15 Comments

Gutted after Gutsy Performance falls short: Leinster: 16 – Munster: 15

The “what-ifs” and “if-onlys” will hurt as the season came to a dramatic but ultimately disappointing end in the RDS at the semi-final stage.  The narrowest of margins in the end and credit to the team for their guts and never say die attitude as they almost found a fairytale ending in the closing minutes.  No one left early from our section with the game delicately poised in the balance after the second Munster try.  It was good to see Munster being more adventurous in attack as they threw everything at the European Champions. The decision making and execution at times let them down and I noted that the coach picked up on the latter in his post match interview when he said:

“Execution is something we want to work on. We got very close against the two teams that played the final in Europe: a five-point game and a one-point game… We want to improve and compete against all the trendsetters in Europe.”

The ambition is there and given the disruption this season with the change of coach and defence coach (Jacques is missed prowling the sideline during the game) and injuries in key positions, reaching the last four of both competitions is not a bad result.  However, after yet another season without silverware there is disappointment and frustration, but let’s not despair.  The bad old days from not so long ago when we failed to get out of our European group and were fighting to scrape into 6th place in the league to earn European Cup action for the following season show that progress has been made. Munster is again a force to be reckoned with and the new management team will be relishing the opportunity to address short-comings in the off and pre-season.  Add Tadhg Beirne and a fit again Chris Cloete to the pack and we will have a team capable of punching holes and keeping the opposition guessing while our midfield options next season should give us the ability to mix and match depending on the opposition and game plan if we can keep them all fit.  The competition for those places could be fierce as Sammy and Rory will look to build on their great partnership this season while Chris and Jaco will be eager to return to action.

Munster started well, bringing good intensity and energy as they were determined not to make a slow start as has caught them out in other games this season.  CJ Stander was fired up and getting over the gainline.  Peter O’Mahony stole their first lineout; there were loops and offloads as Munster tried to show more creativity in attack.  However Leinster turned over the ball and Lowe showed his class, eventually putting Jack Conan through for the only Leinster try of the game

Lowe who deservedly won MOTM was involved twice in that flowing attack, creating havoc.  The defence scrambled well to keep him out the first time but his skill to get the pass away to Conan as he stumbled was amazing.

We were very disappointed to see Jack stretchered off after ten minutes after his leg was trapped in a ruck as he fell.  He seemed to be in a lot of pain.  Hopefully he will make a good recovery to build on his progress this season.

JJ Hanrahan got Munster on the scoreboard with a successful penalty kick after 18 minutes.  Ross Byrne added a penalty for Leinster to re-establish their 7 point lead.  A superb try saving tackle by Sammy prevented Leinster doubling their advantage.

Yet Munster continued to create opportunities – a sniping break by Conor Murray nearly set Conway free, Zebo probed the other wing and nearly got the pass to Earls.  JJ missed a second penalty attempt.  Conway could have been put in space on several occasions if the final pass to him had been accurate!  The scrum and lineout were going well.

Coming up to half time Munster were attacking through the phases.  CJ even crossed the line but James Ryan managed to turn him on his back and he could not ground the ball.  In the build-up Jean Kleyn had cleared out Ross Byrne,  making contact with his head and Jean was sin-binned for a reckless tackle.  Credit to the 14 men in red they held firm (Sammy even packing down at flanker for a scrum) and while Leinster were able to clear their line, they could not add to their score before the break.  It was all to play for in the second half.

Scrum_2ndHalf

Scrum with Robin playing at 8

Munster made a great start despite being down to 14 still, which ended with Keith Earls squeezing in at the corner after great work by amongst others Robin Copeland winning a turnover on Carbery; Ian Keatley on for the injured JJ Hanrahan reacted quickly to another turnover to carry well; Rhys  Marshall on his 50th appearance tumbled out of a tackle to make more ground, Rory Scannell drove at the defence before Zebo drew the defender before passing to Earls.  He had a lot to do to finish the move with Byrne and Cronin trying to close him down but he is a class finisher.  It was a worrying sight to see him require the medics when he seemed to injure himself in scoring but thankfully he was able to continue.  The touchline conversion was unsuccessful but at 10-8 Munster were well in the game.

The photo captures how much work he had to do to finish the move!

An offside gave Byrne a chance to make it 13-8 just minutes later,   Jean Kleyn returned to the action, making it 3-5 to Munster during his absence.

Zebo got caught in possession as Ringrose chased his kick.  Leinster kicked the penalty for touch.  However the maul defense was superb controlled aggression and Munster won the turnover.  The wardrobe malfunction of Billy was a trifle distracting as the lads drove back Leinster!

Leinster missed two penalty kicks – the breeze blowing towards the south end proved to be tricky or maybe someone had mastered the Yoda mind-tricks and steered the ball wide, or our sharp intake of breath on the south stand created a micro current.

Peter tapped back the restart.  Zebo was nearly through to gather his own chip but the bounce took it out of his grasp.  Earls uncharacteristically knocked-on to give Leinster a scrum with their replacement front row, Porter getting a lot of plaudits from his team mates when it resulted in the long range penalty (the 2nd miss mentioned above).

Leading by example again Peter stole another Leinster lineout as the clock approached the hour mark.  Ian Keatley made a key tackle to stop Garry Ringrose’s break in midfield.  Cian Healy tackled Murray to concede a penalty which after discussion Conor kicked to touch.  However the defence held firm and eventually James Tracy won the turnover.  Maybe we should have taken the 3 points on offer to reduce the deficit to 2 but Peter felt that going for the lineout was the right decision at the time.

Another forward pass, this time by Zebo gave Leinster a scrum and from it another penalty putting Munster 8 points behind when Carbery kicked it, with just 4 minutes left.  Munster injected a lot of pace and when they were awarded a penalty Murray took it quickly.  When he was stopped short Grobler took it on and touched it down against the post according to the TMO.

A quick conversion and there was a minute left to see if Munster could work their way back upfield.  They made a heroic effort, retaining possession and making ground with notable carries by Zebo and Earls, Kleyn and O’Mahony before Killer was penalized for not releasing and that was that.  The home team and supporters were ecstatic.  The Munster players and the red army were devastated.

LEINSTER: Joey Carbery; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa (captain) (Rory O’Loughlin ‘HT), James Lowe; Ross Byrne (HIA – Barry Daly ’37 to ‘HT), Luke McGrath (Nick McCarthy ’76); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’47), Seán Cronin (James Tracy ’56), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’56); Devin Toner, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock (Scott Fardy ’63), Jordi Murphy (Max Deegan ’79), Jack Conan.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold (Darren Sweetnam ’69), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan (Ian Keatley ‘HT), Conor Murray; James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’53), Rhys Marshall (Niall Scannell ’60), John Ryan (Ciaran Parker ’74); Jean Kleyn (yellow card ’37), Billy Holland (Gerbrandt Grobler ’51); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue (Robin Copeland ’11), CJ Stander.  Replacement not used: Duncan Williams.

Match reports from The42.ie , Irish Times  ThreeRedKings, Irish Examiner, Irish Independent and post match views of Peter O’Mahony particularly on the big call to go for touch with a late penalty.  This one in the Examiner covers post match thoughts of Peter and Johann

Post match interview with Zebo below and you can see how emotional he was feeling on his last game in his home province colours (for now).  ThreeRedKings wrote a blog about his unique style.  His try-scoring record may never be surpassed!  Good luck also to Robin and GG in their new clubs and thank you for your contributions to Munster.

Billy Keane covers the game in his own inimitable style in the Indo while David Corkery wrote on his FB page(the full article is worth reading, here is an excerpt):

In a strange way this eighty-minute performance for me was the most encouraging I’ve seen for many a year because of their willingness to play with a southern hemisphere panache. … Yes, they failed in their quest on this occasion however, at least this time they failed trying something new and they sleep in the knowledge that they gave it their all.

Stats from ESPN are here

farewellZebo

Au Revoir Zeebs

The benefit of sitting in the north or south stands was the unreserved seating so clusters of red jerseys could gather together rather than being very spread out as happens in the Aviva.  There was a lot of rubbish in the media during the week about the return of tickets by Munster.  Given the MRSC lottery system it was not surprising that many supporters had opted instead to buy directly from the Leinster public sale where you could be sure of a ticket and buy 2 or more together.  It was fun to hear from 2 friends that they spotted me in the Munster supporters photo used in the article on the RTE website – the same one used by MRSC to confirm membership was at full capacity.  There was plenty of red at both ends in particular but that headline won’t result in clicks!

I was tweeting before the game about how fancy it was in the ladies with their Dyson hand dryers unlike at Thomond where we use paper towels.  I spotted Joan and Kevin so I went over to sit with them as I knew Kevin is a good man to kick off a song.  Babs joined us there and kept me entertained pre-game and during it also with her comments which are not to be reprinted apparently 🙂

Babs_Peter_Sis

Lovely to meet Babs and see her new dress up close and yes that is a photo of Peter Stringer with the HC on her bag! With my sisters Eleanor and Michelle; Joan and Kevin were behind us along with Ronan while Donal took the photo

I did prefer the RDS to the Aviva despite the result.  The atmosphere was better, Kevin had us singing from time to time and that stirred up the home supporters to drown us out.  Not sure if we were heard in other sections of the ground but we gave it welly.  There did not seem to be a constant stream of people to the bar or maybe that was just because we were in the centre of the row.  Leo the lion was often in front of us, banging his drum and encouraging chanting – of course chants of Leinster and Munster can be hard to distinguish, you really need to stress the first syllable! Oscar made an appearance pre-game also.  There were some empty single seats near us as people did not always move in to leave no spaces and I was surprised at how close to kick off it was before many people came in and were then looking for a few seats together.

