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End of half dramatics: Munster: 20 – Connacht:18

38.42 Chris Cloete scored and as the clock went red, Joey converted to put Munster ahead at half time.

77.48 Diarmuid Barron crashed over the try line and Joey converts to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

They call them championship minutes, those key moments at the end of each half and while there are no trophies handed out after four rounds, nor was this a display worthy of champions, the ability to win ugly often proves crucial over the course of the campaign.

As interprovincials go this was a closely fought contest in poor conditions with plenty of niggle. I was able to appreciate more of the good aspects of play by both teams watching the game back than I could on the day given the tension then as the errors made it a frustrating game to watch. Heavy rain pre-game had abated by kick-off but still impacted handling and footing. A strong breeze gave Connacht the advantage in the first half as they kept Munster pinned back yet all they had to show for it approaching the break were two penalties kicked by Jack Carty both in the opening nine minutes. Munster had been slowly growing into the game but handling errors and a misfiring lineout put them on the back foot time and again. A yellow card for Sam Arnold for a dangerous tackle on Mike Haley in the 32nd minute gave Munster a numeric advantage. Then came the breakthrough, playing with advantage Rory Scannell lofted a kick to the east wing. Tadhg Beirne – back after his Lions experience – hacked it on and Chris Cloete got the downward pressure to score a try, awarded after TMO consultation. Reading about it since there was a potential offside missed (on a night of several close calls and dubious decisions) but I believe Tom of TRK has studied it carefully and his conclusion is that it was a marginal call which looks less marginal with some camera angles than others.

The excellent conversion gave Munster a 7-6 lead at the break with the wind advantage to come for the second half. They started well and soon had to go to the TMO again but they failed to convert pressure into points when Cloete broke from the maul. He was held up but Craig thought he had scored when he plucked the ball out of Cloete’s hand and touched down. Rules were considered as we deliberated the footage but it was discounted just before Sam returned to action. Stout Connacht defence on their goal line repelled another phase of pressure by Munster in the 46th minute, the build-up to which featured a slick offload from Gavin to Tadhg. A lineout steal put Munster back on the front foot. Connacht compounded their error by infringing offside and Joey kicked it over the bar to make it 10-6 on 48 minutes. Then Connacht had a purple patch. Mike Haley was called on to make a try saving tackle against Mack Hansen but a later infringement by Tadhg was penalised. Paul Boyle took the quick tap and dived over to put Connacht back in front 10-11

Joey edged Munster ahead with a penalty to bring it to 13-11 before a tackle in the air on Peter had us protesting when no card was produced as it was adjudged to be a penalty offence only. It felt like the game was slipping away when Jack Carty blocked down and scored a try from Joey’s kick to take the lead 13-18 with ten minutes to go but there was no panic on the pitch as they worked themselved into the position they needed to score.

From the restart Munster put pressure on the visitors, Fineen won a turnover when they formed a maul around the recipient of the kick-off. Another penalty won was taken quickly as Munster went for the try not looking for a three pointer. Another penalty conceded by Connacht in midfield and they opted again for a tap and go. That resulted in another scrum opportunity for Munster as the clock ticked on to 74 minutes. The crowd urged them on, sensing more drama was about to unfold. Gavin broke from the back but was well tracked by the defence. Bodies were flying into rucks everythwere on both sides but Munster retained possessoion. Connacht defence strayed offside and Diarmuid tapped to go again. From the melee Jack got the short pass to Diarmuid who was then loitering with intent to the left side and he dived between two defenders to score. The stadium erupted into cheers and applause as the pressure paid off. Joey’s nerveless conversion put Munster into the lead 20-18 with less than a minute to play. Fineen claimed the restart and Munster retained possession. Gavin drove Munster back upfield to the halfway line before Craig kicked the ball off the park Delight mixed with relief as we celebrated the win.

Other highlights of the game include a lovely offload from Dave Kilcoyne to John Ryan as both props made serious inroads at an early stage; Simon’s athleticism to save conceding a 50/22 lineout shortly before the second Connacht penalty; turnovers at the breakdown by both teams, some excellent counter running by Mike. It was great to see Andrew Conway back in fine attacking form also, he was unlucky with a kick ahead that just refused to go over the sideline while another break taking an inside pass from Craig had us on the tips of our toes. On the other side, the lineout malfunctioned including one right in front of us when Andrew Conway stood at the front of the line but there were some super steals also. The new rules are beginning to bed in and you can see how the 50/22 and goal line clearance kick if held up over the line will change the nature of games – providing more attacking opportunities especially from the former. As the season unfolds it will be interesting to see which teams derive the most benefit from the changes.

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Rory Scannell (rep: Dan Goggin ’57-67 HIA), Simon Zebo; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne (rep: Jeremy Loughman ’54), Niall Scannell (rep: Diarmuid Barron ’54), John Ryan (rep: Stephen Archer ’54); Jean Kleyn (rep: Fineen Wycherley ’60), Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony, Chris Cloete (rep: Jack O’Donoghue ’68), Gavin Coombes. Not Used Replacements: Neil Cronin, Jake Flannery

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Sammy Arnold (yellow card 33-43), Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (rep: Kieran Marmion ’61); Matthew Burke (rep: Greg McGrath ’74), Dave Heffernan (rep: Shane Delahunt ’59), Finlay Bealham (rep: Jack Aungier ’64), Niall Murray, Ultan Dillane (rep: Eoghan Masterson ’74), Cian Prendergast (rep: Jarrad Butler ’55), Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (rep: Abraham Papali’i ’59) Not Used Replacements Tom Daly

Match reports from The42.ie. Irish Examiner and Irish Times

The Masked Choir with Jean Wallace

The rain started on our journey to Thomond as we passed through County Tipperary and it was a constant throughout our 2 hours on the terrace pre-game but thankfully it cleared by kick-off. We were sheltered from the wind by the stand but when I held up my flag especially at the start of the second half it was very strong impacting the kicking game. It was good to catch up with Anne, Brian and Conor. Paul took some slagging for wearing his shades but those lights on top of the east stand are dazzling. Jean Wallace was there to sing Stand Up and Fight pre-game but instead of being on the pitch she was in the West Terrace North just across from our section so Imelda had Ger take the photo above of her with the masked choir. We missed Kevin’s leadership to kick off the singing throughout the game. Mark stepped up in the first half to launch us into song when there were “handbags” featuring Peter O’Mahony. Masks were worn by the majority in our section, not just for the photo opp.

The tribute to Anthony Foley on the 5th anniversary of his death was marked by a team huddle in midfield before Peter led the team on a circuit of half the pitch to tremendous applause as the photo of Axel beamed out from the big screens at either end.

Fair play to Connacht for marking the occasion also

Congrats to the Munster ladies who won their Interpro Championship in September. It was great to see them in Thomond at half time with their trophy and to rewatch their highlights on the big screen. Hopefully some of them will also have the opporttunity to shine for Ireland in their upcoming November internationals.

On a personal note, happy heavenly birthday to my late father, I miss our rugby chats amongst other things… Strange how the fixtures list and the break for the November Internationals mean that we won’t be back in Thomond until the weekend before Christmas! It is worth checking out Keith Earls on the Late Late Show on the RTE player for the next few weeks, including a snippet here from Twitter as not sure if the player is geo-restricted

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The Masked Choir: Munster: 34 – Stormers: 18

The early arrivals, reunited on the West Terrace

Approaching half-time it was not looking good for Munster. The visitors seemed bigger, stronger, faster; dominating possession and especially territory while displaying excellent handling and offloading skills. They should have been further ahead than the 0-15 scoreline when George began a bet with his friend that Munster would turn it around. It started out with the loser paying for a meal and as the second half unfolded it had expanded to a veritable banquet with starters and dessert, then wine was included which was upgraded to champagne 🥂 . Their banter was almost as entertaining as the turnaround on the pitch and just one of the aspects of live rugby 🏉 that I had missed since our last communal viewing in February 2020. The calls of “behind the kicker”, the appeals to the assistant referee and especially the informal choir led so well by Kevin. The masks might have made the words a little muffled but both “Athenry” and “SUAF” were sung with gusto during several stoppages throughout the night. As U2 would say, it felt like a ” sort of homecoming“.

the area behind the player seats was kept free of supporters

The first person I met outside was Paul, one of my most regular readers / commenters. The early arrivals who had queued were already inside and after I got through the turnstile it was funny to hear my name called as one of the stewards asked me to open the door to let him in. Just like “Cheers” I joked as I complied… Not everybody does know my name but the early arrivals on the terrace from Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Tipperary certainly do. With almost two hours to go to kick-off there was plenty of time to catch up with everyone. We missed our friend Pascal from his usual place in our midst and hope that he is well. The late start times for so many home games make it challenging for travel from around the province and beyond so it was great that so many had made the journey.

