initial attack of Teddy Thomas.  However, the home team retained possession as they played with incredible tempo.  Thomas made another foray, then Nyanga before Nakarawa took it on.  Maka barged over the 5m line, then Machenaud tried to dart forward.  From the ruck Nyanga picked, went and scored.  Machenaud converted.  Just minutes later a high tackle resulted in a penalty kicked between the posts to make it 10-0.

A grubber kick proved awkward to handle for Machenaud under pressure from Conway giving Munster a foothold in the Racing 22.  Peter managed to disrupt clean ball from their lineout.  The rest of the pack kept up the pressure in the subsequent phases to force a knock-on.  From that scrum Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell carried well before Murray got the ball to Jean Kleyn who used his long arms to reach the try line and score.  Keatley converted and the 10-7 scoreline looked a lot healthier as Munster continued to grow into the game.

A subsequent penalty attempt came off the post but Munster missed a great opportunity when Conway did not manage to get the ball to Keith Earls in space on his outside.  The build up to that had featured a breath-taking passage on 29 minutes when Keatley put Earls through a gap.  Earls passed to Zebo who flicked the ball onto Conway.  Joe wouldn’t like that I was thinking but it was great to see Munster stretching the defence!

A penalty on half-way saw Conor Murray lining up a kick in the 36th minute.  Unfortunately it  hit the same post as had Keatley’s earlier attempt.  In the closing minute it was a penalty conceded by Peter O’Mahony who protested he was being held in so could not roll away.  His protest lead to the referee Matthew Carley penalizing Munster a further 10m which made it an easier kick for Machenaud who put it between the posts to leave the score at 13 – 7 at half time.

Racing started the second half at the same high tempo they had started the first and again in the 2nd minute they got their reward as winger Marc Andieu benefitted from a flick by Vakatawa to stretch the defence and score in the corner.

Munster found the perfect response just minutes later.  Earls made a wonderful break despite having to backtrack initially to rescue a poor pass.  When Racing were penalised for a deliberate knock-on by their tight-head Munster took it quickly and after good probing up one wing by Farrell and Murray, Zebo gave a long pass to Earls who eyed up the defence and took a sumptuous line through to score a fantastic try.  Keatley added the conversion to make it 18-14.   You can vote for that as try of the round here

When Munster were next to score through Chris Farrell after a wonderful pass from Ian Keatley to make it 18-21 we began to dream of a home quarter final!  However with half an hour to go there was plenty of drama left.

A penalty to Racing enabled Machenaud draw them level.  Keatley converted a penalty  minutes later to restore Munster’s advantage.  Another penalty won by Jack O’Donoghue (on for the injured Peter O’Mahony) helped Munster draw 6 points ahead but only briefly before Racing showed their class to score their third try through their replacement hooker from a lineout after a poor clearance kick by Earls.  The successful conversion gave them a one point lead.

Lining up another long range penalty effort in the 73rd minute (won by a great scrum by the pack) Conor Murray edged Munster in front 28-30 but from the restart Donnacha Ryan led the charge.  Putting Munster under pressure he won a penalty which Machenaud kicked to nudge Racing back into a slender one point lead.  Munster went looking for glory.  Andrew Conway chased the restart hoping to knock it back to a red hand.  As a result there was a big gap when Racing kicked deep.  Keatley raced back for it but under pressure his clearance kick failed to find touch.  Their centre Vakatawa gathered the kick and charged for the line.  Racing forced a penalty from Munster right in front of the posts.  Fortune favours the brave but Racing decided not to risk going for a bonus point try which could have resulted in topping the pool and depriving Munster of a losing BP.  Opting for the penalty kick they moved 4 points clear and so it ended.  Given the inexperienced side which Leicester sent to Castres it is hard to know if that decision will haunt them should they get a BP win next weekend.

RACING 92: Louis Dupichot; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy, Marc Andreu; Remi Tales, Maxime Machenaud; Eddy Ben Arous (Vasil Kakovin ’53), Camille Chat (Dimitri Szarzewski ’53), Ben Tameifuna (Cedate Gomes Sa ’48); Donnacha Ryan, Edwin Maka (Boris Palu ’48); Yannick Nyanga, Wenceslas Lauret (Baptiste Chouzenoux ’75), Leone Nakarawa.  Replacements not used: Xavier Chauveau, Benjamin Dambielle, Joe Rokocoko.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Alex Wootton ’73); Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’79), Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’56), Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne ’75), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’56); Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Jack O’Donoghue ’56), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.  Replacements not used: Darren O’Shea, Duncan Williams.