The final will be interesting as Leinster aim for the double European and league success while the Scarlets will look to retain their title and do themselves justice after their heavy defeat by Leinster in their European semi.  After that we will have the Australia tour, the Under 20s and the 7s competitions.  Before we know it the season will start again!  On the 20th of June the draw for next season’s Champions Cup will take place and hopefully we will have some different teams to challenge ourselves against and new places to explore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About an hour before kick-off a colourful Leinster supporter shows that there is a breeze is blowing

So another season comes to an end, what was your favourite memory – Conway’s super try and the overall team performance against Toulon, a rare win at Welford Road, the emergence of new players like young player of the year Sam Arnold or newcomers of the year Chris Cloete and Chris Farrell whose unfortunate injuries meant they missed the business end of the season?  Thanks to those who have been following along, commenting, sharing etc.  It’s been a pleasure to meet some of you during the season.

It will be interesting to see how the South African teams do next season with a proper preparation (not playing Currie Cup at the same time!).  The TV coverage will be a big change also.  Hopefully that means they will finalise the match schedule a bit earlier but I won’t hold my breath!   It will be strange not having the base (family home) in Thurles anymore so my match day routine will be different but I have renewed my season ticket.  Whether I keep the blog going or try something different like a podcast is a decision I am putting off for now.

GDPR – a reminder to those who have subscribed to receive an email when I post a new edition, that you can unsubscribe at any time. I will send out a specific email so I can take any bounce backs off the mailing list.  As this is not a marketing email I don’t think I need to insist you all resubscribe..

GDPR

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking unsubscribe in the email – see under the Comment button

Advertisements
12 Comments

The Long Zee-bye: Munster: 20 – Edinburgh: 16

After his final game in Cork, onto his final European home game and now the final Thomond Park game for Simon Zebo, thankfully it was not yet time for goodbye as Munster are through to the semi in Dublin in 2 weeks.  On a sunny bank holiday weekend, some supporters had other plans including Ed Sheeran in Cork, the Kinsale 7s or Communions / Confirmations around the province but there was still a good atmosphere with over ten thousand present for the first qualifier game in the new format Pro14 play-offs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peter O’Mahony secures the lineout on halfway

James Cronin, continued his fine form from his MOTM display the previous game to win a penalty in the early stages.  An early lineout loss was disappointing and brought back memories of Bordeaux.  However, a great kick by JJ put Munster deep into the Edinburgh 22.  Peter put pressure on the Edinburgh throw and when it went long Rhys Marshall was there to catch the ball and charge for the line, dragging three or more defenders with him.  JJ put the conversion between the posts and there was a sense of both delight and relief that we had not succumbed to a slow start this time.
Edinburgh had come to play and certainly stretched the Munster defence throughout the game.  Conor Murray often seemed to pop up in the right place to put in the key tackle.
It took several efforts to stop Blair Kinghorn and again to drag down their danger man Duhan van der Merwe who still got the pass away to Mark Bennett.  Thankfully Munster scrambled well and eventually Edinburgh knocked on.
Stephen Archer had been getting treatment on his shoulder / upper arm area and had to be withdrawn in the 17th minute giving young Ciaran Parker more game time than had would have expected and he came through the test admirably.
scrum

A first half scrum near half-way featuring Ciaran Parker

James Cronin conceded a penalty for kicking the ball out of the scrumhalf’s hands.  Sam Hidalgo-Clyne put it between the posts to make it 7-3 after 19 minutes.
Their number 8 Mata was a powerful athlete and repeatedly tested the defence.
Cronin again incurred the referee’s whistle when he tackled and stripped the ball but had not released (or ripped it before they hit the ground) so it was that Edinburgh were only a point behind after 24 minutes.  A bit too close for comfort.
It was frustrating to see so much ball kicked away given the counter-attacking threat from the Edinburgh backs.  When I watched the game on TG4 I heard Marcus Horan commenting that he was hearing the same reaction in the section beside us.  Sometimes the ball was contestable, i.e. we had a chance to win it back but other times it was just handing them easy possession.

We were delighted when the scrum won a penalty in the 28th minute especially for Parker who was holding his own in the front row.  JJ missed the penalty kick, keeping the score at 7-6.  From the restart Murray collected the ball and box kicked it.  Andrew Conway gave chase and collided heavily with Kinghorn who seemed to land on him.  We were glad to see both players sit up.  Andrew was helped up by Nigel Owens and went off for a HIA.  Darren Sweetnam took his place on the wing.

Kinghorn made a super break but Earls got back to him.  Edinburgh kept possession but Earls tackled their scrumhalf and the ball came free.  Great workrate from Earls who was involved multiple times in that minute.  We welcomed Andrew Conway back onto the pitch before the break.  However he watched the second half from the bench.  Hopefully Andrew will make a good recovery and ideally will be available for the semi-final.

Earls

A cut above the eye towards the end of the game, after another great performance by MOTM Keith Earls, try scorer and ball chaser / tackler supreme

With just one point between the teams Munster needed a quick start to the second half and they got it.  An uncharacteristic knock-on by Mata gave Munster a scrum on half-way.  CJ Stander broke very quickly from the back of the scrum to put Munster on the front foot.  Murray found Kleyn who drove on.  JJ carried next before a poor pass from Murray to Zebo created the piece of magic we were longing for.  He retreated to re-gather the ball which had been over his head, chipped the defence and collected the ball before floating a long pass out to Keith Earls on the wing who put on the after-burners and raced to the line.  JJ converted to make it 14-6
A great blindside move from a scrum set Earls probing down the west wing again.  Keith kicked ahead and won back the ball again to put more pressure on the visitors.  Munster were playing now in the right part of the pitch so a penalty won on 50 minutes was kicked between the posts to make it 17-6.
GG came on for Jean to make his final appearance at Thomond.  A penalty against Peter for slowing down the ball gave Edinburgh an easy three points to make it 17-9 before Sam was replaced by Nathan Fowles after 55 minutes.
It was the latter who set-up a tense final quarter.  A poor kick by Zebo bounced up perfectly for Mata to counter-attack.  GG got to him but Edinburgh moved the ball out to the east wing.  Kinghorn made a great burst and when he was dragged down by JJ, Fowles wove his way to the line between Billy and Jack.  The latter got a hand to him but it was too late.  With the successful conversion by Jaco van de Walt it was back to a one point game with twenty minutes to go.  Kilcoyne and Copeland replaced Cronin and Stander.
Copeland

Copeland looks to break from the back of the maul

Jack intercepted a pass to put Munster into the Edinburgh half.  A few phases later Arnold gave Sweetnam a lovely pass to attack down that wing but the highlights were few and far between.  We tried to raise the team with our singing, “The Fields of Athenry” ringing out around the stadium.
Copeland almost put Murray into space when Edinburgh knocked on but he could not take the pass.  Rhys was replaced by Mike Sherry with just over 10 minutes left.  Munster won a penalty from the scrum and cleared the danger.  Another penalty conceded in the lineout (tackling in the air) gave JJ a chance to kick for the posts to ensure that Edinburgh needed more than a penalty or drop goal to win.  He restored the four point lead with a tense final 8 minutes remaining.
The cheer when an Edinburgh kick went dead showed how anxious we were, willing the clock closer to 80. ” Stand up and fight” could be heard as the referee had a word with the pack.  A free kick from a scrum, another scrum, a reset… all helped wind the clock down.  A bloodied Keith Earls was chasing everything and putting Edinburgh under pressure, forcing a lineout throw to Munster.  Peter secured the ball and the maul formed.  Killer almost lost his shorts as the defence tried to stop them making ground.
Killershorts

The maul looks to drive on as Killer’s shorts are almost stripped off him

A few phases later, van der Merwe stripped the ball from Kilcoyne and with just 80s left Edinburgh won a penalty kick which brought them back to just inside the Munster half.  We chanted “Munster, Munster” to encourage one final effort from the team to hold them out before breaking into the “Fields of Athenry”.  Peter disrupted their lineout but they retained possession.
Peter disrupts lineout

Peter disrupts lineout on halfway in the final minute

Time was up but play continued.  Not rolling away led to a final penalty and opportunity for Edinburgh.  You could feel the tension in the stadium.  Thankfully a penalty kick was no use to them, they had to kick for touch and one last throw of the dice via the lineout.  Again Peter got up at the front of the lineout and batted the ball down to Murray who fell into touch to bring the game to an end.
Not as convincing a win as Scarlets inflicted on the Cheetahs but a semi-final place secured none the less, with two weeks to prepare for a show down with Leinster, potentially champions of Europe by then.  We will be hoping they have a “hangover” after Bilbao and that Munster can raise their intensity and accuracy for that encounter.  Hopefully some of the injured players will be back in contention also.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway (HIA – Darren Sweetnam ’31 to ’40, permanent ’40), Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’61), Rhys Marshall (Mike Sherry ’70), Stephen Archer (Ciaran Parker ’17); Jean Kleyn (Gerbrandt Grobler ’52), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander (Robin Copeland ’61).  Replacements not used: James Hart, Ian Keatley.

EDINBURGH: Blair Kinghorn; Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean (James Johnstone ’76), Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt (Duncan Weir ’64), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Nathan Fowles ’56); Jordan Lay (Allan Dell ’52), Stuart McInally (captain) (Neil Cochrane ’70), Simon Berghan (WP Nel ’52); Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Magnus Bradbury, Lewis Carmichael, Bill Mata (Cornell du Preez ’61).  Replacements not used: Ally Miller.