It was a cold night but thankfully the forecasted rain held off until the final minutes of the game. The new lights on the top of the east stand were a bit dazzling and my glasses kept fogging up so I must remember to put on my anti-fog spray before the next game. Mask compliance was very good in our section of the terrace as the above photo shows. Many were wearing the new Laya sponsored face masks handed out as we arrived. Killer’s playlist was pumping through the sound system and we were surprised that it included the great singalong choices of Joe Dolan and the Fields of Athenry.

After a rousing Stand Up and Fight before the teams emerged for kickoff there was a great montage on the big screen of Munster highlights to whet our appetites but as mentioned above the first half did not start well. An early break by #12 Dan du Plessis combined with missed tackles put Munster on the backfoot in the opening minutes before Peter won a turnover to ease the pressure. A knock-on after the lineout gave possession back to the visitors and a scrum infringement gave them an early opportunity for a kick at goal but it was not converted into points. Another break and super offloading produced a try in the eighth minute finished off by their fullback Gallant. The conversion was wide. It was great to hear the crowd doing their bit during lineout throws by the visitors to drown out their calls, just like the good old days and such a contrast from the silence for the kickers! Little Olivia in front of us is too young to appreciate the tradition of silence but that will come in time 🙂

The pack prepare for a scrum on a big night for Kenyan Knox

A break down the west sideline finished by #11 Leolin Zas was converted by outhalf Manie Libbok to make it 0-12 just at the end of the first quarter. A poor restart gave the visitors a scrum on midway from where they broke to the Munster 5m line. From there they retained possession and seemed to have scored again but on review with the TMO it was adjudged to have been lost in contact as Peter O’Mahony got in underneath so they went back for an earlier advantage. Munster won a turnover and cleared the danger. Approaching the half hour mark another penalty conceded in front of the posts was converted into three points by Gallant to make it 0-15.

Indeed it took till the 30th minute for Munster to make any ground within the Stormers half! How often has that happened? It was an excellent kick and chase by Mike Haley which set that up and finally Munster managed to build some phases together. They could not break through the defence until they went managed to go wide through Daly. A penalty taken quickly fell foul of the new rules when 2 players latched onto Coombes, allowing Stormers to clear their lines. Still it gave us hope that they could get back into their 22 again and although it took till the end of the first half it was much better to go in at half time 7-15 rather than 0-15. It was astounding that Munster only had two lineouts in the first half compared to 9 for the Stormers, given how that set piece is such a key launchpad for attacks.

It was the second of those lineouts which arose from a penalty in the opposition half kicked to touch deep in the 22 in the 39th minute which provided the much needed turning point.

Kleyn collected and the maul tried to make ground before Craig whipped it out to Rory in the backline.

Phase after phase they searched for the breakthrough, winning a penalty advantage.

Jack managed to burrow over and Joey converted before they headed to the changing rooms for the break.

Munster quickly built on that change in momentum from the start of the second half. A yellow card for a dangerous tackle in the lineout sent their lock Moerat to the sinbin and Munster took full advantage. A lineout on the 5m line in the 45th minute went deep to Peter but the maul was collapsed. Munster retained possession and Jean Kleyn was able to ground the ball eventually. An accusation of a bite on Niall Scannell could not be confirmed by the TMO review of the footage despite Peter insisting there was a clear bite mark on Niall’s thigh. Joey converted and by the 47th minute the scoreline looked a lot healthier at 14-15 with the Stormers still down to 14. After a very disciplined first half the Stormers infringed again and again to give Munster lineout after lineout. A feast after the earlier famine!

In the 50th minute, Jean claimed another lineout. The pack, supported by Keith, Rory, Calvin and Craig drove the maul over line and Munster went into the lead, Niall Scannell getting the plaudits. Craig had urged Calvin to join in as that ball was NOT coming to the backs! Joey converted to make it 19-15. It was a costly 14 point yellow card for the visitors.

Gavin had another terrific game on both sides of the ball, winning a turnover which led to a lineout claimed by Peter. That maul drove to the line and after a few pick and goes it was Jack who claimed the bonus point try, just 16 minutes after his first. Joey’s conversion came back off the post to leave it at 24-15. What a turnaround!

RG was brought on at 57 minutes for his second appearance of the season in place of Jean who had given his all to the cause. Mike Haley soared to take a super garryowen. Rory’s excellent deep kick forced a lineout on the 5m line – but because it was passed back the new 50/22 rule did not apply to give Munster the throw in. However I am confident that his left boot will earn Munster some excellent attacking positions as the season progresses.

Stormers had a purple patch and when they won a penalty they opted to take the points. Tim Swail put it between the posts to bring it back to a one-score deficit and losing bonus point range: 24-18 on 65 minutes.

Mike Haley was impeded when going for a high ball and was in some discomfort but it was deemed just a penalty as both players had their eye on the ball. Ben Healy kicked it from about halfway to the 5m line. Peter claimed the lineout and offloaded to RG who twirled and twisted his way to the line with Jack in support. His long arm used to full advantage and the celebrations on and off the pitch showed how delighted everyone was for him after the injury ravaged year he had since his arrival in Munster. Ben converted to make it 31-18.

Mike, recovered from injury, evaded tackles before putting in an excellent clearance kick when the Stormers were making ground. The visitors did get into the Munster 22 again but the defence held firm until the 78th minute when they got over but were adjudged to be held up giving Munster a goal line dropout. Ben kicked it into the other half and Stormers came on the attack again. A penalty in the 79th minute from just inside the opposition half was lined up for the shot at goal by Ben. It sailed over the bar with metres to spare, what a weapon to have in the team’s arsenal! The forecasted rain arrived right at the end as we waited to listen to Gavin’s player of the match and Peter’s post game thoughts.

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

Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Keith Earls, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Keynan Knox; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, Gavin Coombes. Replacements: Jeremy Loughman for Kilcoyne (47 mins), RG Snyman for Kleyn (58 mins), Simon Zebo for Earls (60 mins), Stephen Archer for Knox (61 mins), Ben Healy for Carbery for (62 mins), Diarmuid Barron for N Scannell (70 mins), Rowan Osborne for Casey (72 mins), Jack O’Sullivan for O’Donoghue (73 mins).

Stormers: Warrick Gelant, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Dan du Plessis, Leolin Zas, Manie Libbok, Stefan Ungerer, Brok Harris, Scarra Ntubeni, Neethling Fouche, Adre Smith, Salmaan Moerat (capt), Nama Xaba, Willie Engelbrecht, Evan Roos. Replacements: Tim Swiel for Libbok (49 mins), Godlen Masimla for Ungerer (56 mins), Andre-Hugo Venter for Ntubeni, Leon Lyons for Harris, Sazi Sandi for Fouche (all 61 mins), Ernst van Rhyn for Smith, Marcel Theunissen for Xaba (both 66 mins), Rikus Pretorius for du Plessis (67 mins). Sinbinned – Moerat (44-54 mins).

After the game there were more mini reunions. It was great to see Babs there, in her Munster dress, feeling emotional on her first visit to Ireland in so long. There was a gathering of MRSC Dublin members too, Dee and Bruce, Liz and Peter, Therese and Paul and Michelle. Maybe we can watch the away games together in Dublin soon, watch for updates on that twitter account if you are based in the capital. As I left I was called over to meet Eddie and Bernie with Tony, Imelda, Niamh and her Leinster boyfriend who was sensibly wearing his Munster facemask. He might not do the same on December 26th! Before then we have the away trip to Scarlets next Sunday and the visit of Connacht on October 16th.