Highlights

Match reports from The42.ie, the Irish Examiner and the Irish Independent while Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times gives an insight also to the matchday experience in the new U Arena. Post match thoughts of CJ from Tuesdays Examiner

The stats from ESPN are here

Donnacha Ryan squeezed into Keith Earls’ jersey for his post match chat with Michael Corcoran!

Thanks to Luke who volunteered after last weeks blog and has since completed the Q&A to feature in an edition of this blog one of the weeks when there is no Munster game!  Maybe after seeing how it goes with him others might be brave enough to volunteer to feature 🙂

There has been a lot of media coverage since last week of the 2 year ban served by Gerbrandt Grobler for use of performance enhancing drugs.   I agree with Anthony Horgan on this topic:

The hypocrisy of Kimmage reminds me of the words from the bible about let him without sin cast the first stone.  Taking performance enhancing drugs is wrong but making it a lifetime ban on a first offence would be very harsh.  Would I feel the same if he was with another team?  He played with Racing last season but I would not have been aware of his past then.  There will always be a cloud over him but I look forward to seeing him make a contribution to Munster this season.

Edit: adding this blog from Roarz, not a Munster supporter for his perspective.

Congrats to the A team on their win in Nottingham.  Some great action shots from that game taken by a local photographer are here. Pity I cannot get to the game on Friday night but hopefully they will continue their great form.

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Nollaig na mBan: Munster: 39 – Connacht: 13

Another baltic evening, a late kick-off, dangerous roads and the Aussie flu all contributed to a smaller crowd at Thomond Park albeit boosted by a good number of visiting supporters in green.  Those who came to support the home team were treated to a bonus point win built on containing Connacht despite their wind advantage in the first half to just 6 points.  There was no major epiphany on the sixth of January as the new coaching team settle in.  Maybe there was a reluctance to show too much to the Racing video analysts as preparations ramp up for the trip to Paris.

It was a nice touch for Nollaig nan Ban (Womens Christmas) to have 4 girls teams take to the pitch for the half-time minis from Carrick-on-Suir, Bruff, Fethard and Listowel.

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the minis at half-time

I kept warm in the MRSC bar until 7pm, watching Leinster beat Ulster on TV as I chatted with Therese and Paul who had driven down from Blessington. We even discussed the possibility of carpooling from Naas for future day trips when I no longer have a weekend base in Tipperary.
Usually I like to be on the terrace early but given the weather I opted to minimise my exposure to the elements and didn’t head down till 7pm.  When I spotted Conor leaving the bar I knew I was time to go!

There were three Connacht ladies in the corner of our section and I slipped into a space between them and Pascal.  We could have done with a few more bodies to fill the gaps as the wind seemed to be circling in behind us at times.  The north and south terraces were closed and I admired the new banners covering the north end, smiling at the clear Toyota logo on some jerseys in the background photo of a banner sponsored by Bank of Ireland.  I still love my Toyota jersey as the Adidas range – fabric and styles for women – leave a lot to be desired. Given the high proportion of female supporters I do think it is a missed sales opportunity but I guess they have run the numbers and don’t agree.

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Banner on the North Terrace.

I showed Joan the photo of her with my sister Michelle and I from the latest Tipperary Star which was taken at the Leicester away game before Christmas.  It had been fun in Thurles earlier that day being told I was “looking well in the Star”.  I was amused by how ruthlessly the photographer Bridget had ensured no one from Cork or Waterford who were with us at the game made it into the shot!

TippStar

Photo from the Tipperary Star

It was good to see Conor Oliver and Chris Farrell warming up for their first game post injury especially given the squad update during the week ruling out Tommy and Chris plus the 3 week ban for Sam Arnold.  I also noticed another “new” face on the pitch – Gerbrandt Grobler must be close to a return. I have yet to see him play for Munster as he was injured in the pre-season friendly away to Worcester.  Kevin O’Byrne and JJ Hanrahan were also involved in the warm-up but not in the match day squad.  Alex Wootton was interviewed pitchside pre-game.