JVG Ciaran

Congrats for Ciaran Parker from Johann after the game

Post match interview with Simon Zebo from Sky
Match reports from The42.ie the Irish Examiner and the Irish Times
Stats from ESPN are here, the lack of possession (only 38%) and over thirty missed tackles will need to be addressed if Munster are to have any chance of securing silverware this season.

Copeland and Zebo spoke after the game and this video includes some lovely footage of the post match celebrations with family and team mates:

A day trip from Dublin was the order of the day so I came down early to have some brunch in the city and see the sights of RiverFest before heading out to Thomond for the game.  As Ruby Sundays had retweeted a few blogs during the year I decided to go there where I enjoyed their black pudding potato cake.  The LE Eithne was docked in the port and in another section along the river people were ziplining over the water.  There was a real festival atmosphere.  I arrived out to the stadium just before half past one and about six people – the usual suspects from Cork, Waterford and Limerick – were there queueing at our turnstile before me.  The gates opened at 1.45.

 

Ger who organizes the flag bearers guard of honour was short a few people so Imelda, Anne and myself were late call-ups.  It was a lovely day to be out on the pitch.  You could feel the heat and the breeze a lot more out there than in the shelter of the west stand.  Those on the east side must have been roasting and blinded by the sun.  For the play-off game each of the 14 teams names were shown on additional flags in front of the west stand, a stark reminder that for 8 of them their season was over (albeit Ulster and Ospreys have a play-off for European Cup Qualification) while another two teams would be bowing out that day.  Thankfully Munster live to fight again in two weeks.

Gayl_flag_Ger

Ger took a photo of me on the pitch before the flayers emerged.

As a result of being on the pitch we missed the first few minutes of the game as we had to walk behind the north terrace to get back to our usual location.  People were tightly packed by the entrance to the west terrace south section but we knew there was plenty of space in the centre so we managed to make our way through towards the half way line.  Tony was back amongst us for the first and last time of the season and was both warmly welcomed and slagged in equal measure.  He showed me a photo taken with Mario Rosenstock in the east stand, I think it was at the Toulon game.  Tony had not recognized him but I think he might have given Mario some new material for his Gift Grub sketches!

Silence for the kicker is a great tradition at Thomond and taken seriously amongst us so when we could hear the commentators speaking above us – I believe it was Michael Corcoran for RTE1 at one stage and Stuart Barnes for Sky at another  – they were hushed and got dirty looks!  Speaking of radio I read that Len Dineen of Limerick’s Live 95FM is also retiring from commentating on the Munster games so it was his last broadcast from Thomond yesterday.  I hope the radio station keep up their coverage as it is only the big games (inter-pros and European games) which tend to be covered by the national broadcasters and the diaspora enjoy hearing the game.

Kevin and Paul were back and in good voice to lead us in song during stoppages and when we felt the team needed a lift.  It only takes a note or two before we all row in behind but they have good strong voices to get us going.  There were shouts of encouragement to the players as usual.  Ciaran Parker got some extra name-checks as we knew how big a game this was for him, given he has played most of this season in the AIL but injuries to John Ryan and Brian Scott had seen him promoted to the bench and with the injury to Archer he was early into the action against a formidable Edinburgh pack.  For the day that was in it, the final home game for Zebo (for now as he says himself) his role in setting up the try for Earls was rewarded with the chants of Zebo, Zebo which he enjoyed.

Up in the supporters club bar afterwards I met up with the MRSC Dublin folks (Kevin, Michelle, Dee and Bruce) who had made the journey.  I had seen Paul and Therese before the game when they had arrived from Blessington.  I also caught up again with Andy who had travelled down from beyond Belfast for the 2nd week in a row – that is not an easy journey!  Kevin introduced me to Gerry living in Offaly who was interested in hearing about my blog but not being into computers I had to tell his son Ronan what to look up so he could find it for him!  Thanks to Andy, Tony and Imelda for recommending the blog to him also, it is nice to have such regular, loyal readers.  It is not just lip service either, it was a fun moment when Andy asked Imelda whom he had not met before if she was “the Imelda” who often commented on the blog!   I also had a chat with Peter for the first time and he said that he had bought a ticket for the west terrace after reading this blog!  I thanked him for his retweets and he had a line for me from his section of the terrace when some wise spark had called out to Assistant Referee Whitehouse – “hey Ben when is the refresher course”  You need to have a thick skin to be a referee.  Ed and Bernie made it into the club afterwards also, I had not met them in months as Ed is usually rushing off to work after the game.

There was a lot of talk about tickets for the semi-final and we were relieved to hear that Munster will get a 50% allocation as the Pro14 run the event (update May 7 to only 25% which aligns with a poster on MF.com who indicated 5200 for Munster).  I have a ticket for the Final which I bought in their Black Friday sale so hopefully Munster will be contesting it but we will need to play much better to overcome Leinster who will be looking to do the double.  If we do, the reward will be facing one of the 2 teams who beat us in the final in recent attempts – Glasgow or Scarlets!  Note to anyone with travel plans made / being made there is a potential that the kickoff for the Pro14 final will be moved due to the soccer final on that evening also.

Before I left some kilted Edinburgh supporters arrived so I had to get a photo.  Michelle had known Keith from a drama course years ago.  I had a chat with the ladies to ask to include their photo here.  They told me they had booked their flights at half time in their game with Glasgow the previous weekend, as once they heard that Ulster had not won they knew they would be travelling to Limerick for the playoff.  I hope they enjoyed their visit.  I wished them well for next season and they wished Munster well in the semi-final.  It is always nice to meet genuine rugby supporters from other clubs

So next weekend we can look on in envy as our local rivals take on Racing 92.  Some of us will be rooting for our former player Donnacha Ryan I expect.  A Leinster victory seems most likely given their form, strength in depth and the unfortunate injury to Racing’s key play-maker Machenaud.  I hope those travelling to Bilboa enjoy the game.   I expect I will see some of you in the RDS the following weekend – a nice short journey for me for a change and hopefully fortune will shine more kindly on us there than it has in recent years in the Aviva.  Plenty left to play for against the crème de la crème of the Pro14, featuring three European semi-finalists and probably one European Champion.  Thanks for reading / commenting and sharing as ever.

3 Comments

Lineout Kin-GG: Munster: 24 – Ulster: 24

The cheer that greeted the final lineout win of the night by Gerbrandt Grobler (GG) demonstrated how much the supporters present appreciated the performance of the team especially in the final minutes as Ulster threw everything at them in desperate search of a bonus point win.  The team sheet for Ulster included Six Nations champions Best, Henderson and Stockdale.  Given the 14 changes made by Munster it looked like a daunting task for the home team.  Holding Ulster scoreless in the second half as they clawed back the first half deficit gave us plenty to enjoy.

While Stephen Fitzgerald and Calvin Nash did not get on the scoreboard they made up an exciting lively back three with Darren Sweetnam and caught my eye more so than the Six Nations Player of the Tournament.  It was not a perfect performance but the heart and pride in the jersey shown made the trip well worthwhile.

In the context of the league table the outcome was irrelevant and hence I agreed with the decision to rest the senior players after their heroics in the quarter-final and the South African tour before the disappointment of Bordeaux.  With knock-out rugby next weekend – against a resurgent Edinburgh – we hope to reap the benefits then.  It was also good to give some of the fringe / A team players an opportunity against quality opposition who were hoping for 5 points to challenge Edinburgh for that third place play-off.  I thought that some of them definitely put their hand up for selection.

lineoutGG

Ready to terrorise the Ulster lineout

Mike Sherry, the captain, emerged with the 2 mascots.  James Cronin was right behind him, both players earned their 100th cap in the game so the other players hung back for a moment.

In the opening minute, JJ put an excellent grubber through to give Ulster a 5m lineout.  Robin Copeland grabbed the arm of the young Ulster scrumhalf and when the ball spilled Duncan was alert to the opportunity and darted around to get a foot to the ball before pounching on it to score the opening try.  JJ had taken the conversion not realizing that the TMO was reviewing the play so he had to take it again but was successful both times.

Just minutes later Ulster struck back, capitalizing on a pass that did not go to hand.  Stockdale charged forward and while Sweetnam tackled him he could not stop the offload to Stuart McCloskey.  Johnny McPhillips kicked the conversion to tie the scores.

maul

GG secured the lineout and the maul drove forward

Fitzgerald and Nash were impressive under the high ball especially the latter in a head to head with Craig Gilroy.

We were delighted to see GG get an arm to the Ulster lineout to win back possession for Munster in the 7th minute but a little concerned to see the Munster scrum penalised.
One such penalty gave Ulster the lead when they opted for the kick at posts to make it 7-10 after 15 minutes.
An ironic cheer was heard when the referee called Ulster back for a forward pass since we thought he had missed one or two earlier in the game.  Copeland burst forward from the back of the scrum as we roared him on.  Unfortunately Iain Henderson was injured in the subsequent phases and limped off the pitch, a big loss for Ulster.
GG’s windmill arm flicked another Ulster lineout back on Munster’s side.  Ulster won back possession when Nash could not take the box kick but Mike Sherry forced a penalty from them when he took the perfect jackal position over the ball and Ulster were pinged for not releasing.  Dan Goggin had contributed well to that also making the initial tackle. Ulster repelled the maul but it was great to see Munster pinning them back in their half.

A clearance kick was gathered by Darren Sweetnam and his counter-attacking run was breath-taking.  From just inside the halfway line he took a great line between Ulster players to bring play deep into their 22.  When he was brought down the pack and specifically the front row took it on.  James Cronin charged forward before getting the pass to Mike Sherry in support.  Cronin then carried again and nearly scored himself but when he was stopped short it was Brian Scott who was there to finish the move and put Munster back into the lead.  JJ converted to make it 14-10.