A special night for Kenyan Knox starting in the front row

Plenty to work on in the interim, as despite sitting at the top of the table the team know that they won’t be challenging for silverware if they give a 15 point lead to stronger opposition. It’s great to be back amongst friends to enjoy that match day experience again. I have not decided how much I will blog this season but I absolutely had to write up this long awaited return to our beloved home stadium.

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Rainbow 5: Gavin & Casey: Munster 54 – Zebre: 11

Not quite Gavin & Stacey but the Munster duo of Gavin Coombes and Craig Casey accounted for six of Munster’s 8 tries as Munster brought their covid afflicted season to an end. Once it was announced that the Ospreys game against leaders Benetton was off due to an outbreak of covid in the Ospreys camp the result in Parma became academic as Munster could not overtake the table toppers to qualify for the final. Their excellent results in rounds 1 and 2 were undone by the third round loss to Connacht and so there is no fairytale ending for warriors who have given so much to the province like Billy, Tommy and CJ as happened in previous seasons for other players. However there are positives to take from this season which shows that their legacy will be to leave the team in a healthy position as they pass on their jerseys to Fineen, Thomas, Gavin, Jack and John amongst others. For that trio there is the added satisfaction in leaving on their own terms, not struck down by injury or disappointed by contract discussions. Thanks to them for all their contributions to the team we love. Hopefully we will see them back on the pitch to be saluted by the supporters.

The strong team selected by Munster paid dividends with the bonus point wrapped up by half time, two apiece for Gavin and Craig. The first try resulted from gaining good territory and employing their maul to great effect, winning a penalty. Gavin took responsibility and as we have seen so often this season it takes a lot to stop him in general but especially that close to the try line. The clip below shows the build up from the lineout.

Another lineout set up the second but this time they went wide at pace, Andrew Conway and Matt Gallagher combining well but it was Craig who got over the line. It is surprisingly not included in the three minute highlights package!

Gavin scored the third while Craig finished off the fourth showing his hunger, workrate and pace as he chased a lovely kick through by Joey. Chris Farrell collected the bouncing ball and Rory Scannell was waiting for the pass to finish off the move as Chris took the tackle when out of nowehere Craig intercepted the pass to score the try. Joey converted again to bring the score to 6-28 at half-time.

Niall Scannell scored off the back of a rolling maul in the 46th minute. Zebre scored a well worked try in the 57th minute before LIam Coombes jumped to catch the attempted chip by Mori and race in to bring the score to 11-42 four minutes later.

Special mention to Billy Holland who came on in the second half for his 247th appearance for his province. A few minutes earlier, on the other end of the appearances spectrum it was a good night for Jake Flannery to get some game time at outhalf and Thomas Ahern at lock.

Gavin’s hat trick try caught the Italians flat footed as the ball came off one of their players but they thought that Munster had knocked on. Gavin played the whistle or lack of and powered over for his easiest score of the night. Jake converted to make it 11-49.

A dead rubber it may have been but that did not reduce the intensity as shown by the altercation in the 79th minute! “Last minute, last play” the referee corrected himself at 80 minutes 27 seconds as Munster were penalised for side entry. Famous last words! Zebre kicked for a 5m lineout but Munster contested it and Zebre were on the back foot. Billy turned the ball over giving Munster another opportunity to attack but the pass went forward. However the TMO advised that Billy should not have tackled the scrumhalf so Zebre were awarded another penalty which they again kicked to touch. Munster defended the initial maul and when Zebre went wider Cloete, the turnover king himself was there to add another to his tally for this season. Jake kicked to touch near the Munster 10m line in the 83rd minute. Billy claimed the lineout. It was great to see a final flurry in the KBA (keep the ball alive) style before Kevin O’Byrne was put into space down the wing by Farrell. He was tackled illegally (no arms) so Zebre received a yellow card and Munster kicked to the corner approaching the 85th minute. There was a stoppage for an injury to the replacement prop for Zebre. Fate is cruel, if the game had ended on 80 minutes he would not have been injured and his team mate would not have been carded. Another excellent lineout variation this time saw Chris Cloete dash into the line and claim the low ball. When he went to ground, Kevin passed the ball to Gavin who saw space on the blindside and locked on to his route there like a heat-seeking missile. The outcome was never in doubt! The only criticism might be that if he gone the other way he might have made the conversion easier for Billy who took his last kick at a rugby ball as a professional to bring proceedings to a close.

It was strange but a welcome change to see 1000 supporters at the match. The cameras picked out one Munster jersey and an Ireland one amongst them! Hopefully a sign of things to come as season ticket renewals are finally here. By the Autumn with the vaccination program going well it would be wonderful if we could return to the terraces without the need for social distancing.

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

Munster: Matt Gallagher; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Liam Coombes; Joey Carbery (Jake Flannery, 62), Craig Casey (Nick McCarthy, 68); Dave Kilcoyne (Liam O’Connor, 52), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne, 52), John Ryan (Roman Salanoa, 52); Jean Kleyn (Thomas Ahern, 62), Fineen Wycherley (Billy Holland, 68); Peter O’Mahony (C), Jack O’Donoghue (Chris Cloete, 62), Gavin Coombes.

I found Craig’s Player of the Match interview on youtube (match footage since removed) and was amused by his honest admission that Rory would rightly argue that he stole a try from him while Gav would feel cheated after scoring 4 tries and still not getting the award 🙂

In June and July there will be plenty of international rugby to watch. The Under 20s led by our own Alex Kendellen play their six nations games on June 19, 25 and July 1, 7 & 13. An opportunity arises for the up and coming senior players to stake a claim for the green jerseys while some players are away with the Lions or rested. They play on July 3 and 10. I was delighted but not surprised to see Gavin included as he has enjoyed a standout breakthrough season and I look forward to cheering him and the others on in person next season. Thanks for keeping me company with your comments etc. over the past season. #SUAF

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Rainbow 4: What an Endgame – in both halves! Munster: 31 – Cardiff Blues: 27

Consistency seems to be a problem for many teams in the Rainbow Cup! Glasgow lost to Benetton and Scarlets to Dragons, before Ospreys who had beaten Cardiff lost to Scarlets. Then take Connacht who were thrashed by Leinster, turned up and turned over Munster yet went to Treviso and came away with just a losing bonus point leaving Benetton sitting pretty on top of the Northern competition and Munster depending on the Ospreys to do them a favour in the final round. The style of play and performances by Munster have also changed since the opening two rounds as they have mixed and matched the starting 15. Gone is the flamboyant, off-loading game, in favour of a return to traditional Munster strenghts like mauls. Maybe they are keeping their powder dry for the final round and hopefully a historic north v south final.

Cardiff Blues got off to an ideal start, scoring an early try and a penalty to take a 0-10 lead. Munster’s discipline and some handling errors kept them on the back foot. What the highlights reel does not show is a key role played by Craig Casey in kickstarting their come-back. Cardiff had a scrum on the Munster 22 in the 28th minute after Damian had knocked on after a Munster lineout. Craig snagged their scrum half and the back row piled on behind him, Jack, Tommy and CJ playing key roles along with Jean to win a turnover. The visitors then conceded 10m for dissent so Joey had a simple kick to touch near the 5m line. The lineout was secured by Jean who quickly offloaded to CJ. The maul including Damian and Rory formed around him and drove for the line. Niall Scannell scored and Joey converted in the 31st minute to make it 7-10

Just like a bus, you wait ages for one and then two or in this case three arrive together. Tommy and James made a super tackle and won a penalty in the Munster half. Joey found an excellent touch deep inside the Cardiff 22. Another lineout claimed by Jack but this time after a short maul Niall got the pass quickly to Damian who had been loitering at the back of the lineout. He had tried the same move a few minutes earlier but had uncharacteristically fumbled and knocked on. This time he made no mistake and burst through several tackles with Andrew driving him on before going to ground. Craig was quickly to the ruck and whipped out the pass to Fineen in support who crashed over the line to score. Joey converted again to made it 14-10.