GG

GG and Robin during the warmup. Photo by Gayl

Post game I went back to the MRSC bar to thaw out and to meet Andy and Bridin who had travelled down from Ulster.  Andy had been in touch earlier in the week to tell me about a charity necklace and he wanted to introduce me to Tony.  It is a lovely piece featuring a stag the symbol of Munster rugby which Tony had originally ordered for his wife and daughters for Christmas 2016.  To get it with a red stone he had to buy 10 and it took off from there.
necklace

In his own words

Tony

I was delighted to receive a necklace in return for a donation.  I choose the Irish Heart Foundation as it seems appropriate given it is the charity partner for Munster this season but there are many worthwhile causes.  Tony has a handful left and can be contacted via PM on the Munsterfans.com forum where is known as Soda Bread.  He has kindly allowed me to obtain a second necklace (for a donation) which I will give to a genuine supporter in return for a new idea, read on.

During the week I was featured in a “Fan Focus” blog by Dave Blair on his Belfast Rugby Bulletin.  You can check out my responses to his Q&A here but it got me thinking that maybe it would be fun to do something like that with you my loyal readers!  Perhaps getting the views from folks on other sides of the ground or from some of my overseas readers including those who are “Munster by the grace of God” rather than by birth.  If you think this would be an interesting new element to the WTView, maybe during the non Munster match weekends during the Six Nations etc. let me know by commenting or email me at WTView@live.ie.   If better still you would like to volunteer to participate in the Q&A over email let me know.  I will put all volunteers into a draw for the necklace (unless they have one already / don’t want one but still want to participate in the Q&A)

It was fun to have Eamon’s company for the drive to and from Thurles.  He certainly shortened the road as we chatted away about rugby, life, people we know (6 degrees of separation!) with a little post match analysis on the way home.  When he told me that Treviso had beaten the Cheetahs it was great news as I expect them to close the gap on Munster with their back to back games over the Kings over the next 2 weekends.

MATCH REPORT & LINKS ETC.

An early penalty and three points conceded – well at least we had held out longer than against Leinster I joked as Jack Carty slotted the three points despite the strong wind. However, Munster mounted a good attack when CJ Stander charged through the centre of a ruck and set off upfield before kicking the ball ahead for his backs to chase. O’Halloran got there first but it put Munster into the Connacht 22.  From there they came close to scoring through Murray before conceding a penalty for not releasing when the support could not get to him in time.

Jack won a turnover from an attempted Connacht maul and from the resultant scrum Munster won a penalty which Rory Scannell kicked to a good touch in the Connacht half.  Munster went through phase after phase before Zebo kicked a ball through and the chase was good to force Connacht into touch with the ball.  Another lineout setup a good maul before they went wide keeping on the pressure in the 22.

Chris Farrell burst through taking a sweet pop pass from Keatley and powering up to the 5m line before being taken down. Murray and Keatley went in to protect possession from the defence so Conor Oliver stepped in as scrum half and put the ball into the arms of the onrushing Darren O’Shea who dived over the line. Keatley converted to make it 7-3.

Darren and Andrew

Two of the try scorers – Darren and Andrew. Photo by Gayl

 

Farrell was penalised for going off his feet to give Carty another opportunity to kick and he duly put the ball between the posts to reduce the gap to one point.  However, an overthrown lineout by Connacht allowed Munster to counter-attack with Rhys Marshall showing he had not lost his turn of pace after his recent concussion as he raced upfield. From that attack Munster won another penalty in midfield which Ian Keatley kicked successfully to restore their four-point advantage after half an hour.  We had to stop our rendition of “Stand Up and Fight” early to ensure silence for his kick.

Heading into the break I was confident that Munster would pull away in the second half. The wind disadvantage had limited the kicking tactic in the first half and the forwards carried the ball more instead. That could explain why in the stats Munster had more possession and territory in the first half.

After the break, two early lineout malfunctions were disappointing but a superb touch finder by Keatley put Munster into the Connacht 22.  They kept the pressure on and won a penalty which Keatley put between the posts to make it 13-6 after 50 minutes.

From the restart Keith Earls’ scintillating counter-attack and kick ahead pushed Connacht back into their own 22 again.  Conor Oliver forced Connacht to knock-on and that scrum set-up the 2nd try.  Keatley, Farrell and Oliver all carried before Earls probed down the far side.  Munster kept possession with Jean Kleyn being next to carry.  Two phases later it was Cronin who took on the defence.  The pass from Rhys Marshall who kept the ball alive when Cronin was tackled showed again his fantastic handling skills as he found Keatley who threaded through a great grubber.  Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo chased hard to put Tiernan O’Halloran under pressure.  Maybe Tiernan was trying to avoid carrying it over his line but Conway worked hard to slip inside him and pounce on the loose ball.