Darren LO
Darren O’Shea secures the lineout

Conor Oliver won a penalty to get Munster into another good position.  However Munster went offside when Sweetnam anticipated the box kick too early giving Ulster a penalty.  From the lineout and maul Robin Copeland came in from the side to stem the drive.  He was charged with pulling it down and sent to the bin.  One sponsor saw the funny side 🙂

With the man advantage Ulster went for the maul again and it was Ireland and Ulster captain Rory Best who scored their try.  McPhillips converted to make it 14-17.

SweetScrum
During the sin binning Darren Sweetnam went into the scrum as a flanker with Conor Oliver moving to eight.

The Ulster pack went for the jugular and won a penalty from the scrum.  A subsequent penalty for a high tackle during those minutes was also kicked to touch.  We knew what was coming and the initial dive was repelled but Rory Best scored his second try on half-time.  McPhillips converted his most difficult kick of the evening to make it a 14 point return with a few minutes still to run for Robin in the sinbin after the break.

Stephen Archer came on at half time and when Robin was back in play the Munster pack dominated their visitors.  Jean Kleyn and Jack O’Donoghue came on shortly afterwards.  Beefed up by the replacements Munster were on the attack.

attacking scrum

Duncan gets the ball away from the scrum – I like how on the big screen behind you can see that the action is a second or so behind the action in my photo!

Sweetnam danced through the defence again and offloaded to Nash.  When Luke Marshall slowed down the recycle it was Munster’s turn to have the numerical advantage.  JJ kicked to touch.  The lineout was secured and the maul repelled.  GG gave a looping pass secured by James Cronin who was nearly in for the score but he had lost control.  However Munster had been playing with advantage and went for the lineout again.  This time it was Robin Copeland who broke through and dived over the line.  JJ made it 21-24 with half an hour left.

The restart was taken by Jean and according to the Munster tweet he was lifted by James Cronin alone – that’s some strength and shows great trust between the two!

Another lineout steal by GG and the backline counter-attacked from deep in their own half through Arnold and Nash.  While the defence scrambled and won back possession, they then kicked it away.  Fitzgerald and Gilroy challenged for the high ball and the young full back prevailed with another excellent display of fielding.

On the other side of the pitch a few minutes later Darren showed his aerial skills also, batting back the ball which was secured by Fitzgerald.

Munster had a sustained period of possession while Ulster had a man receiving treatment away from the play.  There were handbags as Rhys and Rory tangled, with Rhys pulling off Rory’s scrum cap as they grappled with each other.  Kleyn and Grobler tried to clear out a few players.  When GG dragged Luke Marshall out and threw him to the ground (pointing a warning finger at him) the penalty was awarded against him.  Jack was captain by then and tried to discuss the incident with the referee but Ben Whitehouse had made his decision and had no interest in debating who started what.

Poetic justice perhaps when the penalty kick did not find touch as Nash caught it.  Gilroy and Fitzgerald went for a high ball and Gilroy fell into the latter.  It was deemed to be a penalty offence (bad timing by Stephen).

McPhillips made no mistake with the kick to touch this time but Ulster’s lineout woes continued as GG got a hand to it again.  From that attack Munster worked their way into a good position.  A penalty was won by Dave O’Callaghan when Ulster failed to release.  JJ kicked it between the posts to level the scores in the 68th minute as Tommy Bowe was came on for Gilroy.

A lineout in front of us was delayed as the medics treated Cronin so we broke into the Fields of Athenry.  GG soared again to claim the ball and the maul was set up around him.  Stephen Archer’s boot was left behind as you can see in the photo but play continued.  I think it was in that period that there was a sublime offload by Jean Kleyn but I did not spot it when I watched the game back.  It was a cool bit of skill!

maul shoe

Stephen Archer’s boot lies on the pitch as the maul drives forward

Munster seemed to be penalised repeatedly in the final ten minutes.  Maybe those conspiracy theorists that the IRFU wanted Ulster to finish in the top 3 of the league to secure a place in the top tier of European competition had a point!   Probably not as Munster won some late penalties also!  One through James Cronin in the scrum.  Kicked to touch, secured by GG, Munster went through the phases.  We were surprised when JJ then opted for a drop goal but it was well off target.

Not releasing the ball gave Ulster another chance to secure the win in the final minutes when they kicked the penalty to the Munster 22.  Their maul resulted in another penalty when Munster came in from the side to defend it.  That got them to the 5m line.  Another lineout, but the maul was repelled.  They went to the backs but the red line held firm. Phase after phases they barely breached the 22m line.  A great tackle on Stockdale by Fitzgerald was cheered but Copeland was again pinged for coming in at the side and Ulster had a final kick to touch as the clock went past 80.  Last chance saloon.. and the sheriff in town as he had been all night was GG.  This time it was a simple catch as Ulster got their timing wrong.  He charged upfield almost to the 10m line.  Kick it out we urged and JJ did just that.

MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald; Calvin Nash, Sammy Arnold, Dan Goggin, Darren Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams (James Hart ’57); James Cronin, Mike Sherry (captain) (Rhys Marshall ’57), Brian Scott (Stephen Archer ‘HT); Gerbrandt Grobler, Darren O’Shea (Jean Kleyn ’47); Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver (Jack O’Donoghue ’47), Robin Copeland (yellow card ’33).  Unused Replacements: Jeremy Loughman, Bill Johnston, Shane Daly.

ULSTER: Louis Ludik; Craig Gilroy (Tommy Bowe ’69), Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey (Angus Curtis ’29), Jacob Stockdale; Johnny McPhillips, Dave Shanahan (Paul Marshall ’45); Callum Black (Andy Warwick ’55), Rory Best (captain) (Rob Herring ’69), Ross Kane (Tom O’Toole ’64); Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Kieran Treadwell ’23); Clive Ross, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney (Chris Henry ’72).

Match reports from The42.ie, the Irish Times  Irish Examiner, and ThreeRedKings

Stats from ESPN are here, six lineouts stolen is an impressive stat, given the difficulties on our own throw last weekend.

stats

Stats from ESPN

As Johann said afterwards this was GG’s best 80 minutes for Munster and many people I spoke to would have been happy to see him awarded man of the match.  That accolade went to James Cronin, who was a worthy recipient.  My friend James would have given it to Stephen Archer whose arrival in the second half did so much to not just shore up the scrum / maul defence but to turn it into a weapon!

You can see from GG’s post match interview how he enjoyed the game.  It was announced afterwards that he is moving to Gloucester next season as Tadhg Beirne comes to Munster.  Based on this performance GG may have a big contribution to make before he leaves as we enter the knock-out phase of the Pro14.

The half time entertainment featured adapted tag rugby for Mallow Barbarians and Garryowen Lions, who enjoyed their high scoring game and try scoring exploits.  There was also an interesting look on the big screen at the GPS stats for some of the players in the first half – Sweets reached a top speed of 33.2 KM/H and made 11 sprints while Duncan covered over 3KM.  CJ Stander also came onto the pitch with the Triple Crown and Six Nations trophies. I took the photos below from the big screen as we could only see CJ’s back from the west side as the tag game continued in the centre of the pitch.

When they played the new MRSC ad on the big screen we enjoyed teasing Joan and Ger who featured in the snips included!  When the cameras swung our way when singing Stand Up and Fight during the game there was banter about that appearance sorting out the clip for the next ad!  Before the game in the warm-up it was good to see Jaco Taute back on the pitch as he nears a return after his injury which has kept him out of action for so much of the season.  Alex Wootton dropped by on his way down from the Supporters Club bar before the game.  Mark even told him about my blog –  he did not seem to be too impressed.  Maybe he thinks it is a fashion blog.  We did discuss all things fashion from a female supporters perspective in the bar afterwards!  It seems that Adidas will only make something if the order is for at least 20K units!  I guess my Canterbury top will continue to enjoy days out along with my Adidas youth aged 13/14 jersey for the foreseeable future.

Jaco

Jaco and Ciaran Parker warm down after participating in the warmup drills

Edinburgh will be a serious threat to our silverware ambitions as they have been on a upward curve since appointing Richard Cockerill.  Hopefully the Red Army will come out in force to support the team as they aim to secure a semi-final against Leinster in Dublin.  Despite our disappointment in Bordeaux there is one trophy left to play for this season and it will take a huge effort to overcome the quality teams left but the hunger is there to end the silverware drought.  Let’s show that lessons have been learnt.  Let’s do this!

5 Comments

Regrets, we have a few: Racing 92: 27 – Munster: 22

A poor start; inaccurate execution at key moments; the inability to convert pressure, territory and possession into points; a missed opportunity to make history.  Yes we have a few regrets but I am also proud of the team for getting to the last four for the second year in a row.  They fought till the bitter end and gave it their all.  It wasn’t good enough on a day when only their best would do but credit to Racing 92 for their doggedness in defence and especially their creativity off limited opportunities.  Teddy Thomas is a class finisher.

We had come in our thousands, on charters, by scheduled services both direct and via more scenic routes such as Bergerac, Birmingham, Bristol, Hamburg, Toulouse and the old staples of London and even Paris.  Our numbers were swelled by friends from Clermont’s Yellow Army, standing and singing shoulder to shoulder.

It was a colourful sight, a sea predominantly of red, featuring official jerseys dating back to the original Bordeaux semi-final delight in 2000 through so many styles and colours since, including the navy, white, black, purple and even the luminous solar green and bright orange jerseys.  Others wore fun tee shirts with various slogans and there were plenty of berets and other headgear more suited to the heat of the day.
Believe

I liked this customized jersey I saw outside the stadium

We had hoped for another special day as our team aimed to take the next step and emulate their heroes by getting into the European Cup Final.  Unfortunately, despite their best intentions and hunger it was one of those days when passes, kicks and lineouts went awry.  Tackles were missed at crucial moments and from 21-3 down it was a long road back.