From the restart Munster were back on the attack. Shane did well to secure Craig’s box-kick. Joey put in a super kick for Andrew and Mike to chase. The ball fell to Mike, and I don’t know how his kick ahead managed to avoid going into touch as it bounced along the pitch flirting dangerously with the whitewash but when Evans gathered it Haley lined him up to drive him into touch, close to where the previous Munster lineout had resulted in the try. Jean claimed that lineout and the maul drove forward before Niall peeled from the back to score the third try. The successful conversion made it 21-10 in the 38th minute. The bonus point before half-time nearly looked possible after that sequence of play! Instead a late tackle on Craig as he kicked to touch to end the half led to a scuffle.

A high tackle on player of the match Andrew Conway gave Munster an early penalty opportunity which Joey again kicked to an excellent touch. CJ claimed, the maul collapsed so Munster had another opportunity. Jack secured the next lineout ball but Cardiff had gotten their maul defence working better over half-time and won a penalty so the bonus point wait went on, and on..

One of the most poignant images of the evening was seeing Tommy O’Donnell walk off the pitch for the last time in the 46th minute after seeming to pick up a knock. Watching him sit forlornly on the sidelines, with no cheer, applause or standing ovation to escort him from his field of dreams was emotional. Nor was there a walk onto the pitch after the game with his family to soak up the appreciation of the supporters in recognition of his years of service. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to give him and the other retiring players a proper send-off at a later date.

Cardiff were next to score, a try by Wiliams converted by Evans so at 21-17 it was a case of game on with just 44 minutes gone. Munster won a penalty after a great tackle by Andrew with Damian in support to win the turnover. Joey kicked it between the posts to make it 24-17 after 48 minutes.

Mike Haley was sinbinned for a tackle when he inadvertently hit the head due to a prior tackle by Conway which meant that the player had dipped. Cardiff were quick to make Munster pay as they stretched the defence for the replacement scrumhalf Lloyd Williams to score after a super break by Turnbull. The conversion by Evans tied up the scores on 24-24. The TMO reviewed a tackle by Peter in the build-up but deemed it was not dangerous play.

Gavin Coombes made an immediate impact on his introduction just after the hour mark from another lineout and maul. Rory and Damian carried, then CJ and Gavin driven on by Archer and co. made good ground. Niall, then Archer and Peter carried before Gavin again. Niall took it on again and James before Munster were penalised for going off their feet.

It was good to see Jack Crowley come on when Mike’s sinbin period was completed. He had been invovled in the Ireland 7s team recently and is another very talented player from west Cork.

Peter was isolated and conceded a penalty in the 68th minute which Evans kicked to regain the lead 24-27 and set up a tense endgame. In the 72nd minute Joey put up a garryowen which CJ chased. When Cardiff tried to counterattack it was Craig who felled Morgan and Gavin was in straight away to turnover possession. Peter charged forward into the Cardiff 22 and there was a sense of a shift in momentum again. Gavin, CJ and Joey carried, with Cardiff conceding advantage after advantage. Gavin and Shane carried then Gavin again. Jeremy got close before his fellow prop Kenyan picked and drove for the line with Fineen and Jack O’Sullivan on his shoulder driving him over. Joey added the extras to make it 31-27 with less than 5 minutes to go.

A high tackle by Diarmuid gave the advantage back to Cardiff although Peter lodged a Captain’s challenge about obstruction in the build-up on Gavin. While it was deemed valid the more serious offence overrode it, however crucially Munster retained their challenge to use again. Cardiff needed a try to win so they kicked for touch to set up a lineout and maul. The defence held firm and Munster won a turnover which they celebrated as if it were a score. However, Cardiff opted to challenge whether Munster had won through a side entry by Jeremy so the referee had to return again to review on the small screen. The decision was that Jeremy was legal so Cardiff had lost their option for a future challenge unlike Munster.

Munster had the put-in to a scrum on their 5m. CJ charged off the base before Nick cleared to outside the Munster 22. As the clock went into the 79th minute Cardiff went wide and held onto possession as the click went into the red through 24 phases… although they had gained advantage in the 20th when CJ was trapped on the wrong side. However in the previous phase, CJ had managed to note that the scrumhalf had toed the ball back into the ruck. As captain, CJ’s final act – the Captains challenge – was successful and brought a tense affair to an end.

Munster: Mike Haley (Jack Crowley ’65); Andrew Conway, Damian de Allende, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey (rep: Nick McCarthy ‘77); James Cronin (rep: Jeremy Loughman ‘64), Niall Scannell (rep: Diarmuid Barron ‘70), Stephen Archer (rep: Keynan Knox ‘64); Jean Kleyn (rep: Gavin Coombes ’61), Fineen Wycherley; Jack O’Donoghue (rep: Peter O’Mahony ’52), Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Sullivan ’46), CJ Stander (CAPT).

Cardiff Blues: Hallam Amos (rep: Matthew Morgan ’55); Jason Harries, Willis Halaholo, Ben Thomas, Josh Adams; Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams (rep: Lloyd Williams ‘52); Corey Domachowski (rep: Rhys Carré ‘63), Kristian Dacey (rep: Liam Belcher ‘63), Dillon Lewis (rep: Dmitri Arhip ‘63), Seb Davies (rep:Rory Thornton 77), Cory Hill, Josh Turnbull (capt.), James Botham, James Ratti (Olly Robinson ’41)

Match reports from The42.ie, Irish Examiner and Irish Times. Post match thoughts of CJ and Andrew from The42.ie Munster will travel to Zebre in two weeks to play on the Friday night. Even if they win with a bonus point they will have to wait until the Saturday when Treviso travel to play Ospreys to know if their season is over or if they will have a final crack at silverware this season. That loss to Connacht still hurts not just due to being a home defeat but it took away control of our own destiny and leaves us depending on others to do us a favour…

It was a milestone night for CJ and James in addition to Tommy, the final home games of their Munster careers. They all made valuable contributions to a highly combative and competitive encounter. Eir captured their final home Stand Up and Fight rendition at Thomond this season. Fingers crossed we will be back singing it again in our stadium soon as trial events have been announced for the coming weeks.

CJ’s interview on the Late Late Show last week was brilliant. It is still available on RTE and when that is no longer on their player you can check out this article to hear his account of feeling Axel was with them in Chicago. He will be sorely missed but he leaves the jersey is in a good pair of hands from Skibbereen.

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Rainbow 3: Connacht capitalise: Munster: 20 – Connacht: 24

The feel good factor which has been a feature over recent weeks dimmed this weekend as I watched two former Munster players Sammy and Conor score for the visitors while two Munster tries were disallowed. The second one brilliantly grounded by Andrew Conway after an inch perfect cross-field kick in terrible weather conditions deserved so much more but c’est la vie. Munster will rue missed opportunities, penalties conceded time and again when they were in an excellent attacking position and some thankfully uncommon errors particularly in the lead up to Sammy’s try and the deciding one finished by Marmion just after half-time. The result is that the permutations to determine who will qualify as the Northern finalist to hopefully face the South African round robin finalist in June just got a whole lot more complicated. Benetton are now in pole position on 14 points, with a very congested chasing pack featuring 3 teams on 10 points (Munster, Glasgow and Ospreys) with 3 more teams on 9! See table below.

Storm clouds

Last week I had worried about a backlash from Ulster. While that did not materialise we certainly felt one from Connacht after their loss to Leinster in round two! Playing with the wind advantage in the first half they brought plenty of intensity and physicality to Thomond. They were first onto the scoreboard through a successful penalty kick by Conor Fitzgerald but Munster responded well with a try finished off by James Cronin after Munster went through 12 phases from a lineout, maul and multiple pick and goes. Ben converted to make it 7-3

Jack needed some treatment on the pitch after picking up a knock in the build-up to the try and hence was late getting back into position for the restart. Billy had a single lifter while Shane came running in to claim the ball also. Billy could not catch the ball cleanly and when it ricocheted off Shane, Sammy was there to brush aside Craig and score in the corner. Conor added the points with an excellent conversion to make it 7-10 in the 9th minute.