As we watched the replays from the different angles we cheered loudly to let the TMO know our view!  The TMO concurred and the try was awarded on 54 minutes.  A super conversion made it 20-6 and we began to dream of a bonus point win.

Conway TMO

Andrew Conway returns back to position as the TMO reviews his try. Photo by Gayl

From a Munster scrum Murray got the ball to Scannell, who passed to Keatley as Farrell ran a decoy line.  Keatley slipped the ball to Conway as he was tackled.  The superb skip pass he executed at that pace to put Earls away in the corner was superb.  A great backline move executed perfectly to set up the final quarter of the game with the target of securing the bonus point.  The conversion went wide leaving it at 25-6.

Earls was heavily involved in a key turning point just minutes later when Quinn Roux’s tackle upended him.  A spate of handbags encouraged us to sing another rendition of “Stand Up and Fight” as the TMO replayed the tackle.  It looked like it could warrant a red card but as Keith landed on his side the referee produced a yellow card.  It was good to see Keith and Quinn shake hands as the latter walked over to the sinbin.

It was time to go for the jugular and the penalty was kicked to touch. Mike Sherry threw into the lineout which was secured by Jack O’Donoghue.  Darren and Conor got the maul moving before going to ground.  Next up Jean Kleyn carried before popping the pass to Stephen Archer.  Murray whipped the ball out to James Cronin who got very close to the line.  From there Conor Murray showed his lethal finishing skills to ground the ball and secure the bonus point.  If the previous score had been a sublime backs move this one while finished by a back was made by the pack.

With the bonus point secured it was good to see Bill Johnston get fifteen minutes of action as he replaced Chris Farrell.  Robin Copeland was also introduced to replace Jean.

Rory

Scannell kicks a penalty to touch. Photo by Gayl

Darren secured the lineout and passed it quickly to Mike Sherry who charged forward.  From the resultant ruck CJ Stander probably did ground the ball but unfortunately the TMO could find no evidence but a penalty was due to Munster for an earlier offside.  This time they took it quickly, Keatley tapped and passed to CJ.  Then Jack carried before Cronin almost got there again but Murray spotted a gap and went for it to repeat his try-scoring feat.  Keatley converted to make it 39-6 with ten minutes left.

While we had hoped Munster would keep Connacht out the Westerners were not going to lie down as they kept the pressure on in the Munster half.  Darren Sweetnam showed his great handling skills as he juggled a pass between his legs, managing to retain possession as he went to ground!

Duncan Williams made a try-saving tackle as Jarrad Butler broke through the defensive line on 75’ however the visitors regrouped and made another assault to send Tom McCartney over to score in the 77th minute.  Craig Ronaldson converted to make it 39-13.

It was concerning to see Andrew Conway limping off as Craig had lined up the conversion and Munster opted not to replace him so finished the game with 14 men. There is a post match interview with Andrew on Munster Rugby so hopefully he is fine and will be available for selection next weekend.

Connacht kept up the pressure looking for another score but the defense held firm and when Robin Copeland forced Ronaldson into touch it was game over.

Munster: Simon Zebo (Darren Sweetnam ’60), Andrew Conway. Chris Farrell (Bill Johnston ’64), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley,. Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’70): Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’51), Rhys Marshall (Mike Sherry ’60), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’51), Jean Kleyn (Robin Copeland ’66), Darren O’Shea, Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Oliver, CJ Stander.  Replacement not used: Peter O’Mahony

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun (Darragh Leader ’62), Eoin Griffin, Pita Ahki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty (Craig Ronaldson ’67), Caolin Blade (James Mitchell ’67): Peter McCabe (Conan O’Donnell ’75), Tom McCartney, Conor Carey (Finlay Bealham ’57), Quinn Roux, James Cannon (Gavin Thornbury ’40), Cillian Gallagher, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Paul Boyle ’57).  Replacement not used: Shane Delahunt

Match reports from The42.ie,  Irish Times Irish Examiner and Irish Independent.  Post match thoughts of Johann van Graan and CJ Stander in The42.ie

The full game is currently on the TG4 player here

Photos from MRSC’s Linda Molloy are on Facebook here

Match stats on ESPN are here

Bon voyage to all travelling to Paris next weekend and bonne chance – allez les Rouges!