MurrayLO

Murray is the decoy jumper as the second pod with Billy Holland prepares to claim the ball as the Red Army look on

A score before halftime would have helped.  Sam Arnold came agonisingly close to scoring against the posts but it was not to be.  Racing had cut Munster open three times but their own defensive line held firm in the face of sustained pressure.

scrum

A good attacking position but the Racing defence held firm

Frustration flared early in the second half when Murray tangled with and pulled an almost karate move on Marc Andreu who had grabbed him; lifting the winger and flinging him to the ground when they tussled over a ball which had gone out of play.  A penalty was awarded against Conor.  That lead to the final score by Racing 92 when Machenaud, in his man of the match performance was again faultless off the kicking tee to make it 27-3.  He did see his final penalty attempt come off the post later in the game.

Rhys Marshall’s score was disallowed on 47 minutes as the referee blocked the defender; that score could have been the game changer we desperately needed.

A yellow card in the 62nd minute against Marc Andreu created some space and Zebo was the one to make the breakthrough as he equaled the record held by the late Anthony Foley for the number of European tries scored.

Copeland was denied a try due to a pass deemed to be forward after a super counter-attacking break from their own half including amongst other James Cronin mixing it up amongst the backs.  The clock ticked down but the heads stayed up as they fought to the bitter end.  A lineout, maul and a try for Rhys Marshall was just reward for their efforts but the conversion left it at 27-17.  Peter O’Mahony strained every sinew to win the final Racing lineout with the clock on 79:49, a true warrior leading from the front.  Driven backwards they retained possession and when Zebo put through a grubber kick Conway won the foot race to nudge it ahead with his boot before diving on it to score a third try.  The conversion brought the score to a respectable 5 point gap but there was no time left to see what more could be achieved.  Not this year.

Racing 92: Louis Dupichot, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy, Marc Andreu, Pat Lambie,Maxime Machenaud, Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Cedate Gomes Sa, Donnacha Ryan, Leone Nakarawa, Wenceslas Lauret, Bernard Le Roux, Yannick Nyanga.
Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Vasil Kakovin, Viliamu Afatia, Antonie Claassen, Baptiste Chouzenoux, Teddy Iribaren, Dan Carter, Joe Rokocoko.

Munster: Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton, Ian Keatley, Conor Murray, Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, James Cronin, John Ryan, Gerbrandt Grobler, Robin Copeland, James Hart, JJ Hanrahan, Simon Zebo.

Donnacha

One Munster man makes it to the final – Donnacha Ryan applauds the supporters after the game

After the game the team clapped each other off before returning to applaud their supporters.

Stats from ESPN are here

Highlights on the official site here or in their tweet

Match reports: from The42.ie, Irish Examiner, Irish Times,  ThreeRedKings and the post match interview from Johann van Graan in The42.ie while Billy Keane has his say in the Irish Independent.

I regretted buying the cheap seats €15 each behind the north goal posts once I arrived.  The camera was right in front and there was grass and a moat making it a long way from the action.  We moved over to the less occupied side where at least we could see a lot more of the pitch before kick-off.

view

the seats were a long way back from the pitch on the north end.

We did however get a great view of the band before we moved.  They must have felt like targets as the warm up continued and goals were being kicked from all sides as they played.  We had to keep an eye out for “incoming” ourselves!   There were blue and white flags left out but the locals, probably Bordeaux folks were keen to swap (the free flags) for a Munster one.  One young lad even wanted me to swap my jersey!  Some of the folks around us were quite annoyed when their Mexican wave in the second half was ignored by the majority of the Munster supporters in the stands!  You may have heard boos on the TV and wondered what that was for!

band

Musical entertainment pre game

The half time entertainment made me feel dizzy!  The volunteer had to move around the ball 20 times in a crouched position before standing up and kicking 5 lined up balls at the goals.  It was called Dizzy Penalty for a reason.  One of the contestants got up and promptly fell over but he did manage to kick a goal or two between the posts!  The heat was very strong on us as there was no shade.  Now and again you would get a respite with some cloud cover or a nice breeze.  I was convinced my Factor 50 was past it’s best before date and I was going to be burnt lobster red but thankfully it worked.

On a personal level it was nice to meet old friends and new.  As I sat down on the plane to Birmingham on Saturday evening I was greeted by Mark who was travelling with his friend Michael to the game.  He recognized me from the blog and I was delighted when he told me that he is a regular reader.  I was surprised that there were so many Leinster and Scarlets fans on that plane returning from the game in the Aviva.  Mainly surprised that I still got my ticket for €12.99 for that leg given I had only booked it after the semi date was finalized!  The next morning we went back to the airport for the 2nd leg via Flybe to Bordeaux.  On the way from our hotel we chatted to Donnacha from Nenagh (not D Ryan obviously) and it sounded like we had both been at many other semi’s, in Montpellier and Marseilles and I think San Sebastien.  We joked about how my sister Michelle and I had been in the Tipperary Star after the Leicester game and he said his photo was in the Nenagh Guardian thanks to the same photographer, the one and only Bridget 🙂 “Any Tipperary people here??”
A charter landed just before us and I could see the continuous trail of red jerseys going into passport control before we were allowed to disembark.  Only 2 men were manning the checks so it was slow progress.  There were gatherings of Munster supporters around the city where we had our lunch before taking the tram to the stadium.  Singing broke out from time to time on the short journey but it was a lot calmer than the trip on the tram in Montpellier when the carriage was hopping.
Audrey

Audrey was wearing her Axel badges and necklace for luck

I was pleased that I recognised Austin when he came over to say hello and to meet his friend Billy who had commented on the quarter final blog.  From amongst the west terrace regulars I met Paul and Pauline who had taken the high speed train from Paris; as well as Sinead and John.  Afterwards at the airport we had a few words with more from the WT, Ger and Fiona, Mark, Anne and Brian.  There was a downbeat mood at the airport, we were so disappointed for ourselves, the players and management.  We wanted them to do well, to keep the dream of a third title alive, to write their own chapter of glory in the Munster story.  The heart and spirit were there in bucketloads.   There was applause for the team when they arrived to check-in for their flight.  Maybe they would have preferred to slip home quietly and come to terms with their own disappointment away from the public eye.
As I waited near my gate Jim stopped to say hello and I was delighted to hear from him that he has been following this blog since we met originally when I organized a bus trip to Ravenhill for MRSC Dublin in May 2015.  It was a pleasure to meet Mary who had created a video compilation of Babs’ TV moments from the Leicester away game which I had included in that blog.  My Munster family is growing slowly but surely!

So here we are, European hopes and dreams packed away for another year but there is still some elusive silverware up for grabs this season.  The team were battered and bruised but not broken.  Gutted, frustrated, sick and tired of losing in the final stages, this feels like an opportunity missed, more so than last season   However, the bond between this team and it’s genuine supporters is strong.  The doom and gloom merchants and those experts who “told us so and so wasn’t up to it” will have their say, but we live to fight another day; this season and in the seasons to come, starting with the game on Saturday and the more important knock-out one the following weekend, to earn the reward of a showdown with Leinster!  I’ll be there for both of them, will you join me there to show the team we got their back?  We share their disappointments and the special days when they give us such joy throughout the season.  Tiocfaidh ár lá.

#WeAre16!

 

8 Comments

The Right Attitude at Altitude: Cheetahs: 17 – Munster: 19

 

A game of two halves but when you expected the effects of playing at altitude to impact the visitors and the Cheetahs to pull away as they have done so often this season it was Munster who dug deep.  Their second half performance was pure doggedness, wearing down the opposition, playing for territory, kicking penalties to keep the scoreboard ticking over, making their tackles and scrambling to hold the defensive line and keep their discipline.  The confidence they will take from the last three games, especially when they need to come from behind again will surely stand to them in the business end of the season along with the team building benefits of their visit to South Africa.

Camped in their own 22 for successive scrums as the clock ticked down we willed them to hold firm, and with just the 2 point lead not to concede a penalty.  When the ref raised his arm to indicate a penalty to Munster with the clock in the red there were cheers and whoops all around.  Yes!  A home play-off game against whoever is in third place in Conference B – likely to be Edinburgh.

A fast, offloading game albeit error-ridden on both sides, it was far from a classic.  Credit to Brian Scott who moved to the loose head this week due to the stinger suffered by James Cronin.  I was delighted for him when Munster won an early penalty with a tremendous push against the Cheetahs.  In the next scrum though they had their revenge and won a penalty back!  From the resultant lineout near the Munster 5m line they attacked and nearly scored.  Critically they retained possession.  Zebo slipped when making a tackle and their full back Blommetjies scored a try which was converted by Johan Goosen making his return to rugby after his retirement in the 10th minute.

Andrew Conway put in a great tackle on Ventner while Arnold forced an error out of Cassiem but in the build up to that Zebo had been offside I think I heard the referee say.. did he stop a certain try?  Anyone know what happened that warranted a yellow card?

The sinbin period had nearly expired when their scrumhalf Tian Meyer scored their second try in the 28th minute.  A Munster player (I think it was Hart) was being treated by the medics on the sideline so Munster were down to 13 at the time.  Andrew Conway also protested that the referee obstructed him from making a tackle.  There was a suspicion of a knock-on in the buildup when Niall Scannell had momentarily won back the ball in a messy period of play.  The ball seemed like a bar of soap.  The TMO reviewed and the try stood with the conversion bringing the score to 14-0.