Craig Casey was lively as is his norm, although he won’t be happy about his pass at the start of the second half. When Munster were penalised for Ben Healy tackling Porch in the air Craig showed his athleticism to jump (from outside touch) to bat the ball to himself and prevent Connacht finding touch. Later in the first half he made a super break, putting in a grubber kick and chasing it hard to get to the ball, tackling Alex Wootten as he also arrived. He had to go off for a blood injury / HIA after that collision so Conor took his place temporarily to earn his 150th cap for Munster.

Shane Daly was shown a yellow card in the 22nd minute for a deliberate knock-on. Connacht went on the attack and Munster received a team warning after several infringements. The Munster pack was dominant but they could not convert pressure into points. During the sinbin period Conor Fitzgerald scored and converted his own try, running a great line between the two Munster centres after the home team had defended the maul. That brought the score to 7-17 after 27 minutes. Craig returned to action as Munster restarted.

There was a breath-taking passage of play as Munster broke from a maul deep in their own half. When the maul stopped Craig got the pass out wide on the wing to Jack who charged up field. He passed to Ben who took play into the Connacht half before passing infield to Matt who popped up the ball to Craig in support who was then tackled. Connacht won back possession when the support was slow to protect the ball. Alex counter-attacked only to be pinged for a marginal forward pass.

Restored to fifteen Munster put their maul to good use, with both Damian and Dan included in the lineout to provide more momentum as they mauled towards the line. Rhys grounded the ball and Ben converted to bring the score to 14-17 which it remained through to the break. The Munster scrum was so dominant that Connacht brought on their senior props Buckley and Bealham for the final scrum of the half.

The wind advantage in the second half wasn’t as strong as in the first as heavy rain arrived but Munster seemed to be in a good position to push on and take advantage of it and their strong bench but the sickener was to concede a try almost immediately after the restart. A pass did not go to hand and Connacht were quickest to react racing through to set up the score for Kieran Marmion. He flung the ball at Ben Healy after scoring which kicked off a scuffle involving even some of the Munster bench who had been warming up there! As a result the try stood but Munster were awarded a penalty on halfway from the restart.

A good chase by Shane and Damian of a kick ahead by Dan resulted in Conor Fitzgerald carrying it over the line, conceding a 5m scrum to Munster. From that position CJ carried, then Damian, CJ again, Dan, before Peter burst through only for another scuffle to break out. Something had happened in the build up and Jack had retailiated, tackling Papali’l without the ball which meant that the try was over-ruled for obstruction. CJ asked why the referee could not penalise the subs who got involved! Munster had been playing with penalty advantage for an earlier infringement so they had another opportunity but lost the ball at the base of the scrum and Connacht cleared the danger.

Notable highlights were a super penalty kick by Ben from inside his own half which cleared the bar with plenty to spare in the 51st minute to reduce the gap to 7 points 17-24. He also kicked some excellent penalties to touch during the game. Joey added another penalty in the 64th minute to make it 20-24. A few minutes later came the super passage started when Peter had to chase back past his own 22 to take possession of a kick by Caolin Blade. He did a neat sidestep to avoid the onrushing player before sprinting up almost to the Connacht 22m line before passing infield to Damian. Joey in turn did brilliantly to gather the wild pass towards him, compose himself as he ran crossfield to avoid the green jerseys before putting in the excellent kick for Conway to score…. until the TMO called it back. You can watch it unfold in the clip below. The alledged knock-on was not clear and obvious with various hands and boots in the shot but enough for the officials to disallow the try. Munster had opportunities in the closing ten minutes but first Tadhg was penalised for being offside, then Peter for impeding in the lineout. Munster stole a Connacht lineout and then Connacht stole one of Munsters.. Eventually time ran out and Connacht took the points.

Munster: Matt Gallagher (Keith Earls ’70); Andrew Conway, Dan Goggin, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly (yellow card 22); Ben Healy (rep: Joey Carbery ‘62), Craig Casey (rep Conor Murray ’14 –28 blood sub; ‘52); James Cronin (rep Dave Kilcoyne ‘59), Rhys Marshall (rep: Niall Scannell ‘47), John Ryan (rep Stephen Archer ‘59); Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley ‘78), Billy Holland (Tadhg Beirne ’52); Jack O’Donoghue, Peter O’Mahony (CAPT), CJ Stander.

Connacht: John Porch, Sammy Arnold (Peter Sullivan 71), Sean O’Brien, Tom Daly (CAPT), Alex Wootton,Conor Fitzgerald (rep: J Carty ‘54), Kieran Marmion (rep: Caolin Blade ‘66), Paddy McAllister (rep: Denis Buckley ‘9-16; 39), Shane Delahunt (rep: Dave Heffernan ‘56), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (rep: Finlay Bealham ‘39), Niall Murray, Ultan Dillane, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver (Sean Masterson ’47) ,Abraham Papali’I (Eoghan Masterson rep 71)

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

On the bright side it was good to see Matt Gallagher return from injury and there were moments of brilliant passing skills despite the conditions as mentioned above. It was surprising to see CJ appear to take over the captaincy at one stage even though Peter was still on the pitch. CJ was not happy with the referee and said as much after the game. It was also good that Leinster failed to get the bonus point in their win over Ulster but the race is very tight behind Benetton. Munster have an excellent points difference currently (+48) and will hope to build on that and secure maximum points in the remaining two rounds against Cardiff and Zebre, albeit Cardiff had a good win this weekend and are in contention themselves. Benetton host Connacht in the next round and Ospreys in their final round. Given the results this weekend – Ospreys move up to I believe 3rd place also on ten points with a better points difference than Glasgow – every point and in particular bonus point will count in the remaining two rounds.

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Rainbow 2: KBA approach pays dividends: Munster: 38 – Ulster: 10

If you listen to some of the media the Rainbow Cup is a non event but tell that to the teams who took to the pitch on Friday evening! True it is not the competition it should have been due to the inabilty of the four South African teams to travel but there is silverware on the line and even if there wasn’t an inter-pro always brings it’s own intensity. Having already lost to Connacht and then last weekend to Leicester I wasn’t sure how Ulster would approach the game, if Munster would feel the backlash of their frustration or benefit from the extra week’s rest and preparation. The “handbags” in the 7th minute revealed that both teams were indeed up for it. At that stage Ulster had a 3 point lead after Michael Lowry had kicked an early penalty.

For those who did not hear Ronan O’Gara’s post match interview a month or so ago, and are wondering what the hell KBA stands for it is Keep Ball Alive, a concept he picked up at the Crusaders and that was something that was so refreshing in this contest. You can read more about KBA in this article in the Examiner It did not always work out but when it did it meant the pace of the game made it very difficult for the defence to reset and hence created space. Considering that Munster were playing into the wind in the first half it made more sense not to kick the ball. Surprisingly Ulster did not kick more to take advantage of the wind and hence most of the game was played in the Ulster half as Munster put in a dominant performance to lead 19-3 at the break.

A late tackle on Conor was kicked to touch by JJ to give Munster a launch pad. Mike Haley was in the lineout initally at the front before he moved to the back and secured possession. Although his pass down to the support was poor, Henderson knocked-on when he pounced on the loose ball which gave the hosts a scrum. Gavin Coombes was immense in setting up the first try, watch and enjoy his control at the base of the scrum, his powerful carry, supported by Rory and Chris before a few phases later when the ball is whipped out he keeps the defence honest allowing Rory take advantage of the space that distraction created in mid-field. A class try, converted by JJ to make it 7-3 after 11 minutes.

Dan Goggin in his first game back after his recent injury was fresh and rarin’ to go. He almost got on the scoreboard himself but was stopped just short. Conor was there to finish it off. That try started from a scrum near the Ulster 10m line and in the buildup featured a super passage of play. From the scrum Conor found JJ, who moved the ball quickly on to Rory. Dan passed out of the tackle to Shane who came close to the 5m line before popping up the ball to Chris. He in turn found Gavin who got the ball to JJ before Killer charged forward again.. a superb example of keeping the ball alive before play moved again to the wing and Conor scored! The sideline conversion was missed to leave the score at 12-3.

Gavin nearly scored in the 33rd minute but was penalised for holding on when he was stopped just short. That came shortly after a fantastic break by Shane Daly. A few minutes later we saw another example of KBA as Gavin was being driven towards the sideline but managed to get the pass away to Peter before he went into touch. Tadhg also popped the ball up to Fineen in support as he went to ground when tackled a minute later. JJ missed a penalty kick which was understandable given the strong wind blowing. From the restart Peter collected the ball, JJ carried and again as he was tackled he popped up the ball into the arms of supporting player John Ryan.

Approaching half-time Rory had to go off for a few stitches as blood poured down his face while the referee was reviewing the earlier no arms tackle by Will Addison on Shane Daly. The latter had juggled to take a pass before he flung it back over his shoulder to Peter as he was tackled by Lyttle. As Shane was falling he was also tackled by Addison. That resulted in a red card for dangerous play as Addison did not wrap his arms. Under the new trial rules this meant that Ulster would be down to 14 men but only for twenty minutes although it ended the night for Addison who cannot return but can be replaced.

JJ kicked the penalty to touch. Tadhg secured the lineout ball and the maul formed. Dan ran a decoy line as JJ passed to Damian, on as a blood sub for Rory. His soft offload fell perfectly into Mike Haley’s hands as he raced through to score. It was a lovely finish by Player of the Match Mike Haley. JJ converted to make it 19-3

While Ulster scored first in the second half, helped by the multiple substitutions they made at the break they were again held to just one score in the forty minutes, despite testing the Munster defence a lot more! At 19-10 the comeback looked to be on.

The action in the 47th minute was breath-taking! A searing break by Andrew Conway brought play into the 22. When tackled he popped the pass up to Rory. He dropped the ball backwards and Gavin took it on before he passed it before he was forced into touch. From there Shane Daly flicked it on to Conor… Harlem Globetrotters eat your hearts out! While that attack broke down with Ulster knocking on in the tackle it was exciting and indicative of a fresh approach which was happening too often not to be a deliberate tactic.

Captain’s challenge was successful when the referee reviewed a tackle on Tadhg and awarded a penalty. As the challenge was successful the captain can challenge again in the game if warranted, it will take a while to get used to this new rule. Unfortunately Munster lost their lineout and Ulster were able to get out of their 22. The next lineout in a similarly good attacking position was not straight which was frustrating as Munster looked to turn the screw on 14 man Ulster to secure the bonus point with ten minutes left in the red card period.

Rory’s excellent linespeed and anticipation of the pass enabled him to intercept and run in the bonus point score unopposed from just inside the Ulster half. He was followed onto the scoreboard just minutes later by JJ who backed his pace when he spotted a gap to score the try which took the game out of reach at 33-10. That attack came from a setpiece lineout / maul after Jordi Murphy was penalised for a neck roll. Ulster were restored to 15 with Hume coming on in place of Addison after JJ kicked the conversion.

The Captain’s challenge was also used successfully by Ulster to review a tackle by Jean Kleyn on Lowry. The Ulster maul came into play as Munster conceded a succession of penalties which Stockdale repeatedly kicked to the touch. Fair play to Jeremy Loughman who managed to make his way legally through the maul to turnover possession and allow Munster to clear one such attack. Another lineout about the 5m line was overthrown and Rory claimed it to kick it clear. Peter hacked the ball downfield only to see it go dead and give Ulster a scrum back in the Munster 10m zone. When the scrum collapsed Stockdale again kicked for touch and they mauled again. Peter was yellow carded for changing his bind in the maul after repeated infringements by Munster. When Ulster went to their maul again the defence held firm so when they had to use it Gavin won a turnover and Ulster had nothing to show for all their possession in the Munster half. An impressive defensive effort.

Instead it was the home team who finished on a high with a superb break by Nick McCarthy which was quickly recycled. A cross field kick by Rory was judged perfectly for the oncoming Conway to have a clear run to the line in his rainbow boots. Amazing to hear the commentator say it was his first try of the season! Here is a great piece of analysis of that try by the Loose Head.

There was so much to enjoy in this performance, the turnovers won by jackal supremos Chris and Tadhg, the excellent handling skills by backs and forwards, the linebreaks and offloads.. a great inside pass taken at pace by Shane from Rory, the pass through the legs, the pop passes, chasing the kick off to bat it back and retain possession.. There has been so much to enjoy in Munster’s performances in the first two rounds of the Rainbow Cup. Still plenty to work on, especially to reduce the penalty count but the intent, the intensity, the skills to keep the ball alive and the resulting scores make for an exciting style of play. I can’t wait to get back to Thomond to witness and cheer it on in person!

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Dan Goggin (Damian de Allende, 72), Rory Scannell (blood sub Damian de Allende, 38-40), Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan (Ben Healy, 64), Conor Murray (Nick McCarthy, 64); Dave Kilcoyne (Jeremy Loughman, 56), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne, 60), John Ryan (Roman Salanoa, 60); Fineen Wycherley (Jean Kleyn, 56), Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (C), Chris Cloete (CJ Stander, 56), Gavin Coombes.

Ulster: Jacob Stockdale; Rob Lyttle, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Michael Lowry, Alby Mathewson; Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole; Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt); Jordi Murphy, Marcus Rea, David McCann. Replacements: Rob Herring for Andrew half-time; Callum Reid for Warwick half-time; Marty Moore for O’Toole half-time; Dave Shanahan for Mathewson half-time; Nick Timoney for McCann half-time; James Hume for Addison (red card) 60 minutes; Angus Curtis for Lowry 62 mins; Sam Carter for Henderson 67.

Match reports from The42.ie, Irish Examiner and Irish Times. I also recommend this interview with Tommy O’Donnell on how he came to the decision to retire at the end of this season from the Examiner. While the referee’s performance was not perfect I really liked how he refused to penalise Munster on one occasion for not rolling away when he could clearly see that the Ulster players were holding him in! That particular tactic seems to be poor sportsmanship and I would love to see it stamped out, even penalising the team holding the player in. It was also good to see some relaxation of the rules to allow additional squad members sit, well apart in the stands to add to the noise levels, including the unfortunate RG Snyman who had a setback in his recovery this week.

Next up is the third inter-pro of this new competition, the visit of Connacht next Friday night. It will be interesting to see how we will improve our lineout performance after the way they successully targetted it at the end of the normal season. According to Donn O’Sullivan the following two rounds will see Munster take on Cardiff and Zebre with the 6th round TBC before hopefully a final! If they can keep playing and scoring like this then the chance for silverware will be their reward. Photo credit to Daryl Feehely – this colourful picture from a few years ago was the closest image I could find to represent a rainbow. A good memory from great European days out in Thomond

Some Stats from the Ulster Rugby site Ulster Rugby | Match Report | Munster 38 Ulster 10

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At the end of the rainbow: Leinster: 3 – Munster: 27

Forget the pot of gold, we just want the silverware! Any silverware will do and the only one which remains in play for us this season is this new competition. While this was just the first round of the northern Rainbow Cup and it is as yet unclear what format the competition will take – given the South African teams cannot travel – other than there will be 6 rounds with a final on June 19th, this was an excellent result for Munster. We needed to stop the run of losses to Leinster and to put in a performance to prove we have more to offer than was in display unfortunately in the Pro14 final. As a result, Munster went into the game fully loaded while the hosts had an eye to their European semi-final next weekend. While players of the calibre of Robbie Henshaw, Cian Healy and Ronan Kelleher were missed it was not a C team that were put out, given it featured Irish internationals like Ringrose, Ryan, Porter, Larmour, Kearney and Lowe amongst others.

Defeat was not an option and it was great to see the level of physicality, intensity and linespeed they brought to the RDS as they constantly put pressure on Leinster. Their dominance should have yielded a bonus point or even more than four tries but time and again when they got into promising positions they coughed up a penalty, lost a lineout or conceded a turnover or knock-on. While that was frustrating it was offset somewhat by the ambition they showed to keeping the ball alive, the pace and interlinking between backs and forwards, as exemplified perfectly by Gavin Coombes pop pass in the build-up to second try. Their maul defence and the number of turnovers they won at the breakdown often at key stages were other huge positives. Plenty of things to work on for sure but a heart-warming performance.