From the restart Conway did well to reclaim possession and put Munster on the front foot.  JJ put in a good kick and chase, putting the winger under pressure and forcing a knock-on.  From the scrum the pack took it on, again the ball seemed very slippery but after good work by Dan, Niall and Billy, Jack O’Donoghue crossed the line but the TMO deemed there had been a knock-on.  The referee had asked him to check after the scrum but the TMO said it was number 8 which I think meant that he was looking at a knock on in the scrum itself which was more than 2 phases previously and hence should not have counted.

Cheetahs therefore had the put-in to the scrum.  Hart made a big tackle on his opposite number.  From the ruck the Cheetahs were trying to clear their line and the ball was fired back to Goosen behind the try line.  When he knocked on Munster had another 5m scrum.  Conor Murray was into the action earlier than expected due to the injury to Hart and he had an immediate impact.  The scrum drove forward before Murray took possession of the ball and darted for the try line.

A high tackle could have had it deemed a penalty try we thought but a warning was deemed sufficient.  JJ Hanrahan stepped up and added the conversion to half the deficit.

However a penalty conceded gave Cheetahs an extra 3 point buffer going into the changing rooms.  Hard to believe they did not score at all in the second half as Munster dominated possession and territory.  The front row were changed earlier than normal probably with an eye to the effect of the altitude.

Penalties kicked by JJ on 43 (not releasing) and on 53 minutes (for offside) kept the scoreboard ticking over for Munster and gave the players a breather.  Peter O’Mahony annoyed the referee appealing for a yellow card and was told he would get one himself if he did not desist.  Two other penalties were kicked to touch on the 5m line and the pack did their best to maul forward but the defensive line held firm.  Rhys Marshall was livid after a shoulder charge but the TMO review deemed the tackler’s arm had come around and they went back for an earlier penalty which JJ kicked to make it a one point game.  Tempers flared when Sam and Andrew combined well to force a player into touch and the referee had a word with both captains.

From the resultant lineout Munster mauled and Cheetahs went offside, a few meters inside their own half.  Ian and Rory were ready to kick the ball to touch as they conferred with Billy Holland.   There was an encouraging pat on the back from Billy as Conor stepped forward to take on the responsibility of the long range kick.  He had plenty to spare and was on target with the 57m penalty kick which moved Munster into the lead for the first time in the 66th minute.

The mauls and chasing of kicks must have been energy sapping but Munster played the territory game intelligently; for example when a free kick was won from a scrum it was kicked deep.  While it unfortunately went over the try line it meant Cheetahs had to restart from their own 22.

The final minutes when the Cheetahs were camped in the Munster 22 and had the put into the scrum were tense but Munster held their discipline and won a penalty.

CHEETAHS: Clayton Blommetjies, William Small-Smith, Francois Venter (C), Niel Marais, Sibahle Maxwane, Johan Goosen, Tian Meyer; Ox Nche, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Johan Coetzee, Carl Wegner, Reniel Hugo, Paul Schoeman, Oupa Mohoje, Uzair Cassiemis

Replacements: C Marais for Nche 57 mins; T Botha for Coetzee 57 mins; H Venter for Mohoje 58 mins; R Bernardo for Hugo 66 mins;  C Swart for Goosen 68 mins.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Dan Goggin, Darren Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, James Hart; Brian Scott, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Gerbrandt Grobler, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (C), Jack O’Donoghue, Robin Copeland. 

Replacements: Conor Murray for Hart 35 mins; Stephen Archer for Ryan half-time; Rhys Marshall for N Scannell 44 mins; Dave Kilcoyne for Scott 44 mins; Ian Keatley for Zebo 47 mins; Dave O’Callaghan for O’Mahony 51 mins; Rory Scannell for Goggin 57 mins; Conor Oliver for O’Donoghue 75 mins.

I watched the game with the Dublin branch.  We enjoyed spotting familiar faces amongst the 200 strong red army at the game.  We complained about lineouts not being straight, offsides, high tackles against us while cheering the turnovers or penalties won and moaning the slips, missed tackles and poor handling on display at times.  Kicks seemed to go further which we attributed to the altitude!  There was some great kicking and fielding by our backs.  Conway in particular continued to impress under the high ball.

The referee came in for a lot of criticism amongst our group.  I read a tweet saying he gifted the game to Munster which is far from how we saw events unfold.  Maybe a few lucky breaks went our way but they had eleven penalties conceded but no card shown to them.  There was no replay of the incident that lead to the yellow card for Zebo in the first half.

There was a minute’s silence for recently deceased Winnie Mandela before the game.  I was surprised to see the teams form a circle in each half instead of our more customary way of lining up for it.

The sartorial stakes were high with the Cheetahs management team in their suits as they had been when they came to Thomond earlier in the season.

suits

A photo I took of them when they visited Thomond and supervised the warmup in their suits

The students from Grey College were attending, and as the commentator said they were looking resplendent in their uniforms!  The Red Army looked fabulous, so much colour and passion, adding to the occasion.  The pitch was wet after recent rain making it slippery and it cut up a lot.

Match reports from The42.ie, and the Irish Examiner; this one from the Irish Times is worth reading for the unusual turn of phrase, I suspect it was written by a South African – The Cheetahs will rue their discipline in the second half which cost them dearly lumped on top of pretty sloppy and rudderless play when an opportunity to rescue the game beckoned.

Post match interview with Johan and Peter can be seen here

TG4 in their highlights included an interview with Donncha’s and Alan’s mothers.  Mrs O’Callaghan sounded like she had nearly lost her voice cheering on the team 🙂

A must read this week is the article on his retirement by Donnacha O’Callaghan here

Stats are here from ESPN.

So now the focus can turn firmly to Bordeaux and renewing rivalries and friendships with Racing 92!  Donnacha Ryan will be lying in wait for us but the past few weeks have reminded us of our strengths.  The Red Army will travel in numbers on planes, trains and ferries and turn the stadium red.  Hope to see some of you there, loud, proud and RED.  

Thanks to Daryl Feehely for the use of one of his photos of Conor for the featured image this week.  Regular readers will know I was recently visiting Nepal where I enjoyed some high altitude myself, walking to a height of 2980m (Bloemfontein has an elevation of 1,395 m)   If you would like to see some photos from that trip you can check out the 2nd installment of my Nepali visit blog here

Adding this here as a souvenir from the 2 weeks in SA:

Leave a comment

Home comforts in George: Southern Kings: 22 – Munster: 39

Moving the game to Outeniqua Park, George from Port Elizabeth may have disrupted travel plans for supporters and the team alike but what an occasion it made of the game for our own CJ Stander, back in his hometown, leading out his team with a 6 nations medal, a Lions tour and numerous man of the match awards to his name since he moved to Ireland. In the week of his 28th birthday it was also special for him to celebrate that occasion with his family and to show his team-mates where he comes from.

The Red Army were there also, joined by family and friends of CJ, Jean Marie and possibly some of our other South African players. I watched the game in the pub with MRSC Dublin and we enjoyed seeing our own Michelle holding up the “Thanks for CJ” flag regularly throughout the game alongside Carly and Babs in the front row. I also spotted a few familiar faces from the west terrace. It was good to see former player Shaun Payne and family there also in what was the biggest attendance the Kings had enjoyed for their home games this season. The Manchester derby game was on the other screens in the pub so I did not hear the Red Army singing until I watched the game back.

With only one win to date in their first season in the Pro14 it was against the script for the Kings to be two tries up in the opening half. Munster had been exerting pressure and the referee had indicated they had advantage in the Kings 22 when a yellow card was shown to Gerbrant Grobler for a shoulder on shoulder challenge as he attempted to clear out a ruck in the 23rd minute. Kings had missed an earlier penalty kicked to touch. Ian Keatley had put Munster on the board through a penalty in the 16th minute after an earlier burst had almost resulted in a try for the visitors. Munster were well in control at that stage even if not on the scoreboard, with the young players – Calvin Nash, Dan Goggin and Conor Oliver playing well. Unfortunately James Cronin had had to retire after just 9 minutes and was replaced by Dave Kilcoyne.

The Kings took advantage of their extra man. Their first try came in the 26th minute from a grubber kick ahead by #12 Klaasen chased by the winger. Wootton made the tackle on Makase but he got the pass away to Andisa Ntsila who dived over the line. The successful conversion by Banda made it 7-3.

Their second try was aided by a clash of heads between Calvin and Dan which resulted in the latter requiring on-pitch treatment and hence Munster were temporarily down to 13 as the Kings raced down that wing. They then moved the ball to the opposite side and the score was finished off by their lock Stephan Greeff. The conversion was missed but the scoreline of 12-3 had the local support celebrating with just over 2 minutes remaining on the sinbin clock.

Stephen Fitzgerald came on at fullback with JJ moving to midfield while Dan was removed for further treatment. Stephen was quickly contributing to the Munster attack, making an excellent break.

Just as the sinbin period expired a penalty conceded was kicked by Banda to extend the hosts’ lead to 15-3 with 5 minutes to half time. A score before the break was badly needed and we got two!

Fitzgerald and Nash combined well down the wing, counter-attacking off a clearance kick by the Kings. When the ball was recycled, Wootton and Oliver made progress down the other wing. Dave O’Callaghan came close but crucially Munster kept possession and their discipline. Grobler, Kilcoyne, Oliver, Wootton were all involved. Niall, Dave O’Callaghan, CJ, John Ryan, Grobler, all contributed before Niall was driven over the line by Jean Kleyn, to register Munster’s first try of the evening.

From the restart Munster knocked on to give the Kings a chance to restore their lead as they had a scrum in a great attacking position. However the Munster front row won a penalty. The clock was in the red but Munster kicked for touch and what a good decision that turned out to be. The lineout was just on Munster’s own 10m line. Grobler secured and the pack mauled into the Kings’ half before Munster went wide. Fitzgerald showed he too has dancing feet as he brought play forward. When he was tackled Grobler was next to carry. A lovely inside pass from JJ put Calvin running a great line through the gap. He showed his pace as he raced from the 22 to the try line to score the second try for Munster and bring the score to 15-13.

Munster continued their dominance from the restart. Dan Goggin sporting a large bandage was restored to midfield. Rory Scannell was unlucky to have his kick hit the corner flag and go dead, rather than finding touch. Alex and JJ combined well down the wing, the kick ahead just going too far for the chasers but it kept the home side pinned back. Similarly, Hart forced them into touch as they tried to counter. A lineout inside the Kings 22 was secured by Grobler. The hosts conceded penalty advantage after advantage before Ian made a super break and nearly got all the way himself. Rory was in support and when he was forced back CJ had another cause for celebration as his try put Munster back into the lead. The conversion made it 15-20.

The bonus point try is deservedly being lauded for the sublime offload by Rory but credit also to Ian for kicking off the counter-attack from a turnover deep in the Munster half. His long pass to Conor Oliver stretched the defence. Conor offloaded to Rory whose long pass set Calvin off down the wing. As he was being tackled he managed to return the ball to Rory who was in support. His no look pass behind his back to Goggin in support is amazing! I assume there was good verbal communication between the midfield pair so he knew Dan was where his pass found him! Definitely one for the highlights reel for both of them. JJ’s attempted conversion was wide.

With the bonus point secured changes were made, Rhys, Jack and Billy coming on for Niall, Conor and Jean. A few minutes later Stephen returned, this time replacing JJ.

A penalty won from a scrum was kicked to touch by Rory. Rhys made a great break when the maul was pulled down. CJ was in support. When James Hart tried to take it on he was wrapped and lifted up by three Kings players. He was replaced shortly after by Academy player Jack Stafford making his third appearance.

Another penalty conceded by the Kings for handling in the ruck was again kicked to touch as John Ryan was replaced by Brian Scott. Rhys stood in at scrumhalf and emulated Conor Murray as he picked and dove over from a ruck close to the line. Ian converted to make it 15-32 with 11 minutes remaining.

Munster were soon back on the attack before a penalty taken quickly by Ian resulted in the 6th try, finished off by Dave Kilcoyne in the 72nd minute. The conversion made it 15-39.

There was a big cheer as CJ left the field, replaced by Robin Copeland – unusually wearing the 23 jersey due to the only having 2 backs selected for the game.

The Kings enjoyed the final score of the game, a few suspected forward passes in a length of the field offloading attack that had their supporters on their feet.

Munster saw out the closing minutes to leave with the maximum points as the Red Army sang their hearts out. The same result again next week would be amazing, especially as it would secure a home play-off game.

Killer marked his 150th cap with a man of the match award – tremendous ball carrying and powerful scrummaging as usual capped by his try. I thought other than a few missed kicks Ian Keatley had a super game, a real running threat as he attacked the gain line and made several key tackles. He has been having a great season and his form and fitness is crucial as we enter the business end of the season. Killer is in that category also especially if James will be out for a while (although the update on Apr 9th is that it is a stinger), along with our other internationals while Rory continues to be our midfield general with his running, kicking, passing game and defensive reads. It was great to see the younger players stepping up. Congrats to Dan on his first senior try, what a beaut it was too!

MUNSTER: JJ Hanrahan, Calvin Nash, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton, Ian Keatley, James Hart, James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Gerbrandt Grobler, Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, CJ Stander (captain). Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Jack Stafford, Stephen Fitzgerald, Robin Copeland

SOUTHERN KINGS: Masixole Banda, Michael Makase, Jacques Nel, Berton Klaasen, Yaw Penxe, Martin Du Toit, Godlen Masimla, Schalk Ferreira (captain), Stephan Coetzee, Pieter Scholtz, Stephan Greeff, Bobby De Wee, Andisa Ntsila, Martinus Burger, Ruaan Lerm Replacements: Alandre Van Rooyen, Justin Forwood, Luvuyo Pupuma, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Lusanda Badiyana, Rudi Van Rooyen, Ntabeni Dukisa, Luzuko Vulindlu

Stats from ESPN are here

Match report from the Irish Times, Irish Independent, The42.ie, along with a post match interview with CJ from The42.ie

Interview with CJ’s parents from the Irish Independent: here

The team selection for next Friday will be interesting with an eye to squad rotation and preparation for the trip to Bordeaux. Playing at altitude will pose new challenges but the mini-tour of South Africa is a great team-bonding opportunity, a chance to get some warm weather training and a break from the routine at this stage of the long season. While we had been hoping Cardiff would win their game against Cheetahs to give us a firmer grip on 2nd place at least their loss guarantees us a top 3 finish and a play-off game. Home advantage is always key so a good result next week or failing that from the final round against Ulster to stay ahead of Cheetahs in the table would ensure a bonus trip to Thomond later this season for that game.

17 Comments

Warriors: Munster: 20 – RC Toulon: 19

Warriors one and all, the Munster team wore the Irish Heart Foundation logo on their jerseys and showed us how big their hearts were as they faced up to the star-studded team of three-time champions Toulon.  Tackling themselves into the ground, they repelled everything Toulon threw at them from the first minute when Zebo and Ashton collided over the try line right through till the final phases of an absorbing hugely contested encounter.

Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland and CJ Stander led the tackle count with 18/19 each and were prominent in the maul and counter-mauling efforts. Peter O’Mahony terrorised them in the lineout stealing two but making many other set pieces a mess for them.  Conor Murray was everywhere; a poachers try, a tackle here, a kick through there…how fortunate we are to have such a world class player in our team. He took a knock in the closing minutes and was replaced by James Hart who put his body on the line in the tense finale as Munster looked to close out the game.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

James Hart feeds the final scrum of the game

The young midfield may have been outweighed and out-ranked in terms of international experience but they would not take a backward step and their tackle technique had to be and was spot on!   The French media were impressed by the backs (they knew what to expect from the pack) but it is great to see Sammy included in several teams of the weekend.  At just 21 years old his potential is huge while Rory brings so much to the team with his left boot, skillful hands, excellent tackle technique and ability to make a break.

Hats off to Jack O’Donoghue playing in the less familiar role of 7 given the injuries to Chris and Tommy who worked his socks off and made a super break in the build up to Murrays try.  Recent regular man of the match Robin Copeland came on when fresh legs were needed as did Gerbrant Grobler to keep the momentum going.

The front row were excellent and when they were replaced en masse the new, fresh front row demolished the Toulon scrum to win a penalty which was celebrated by the whole team as a momentum changer in the 2nd half.

scrum

Murray gets the ball away from the scrum in the 2nd half

Take a bow Ian Keatley, 100% success rate off the kicking tee, constantly looking for gaps to exploit and executing some lovely kicks from hand to pin Toulon back, driving the team on and putting in some big tackles also, as let’s face it there weren’t any small tackles in that game!

What an experience for our young wingers Alex and Darren – an early replacement for Simon who never quite recovered for his opening minute encounter with Chris but who was desolated to have to go off in his final European game in Thomond Park (for now). The Toulon winger had calves like a back row, he is huge and fast and the wingers had to be alert to his threat and the offloading game as Toulon looked for space.  Tackle low, tackle hard, get up and do it again, and again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hero, try-scorer, fearless under the high ball with some pace and stepping skills

What can you say about Andrew Conway – injured since January but his match fitness was proven time and again during the game.  He produced a piece of magic in the 74th minute which we will be talking about for years to come.  The athleticism to stretch over the sideline to catch the ball, his acceleration from a standing start as he wove his way avoiding his own players and evading tacklers, the step, confidence and courage to back himself and head infield to make the conversion easier as those 2 points were crucial, all at such a tense moment in the dying minutes of an exhausting encounter.  Watching the game back he had been involved so often – saving a try in the opening minutes as he pushed their winger into touch, chasing box and grubber kicks; he is great credit to himself and to the medical / S&C team who got him back in time for the game.

Thomond Park was at it’s best too.  The ground staff had the pitch perfect and the crowd were perfectly tuned up and tuned in to the enthralling game.  As we waited for Nigel to blow the whistle to start the game Kevin launched into “Stand up and fight” and we all rowed in behind him.  We cheered, we yelled, we urged them to “heave”, we tried to intimidate them under the high ball and to drown out their lineout calls.  “Keep them out, take him down, give them nothing…” and other words of encouragement punctuated the chants of “Munster, Munster”  When Zebo could not shake off his injury and had to be replaced we chanted “Ze-bo, Ze-bo” as the visibly upset full back made his way off the pitch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Zebo and the medic consult again before he tries to run it off.

We provided helpful input to the Assistant Referees and the TMO about forward passes, late tackles, knock-ons and offsides.  During the warm-up Nigel had been running over towards us and a man behind me yelled out to him that “they were offside all day.”  Nigel smiled in response.  There was plenty of tension on the terrace.  Three time champions, a team sheet of household names, a club with a huge budget.  We were missing key players – Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Chris Cloete, Tommy O’Donnell, Tyler Bleyendaal, Jaco Taute, Duncan Williams…. While Munster had reached the semi-final the previous year we had defeated Toulouse in the quarter final but they were on the wane.  Toulon had not impressed in the pool stages but had just demolished Clermont 7 tries to nil and posed a much tougher test.