The first try came in the fifth minute from an inauspcious start when Munster lost their own lineout throw, taken by James Ryan. However, they were aggressive in competing with Leinster to win back possession and a superb counter-attack was launched off a turnover won when Peter O’Mahony tackled the Leinster scrumhalf Hugh O’Sullivan. Damian seemed to glide as he feinted and shimmied and turned Jordan Larmour inside out before timing his pass to Conor running a great support line to finish off the score. When Harry Byrne limped off after picking up an injury in that passage of play it disrupted Leinster further given that CIaran Frawley had already cried off the previous day (along with Caelan Doris) so the playmaker role passed to young David Hawkshaw. He did convert a penalty for offside against Archer into 3 points shortly after his introduction but that was their only score of the game.

Even when Munster went down to 14 men when a yellow card was shown to Stephen Archer for dangerous play as he trampled on James Ryan who was lying on the wrong side of the ruck as CJ almost scored, Munster prevented Leinster from taking advantage. In fact it was Munster who scored during that period, Joey kicked a penalty to make it 3-10 after 36 minutes. It looked like they could be down to 13 just before the break when the TMO reviewed how Jack launched himself to clear out a ruck and made shoulder to shoulder contact with Ed Byrne but it was deemed a penalty and not a card offence. The kick at goal was missed. Damian showed his all-round talents include being a flanker when Munster had a defensive scrum during the sinbin period. The look on Keith Earls’ face when he was penalised for being offside a few minutes later was priceless and a gift for lip readers.

Munster scored first in the second half, another penalty by Joey to make it 3-13 in the 52nd minute after Ryan Baird body checked him off the ball. Time and again Munster found themselves in promising positions only to let Leinster off the ropes. Niall, Damian and Tadgh were busy winning turnovers, CJ, Killer and Chris were constant ball carrying threats. Joey showed his audacious skills chipping and gathering his own ball despite the heavily congested midfield.

Just past the hour mark the 2nd try was scored, again finished off by Conor but there was great team effort in the build-up. Launching off a scrum Damian carried well, bursting through several tackles before Jeremy and then Peter took their turn. Gavin carried, turned in contact and popped the pass up for Chris who got very close to the line. Conor did what he does so well to finish off the attack from there to score the try. Joey converted.

Another setpiece kickstarted the third try, from a lineout featuring a great take by Mike Haley at the front, leading to the driving maul which earned Munster a penalty try when Leinster pulled it down. I did not spot who lifted Mike but it was Damian and Jeremy as highlighted by The Loose Head. Oldschool Munster with a twist.

The closing minutes included a super spiral kick to touch by Ben Healy when Munster were going for territory to seek the bonus point try. However the game ended in confusion over the new “captain’s challenge” rule in the closing minutes. You could hear CJ remonstrating with the referee that Monday would be too late to clarify if the referee was indeed wrong but he was not open to debate on the technicalities. Munster had had their chances earlier in the game but could not convert them, hopefully it does not come back to haunt us as both Ulster and Connact did get BPs in their encounter.

Leinster: Jordan Larmour; Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose (captain) (Tommy O’Brien ’59). Rory O’Loughlin, James Lowe; Harry Byrne (David Hawkshaw ’5), Hugh O’Sullivan (Cormac Foley ’65); Ed Byrne (Peter Dooley ’58), Dan Sheehan (Seán Cronin ’58), Andrew Porter (Michael Bent ’58); Ross Molony, James Ryan (Scott Fardy ’60); Ryan Baird (Martin Moloney ’72), Scott Penny, Josh Murphy.

Munster: Mike Haley; Keith Earls (Calvin Nash ’62), Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery (Ben Healy ’67), Conor Murray (Craig Casey ’62); Dave Kilcoyne (Jeremy Loughman ’58), Niall Scannell (Diarmuid Barron ’72), Stephen Archer (Keynan Knox ’65); Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley ’55), Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue (Gavin Coombes ’55), CJ Stander.

Match reports from The42.ie, Irish Times and Irish Examiner. Post match coach’s comments from The42.ie

Analysis of Man of the Match

Did CJ take home a souvenir from the game?

Love this tweet below from Damien O’Meara, we saw the same when Leinster defeated Munster in 2009, it kickstarted their dominance. This victory is a small but significant step which proves that the team do not have a mental block when it comes to playing Leinster. I don’t think for a minute that it means that we will always beat them after this but I do think that the results won’t be as one-sided as they have been in recent times either. That said Munster were one of the few teams to consistently stop Leinster getting bonus point wins but this performance showed that we can bring more to the table than just defence and that was a very welcome sight indeed.

Final one – this photo was used in the Irish Times so credit to Ryan Byrne (Inpho) – and shows why we love Craig and the energy, passion and never stop competing spirit he brings to the team. I saw another tweeter comment on Chris Farrell appearing to casually enjoy his front row seat as he sits on a Leinster player 🙂

So the new competition is off to a good start with Connacht also picking up a win on the road in a close encounter in Belfast, Benetton thumping Glasgow and Dragons doing the same to Scarlets. Edinburgh and Ospreys also won against Zebre and Cardiff respectively. Next weekend Leinster are in action against La Rochelle while Ulster are in their Challenge Cup semi-final against Leicester and the South African teams kick off the southern Rainbow Cup. Munster v Ulster on Friday May 7th should be another competitive encounter as will the visit of Connacht the following Friday. How the other three rounds will play out remains to be seen but it’s the last chance for Munster to win silverware before we bid farewell to CJ, Billy, Tommy and JJ so it is great to have made such a positive start to the competition.

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‘Til the Final Whistle: Munster: 33 – Toulouse: 40

After last weekend’s disappointment when Munster did not fire a shot we hoped for a performance and boy did the team deliver. Against lesser competition scoring four tries and thirty three points would have been enough to go through to the quarter-finals but this Toulouse team packed with experience and stars are true heavyweights (figuratively and on the scales) in Europe. A lot has been said over the past week about the importance of the front five and the lack of power within Munster when they get to the business end of competitions and come up against opposition like Leinster, Saracens, Racing or Toulouse. The Rainbow Cup will provide more evidence of that given the reputation of the South African teams so Graham Rowntree will have his work cut-out of him as he looks to bring RG Snyman into action along with some of the young props and locks chomping at the bit to add to their senior experience. Will it be treated as a development opportunity or a competition to be won? I suspect they will try to mix and match but sport is a results oriented business and bad losses to our provincial rivals will not help to sell jerseys and season tickets even if it does lay the foundations for a longer term gain in terms of developing the younger players. Good luck to the management on getting the balance right.

Home advantage has been negated to a large extent this season (home comfort mainly just entailing less travel and familiar environs) but you can imagine the impact a raucous, passionate, packed Thomond Park might have had on proceedings, especially that crooked lineout that led to Marchand’s try and some of the other questionable events on the day. Instead the cardboard cutouts were silent and the only sounds came from the substitutes on the sidelines.

The Red Army limited to cardboard cutouts this season in the empty stand

I listened to the game on the radio and enjoyed Jonny Holland and Duncan Casey’s contribution to “Rug-be at home” on the Munster youtube channel before the game, at half-time and after the final whistle. Toulouse got off to a good start and when Chris Farrell was sinbinned after just three minutes it felt ominous. However Munster limited Toulouse to just two kickable penalties of which only one was converted during that ten minute interval. They managed to win and convert a penalty themselves just as Chris returned after good attacking play when Toulouse went offside to make it 3-3 after 14 minutes. Munster went on to dominate the second quarter with Damian and Keith linking superbly. Both tries went unconverted and Toulouse kept in touch through penalties but 16-9 at half-time gave grounds for optimism.