The visitors edged ahead through a penalty (for not rolling away which seemed a bit harsh as you could see Rory trying to get away) in the 8th minute.  A second three pointer ten minutes later through a drop goal made it 0-6, both kicked by their starting flyhalf Anthony Belleau but it had taken a lot of effort to keep them to that low number as Toulon were on the attack from the off.  CJ was kicking himself when he almost squeezed in to the corner in the 12th minute only to be forced into touch.  Minutes later Conway had given superb chase to a kick but could not get hold of the ball but those efforts gave us some encouragement that it was not all one-way traffic.

Andrew_Ashton_Daryl

Daryl captures the chase by Andrew Conway and Chris Ashton

I read that the TMO review of Murray’s try lasted six and a half minutes and it certainly felt like a long time.  I had seen Conor wave his hand to indicate the knock-on but did not realise on first viewing that he had then grounded the ball. What a wonderful, opportunistic try!  It probably had the TMO frantically searching the rule book to ensure it was valid!  The knock-on was confirmed, the offside line was checked, there was a chat to the Toulon players before finally Nigel’s hand went up.  The cheers would have raised the roof if we had a roof.  The conversion was slotted perfectly and we were in the lead after being under the kosh for wave after wave of Toulon attacks!

TMO time

Murray watches the multiple replays on the big screen as Munster regroup on halfway

The build up to that try as I had mentioned earlier featured a great burst through the defence to get over the gainline by Jack.  The ball was recycled and Ian put in a superb grubber which was chased by Conway.  Toulon scrambled back and secured the ball only to knock it on over the try line and Murray pounced.

Just after the half hour mark Darren and Conway combined down the east wing.

Eyes on the ball

Darren and Andrew have their eyes on the ball – photo by Daryl Feehely

The ball went dead but an earlier push on Sweets as he chased his kick resulted in a penalty which Ian put between the posts to extend the lead to 10-6.  Later, a long-range penalty from half-way was attempted by Conor but was unsuccessful.

We expected Toulon to regroup at half time and we were prepared for the backlash but it took longer to materialise than expected due to more great defence and some good attacking play by Munster.  Ian’s attempted drop-goal was off-target but Munster were first to score after the break.  Another great steal of a Toulon lineout by Peter turned over possession to Munster.  Darren chased a kick and seemed to bat it back and Alex thought he had scored but Nigel had blown it up for a knock-on.  I thought it was a pity he had blown it up so quickly instead of playing on and then using the TMO to review but it was not to be. Instead the score came courtesy of the pack, re-energised by the new front row they attacked the Toulon scrum to win a penalty which Ian kicked to make it 13-6.

The visitors nearly scored but a tackle stopped Radradra just short and he knocked-on.  Shortly after, a side entry by Jean provided the visitors with a kickable penalty which was taken by Trinh-Duc to reduce the gap to 13-9.  A few minutes later the replacement outhalf was playmaker as his offload to put his captain through a gap.  A pass or two put Chris Ashton away for his trademark dive over the line.  The TMO did check the pass and some experts on the sidelines did not agree leading to shushing of protests as the kick was taken.  The conversion made it 13-16 but there was time for Munster to respond.

However it was Toulon who were next to score from another penalty (for holding on) and 13-19 was a bit more challenging but our heroes were undaunted.  In the 71st minute Conor got his boot to a ball coming out of the Toulon scrum and when Toulon went offside Rory put in a great penalty kick to touch.  We expected a maul and it was delivered but the surge over the line by Niall, driven on by Sam and Peter was deemed to be held up.  From the 5m scrum possession was turned over when Wootton was tackled but Trinh-Duc will be having nightmares about what happened next.  His long clearance kick to touch from behind his goal line almost reached their 10m line.  As it was sailing over the sideline Andrew stretched to pluck it from the air, keeping his feet in play.  What a privilege to be there to see such skills as he jinked and accelerated his way to the line.  The noise levels were off the chart as we celebrated his score. Jumping for joy, cheering, screaming, hugging and kissing friends and strangers, what an emotional rollercoaster! Ian kicked the conversion to put Munster just one point ahead. On reviewing the recording I heard Nigel warn Toulon that screaming at Ian was not ok and if he had missed the kick he would have been allowed a second attempt. He did not need it!

AndrewsTry

Daryl’s view of Andrew Conway’s try

After a game where “holding on” had probably been our biggest penalty offence, could we hold on and see out the game for the closing minutes? Cool heads were required and game management but then we kicked the ball away and had to defend for our lives… fifteen plus phases.  Toulon worked their way into our half but were not in drop goal range.  Bodies on the line, make your tackles but don’t concede a penalty! Hearts in our mouths we willed and urged them to get up, make the tackle, get back into the defensive line, don’t let them through…whistles erupted as the clock passed eighty minutes but the ball was still in Toulon hands.  Finally, it was in Ashton’s hands for too long and Nigel blew the whistle for holding on. Ian kicked the ball out and the celebrations began.  What a game, what drama, what a team we support!

As the teams applauded each other off the pitch I noticed Johann van Graan take a moment in the middle of the pitch to take it all in.  He and the entire management team must be so proud of their charges.  His emotional interview earlier in the week had set the tone and his team delivered.  Boy how they delivered!  The lap of honour gave players and supporters the opportunity to acknowledge the contribution made on and off the pitch.

Credit to the A team who lost out in their quarter-final of the British and Irish Cup in Donnybrook the previous day but they would have spent the week running Toulon plays and preparing the senior team for this tough battle. I was at that game and posted some photos of it on my facebook page WTView.  I thought the A team pack had a great game, mauling, lineouts and scrums but could not break through the Leinster defence.

After the game I chatted to folks on the terrace for a few minutes before heading upstairs where there were smiles and a sense of disbelief at what we had just witnessed.  Hearts were still racing, there were tears in some eyes and pride in our hearts.  Plans were being made to get to France.  Before then, some folks are heading off on the South African trip to take in those 2 games.  Not ideal preparation for the semi-final, so squad management will be important but we also need to keep our noses ahead of the Cheetahs for a home qualifier to reach the Pro14 semi-finals.

Special mention for the half-time minis which held an extra interest for us this week as Crosshaven were playing and young Sam who had been amongst us on the terrace for a game last year was being cheered on by his proud grandparents.  He had a stormer!  After their disappointment to have their minis cancelled due to the water-logged pitch during the Castres game in January it was great for them to be part of this special occasion.

As we walked back to the car I recognised Duncan Williams and paused to wish him well with his recovery.  There were carloads of red jerseys in Moneygall when we stopped at Obama Plaza.  It was lovely when Austin came up to me in the queue to say hello and tell me that he enjoys reading this blog.  It is always nice to be recognised and to meet my loyal readers.  Hopefully he told all his friends and they will check it out also. If you are a first time reader I hope you enjoy it and come back again!  The best way is to enter your email address and subscribe so you get an email to let you know when I publish a new edition or you can follow me on Twitter (@wtview) or Facebook.  It would be great encouragement for me if I can reach the milestone of 100,000 views before the end of this season (currently at 94K from the past 5 years)

The hills of Tipperary basked in the setting sun as we hit the road about 7pm.  They looked great but for those of you interested in my recent trip to the Himalayas of Nepal I have put more of my photos up on my travel blog here

The huge moon illuminated the journey and I wondered if it was a blue moon and if that would be a good name for the blog but I discarded that notion as this is not a “once in a blue moon” type of occasion.  This was another tale in the saga of Thomond Park and Munster rugby.  They came, they saw and they left with nothing but a bemused expression like “what the hell happened” as we saw on crowd favourite Chris Ashton’s face at the final whistle.  Years ago George Hook talked about the miracles of Munster. Players come and go but while they wear the red jersey they wear it with pride, passion and respect.  New warriors were forged in the heat of battle.  They will “mind” the jersey entrusted to their care and will add their tales to the legend.  Mumhan Abú.

Match report from Sky including highlights and post match reaction from Peter, Conor and Chris Ashton.

Photos from Daryl Feehely are here

Match report from The42.ie  Irish Times, Irish Examiner and Irish Independent.  Gerry Thornley also wrote an article on Monday about the game and players seizing their moment while Billy Keane wrote in the Indo that  the miracle was never in doubt.  Donal Lenihan also had plenty of praise for the younger players in the Examiner
Michael Corcoran’s account of Conway’s try is another golden nugget:

The Stats from ESPN show the defensive effort required – 210 tackles made compared to just 93 by Toulon!  While some were missed they slowed down the attack and gave the next guy time to scramble to breach the gap.

stats

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Darren Sweetnam ’25); Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray (James Hart ’78); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’53), Rhys Marshall (Niall Scannell ’53), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’53); Jean Kleyn (Gerbrandt Grobler ’77), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue (Robin Copeland ’59), CJ Stander

TOULON: Chris Ashton; Josua Tuisova, Mathieu Bastareaud (captain), Ma’a Nonu (Malakai Fekitoa ’59), Semi Radradra; Anthony Belleau (François Trinh-Duc ’53), Eric Escande (Alby Mathewson ’59); Florian Fresia (Xavier Chiocci ’46), Guilhem Guirado (Anthony Etrillard ’74), Marcel Van Der Merwe (Emerick Setiano ’77); Juandre Kruger (Romain Taofifenua ’46), Dave Attwood; Raphael Lakafia, Facundo Isa, Duane Vermeulen.

So now we know our fate – another battle with Racing 92, the 5th in 2 seasons – but this time it’s knockout Cup rugby.  I can’t wait to see Peter O’Mahony terrorising the Racing lineout featuring our own Donnacha Ryan!  The Red Army are mobilizing for what will be another great occasion in Bordeaux.  MRSC who did a great job with the guard of honour and flag distribution etc will be busy with queries re tickets for the semi,  A great headache to have and they will deliver #MemberBenefits as the banners around the stadium declares  #WeAre16