There was hunger; there was passion; there were offloads and linebreaks. There were tackles and turnovers; tries, a brace apiece for Earls and Coombes including a tap-and-go from 5m. It was a shame that the camera did not record Craig’s drop goal conversion of the final try as he had hoped there would be time for a restart and a chance to tie the game up for extra time…

However, whatever Munster threw at them, Toulouse responded and pulled two scores ahead in the 77th minute. While Munster fought back to score at the death time had run out on their European campaign. A disallowed try for Conway, a suspect lineout and a knock-on on the other end.. and probably other incidents on both sides (should Earls have been carded?) the record books will show that Munster failed to qualify for the quarter finals. However it was great to see the fight back in the team and some excellent performances in the pack and amongst the backs. Not good enough on the day but you wonder if they could have drawn the game and forced extra time would the extra weight carried by the French pack have slowed them down and provided more scoring opportunities for Munster…

The disappointment last week was due in part to the failure to trouble the Leinster try-line, to go down without landing a punch. It was great to see them fight until the final whistle and to play like they did for eighty minutes this week. Work remains to be done to break through to be real contenders for silverware but evidence like the emergence of Gavin Coombes who has taken to European action as a duck to water, the performance of Josh Wycherley in Clermont and the other up-and-coming youngsters who contributed so much to the Pro14 campaign mean that we can continue to dream. Our day will come so as we are being told for other reasons, #HoldFirm… to the brave and faithful nothing is impossible.

You can see how much Munster and his team means to CJ Stander in his post-match interview. It is such a shame that he will not have a proper send-off from the supporters but I am sure he has been inundated on social media with well wishes and he knows how much he is loved and will be missed. Billy was also interviewed, see below. Hopefully CJ and Billy will be back to visit next season and we can salute them in person then.

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

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne for N Scannell (35-41 and 75 mins), Billy Holland for Beirne (37 mins), James Cronin for Kilcoyne, John Ryan for Archer (both 60 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Carbery (62 mins), Fineen Wycherley for Kleyn (67 mins), Chris Cloete for O’Dohoghue (70 mins), Craig Casey for Murray (75 mins). Sinbinned – Farrell (4-14 mins).

Toulouse: Maxime Médard; Cheslin Kolbe, Zack Holmes, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand (capt), Charlie Faumuina; Rory Arnold, Richie Arnold; Francois Cros, Selevasio Tolofua, Jerome Kaino. Replacements: Clément Castets for Baille, Dorian Aldegheri for Faumuina (both 49 mins), Joe Tekori for Richie Arnold (50 mins), Alban Placines for Tolofua (54 mins), Thibaud Flament for Rory Arnold (55 mins), Peato Mauvaka for Marchand (56 mins), Dimitri Delibes for Medard (64 mins), Baptiste Germain for Dupont (78 mins).

The full game in French is currently available on YouTube in full and in extended highlights.

Extended highlights in French currently available

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Groundhog Day: Leinster: 16 – Munster: 6

The Champions prevailed, again.  Congratulations to Leinster on their fourth league title in a row.  Lockdown has left many feeling that the days all seem the same. There appears to be the same sense of deja vue when Munster play Leinster despite my optimism from just a few days ago. The dominance of the Leinster performance highlights how far ahead they are, especially in the front five. Given how the Irish team is so dependent on the boys in blue also it is clear how they set the benchmark on this island, in the league and in Europe.

There was to be no fairytale ending for Billy and CJ in the Pro14.  While there are still two trophies up for grabs this season between the European and the new Rainbow Cup, the Pro14 final had looked to be a genuine opportunity for silverware to end the long drought.  It was not that I was underestimating Leinster, but there had been encouraging signs during the season that Munster were making progress in the right direction to become contenders that I thought they could produce the required level of performance and with a bit of luck would come out on top of a close contest.

The one-sided nature of the final was unexpected, the scoreline says more about Munster’s tremendous defensive efforts that Leinster were not out of sight by half-time. Maybe the physical and emotional strain of the Six Nations and the lack of game time for others like Chris Farrell, Andrew Conway and Joey Carbery left Munster undercooked but they were on the backfoot from the start. Leinster looked to break through time and again while Munster were living off scraps of possession.  Yet even as half time approached when Munster managed to equalise I dared to hope for a strong second half performance after surviving the barrage – and holding Leinster scoreless for 29 minutes in the first half – fuelled by memories of the comeback in Clermont.  Instead it was Leinster who held Munster scoreless for the remainder, going on to score a try and a penalty to take the title. 

The stats showed that Munster only had 36% possession and 29% territory. Leinster made 10 clean breaks beating 35 defenders to Munster’s 1 break and 10 defenders beaten. Robbie Henshaw was everywhere and I thought he would get the player of the match accolade but that went to try scorer Jack Conan.

I cannot bring myself to watch the game back to look for crumbs of comfort 😦 I know I could talk about the big defensive effort especially defending the try line in the first half; about how Gavin Coombes was our best player, the low penalty count, .. but there were too many errors, and no real threat posed in the rare phases where Munster held onto possession.

Getting to the final was an achievement which should not be lost sight of in the aftermath of yet another loss. This season has seen the emergence of Gavin Coombes and Craig Casey and others coming through to put pressure on the senior players. The management and team will have another crack at Leinster in a few weeks in the Rainbow Cup. Hopefully the players will be able to lift themselves up as they turn their focus to the threat of Toulouse for next Saturday, a big ask given how well the French team are playing especially without the Red Army there to roar them on. Sometimes a challenge like that is just what the players need to get over such a big disappointment. I will be cheering them on from home.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne (Johnny Sexton ‘59-64), Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson Park ‘75); Cian Healy (Ed Byrne ’52), Rónan Kelleher (James Tracy ’69), Andrew Porter (Tadhg  Furlong ‘52); Devin Toner, Scott Fardy (Ryan Baird ’59); Rhys Ruddock (Ross Molony ’73), Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. Replacements:  James Lowe.

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende (Rory Scannell ’73), Keith Earls; Joey Carbery (JJ Hanrahan ’69), Conor Murray (Craig Casey ’69); James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’51), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne ’52), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’51); Jean Kleyn (Billy Holland ’69), Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (J O’Donoghue ‘48), CJ Stander. 

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

News of the departure of the original West Cork star (and former hurler!) Darren Sweetnam to join up with ROG as a medical joker was a surprise but a good move for him and hopefully he will secure a contract out of it for next season. Good to see that JJ has secured a deal and will be off to Clermont for next season, tough economic times for clubs with no income from spectators for over twelve months now. That makes the rumour of a new lock joining from South Africa a surprise and hopefully will not be a blocker to the emergence of Thomas Ahern who has impressed this year.

The Connacht blogger The 2nd Row Padraig wrote about rugby during the lockdowns which I could relate to, so sharing it here for those of you who might enjoy it also – a quote: So to have rugby as a constant has been a thankful respite from the monotonous and dreary life that endless lockdowns has brought. 

Groundhog times for sure. A disappointing way to end another league campaign but let’s be thankful for the enjoyment of fourteen wins in the league and two in Europe, watching the emergence of new players and having live rugby to look forward to, watch and dissect afterwards, starting with the European Cup and three interpros to kickstart the Rainbow Cup. Keep the faith! #SUAF

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Joie de Vivre: Munster: 31 – Benetton: 17 & #ThanksCJ

The conditions unlike last week suited an open, running style of rugby and both teams took advantage. Sure there were mistakes but given the 13 changes made to the Munster team while Benetton were missing so many of their internationals it was understandable and did not take from the enjoyment of the contest. That said the solid foundations of the lineout, maul and scrum were again in evidence as a platform to set up some key scores while the width put on the game by both teams was a joy to behold. Some of the long, skip passes and the offloading were fantastic, as showcased in the first Benetton try and the Munster bonus point try in the highlights reel below.

It was great to see the youngsters given their opportunity to shine as a reward for their contribution to the squad training effort all season. While it provided a chance to rest some key players ahead of the tough encounters with Leinster and Toulouse to come it was also a sign of faith in their abilities. Sending out a second row with a combined age of 41 was a real vote of confidence and boy did they deliver. Thomas Ahern was awarded Player of the Match and is a great prospect, living up to the promise he showed for the Ireland Under 20s. It is even more amazing considering that he was a back three player until he was 17 so he is still learning his trade in the second row. Captain Jack O’Donoghue was excellent also, showing up on the shoulders to drive over both props for their tries. It was a special night for so many players with four scoring their first senior tries and a first cap for Cian Hurley in the second row. He became the 53rd player to line out for Munster in the Pro14 this season and is yet another from west Cork. You can see his post match interview here. With the extended international window in the Autumn to complete the 2020 Six nations and the shortened season of just 16 league games there was a lot more opportunity for the non-internationals and Academy players since play resumed and it has been exciting to watch their progress. Hopefully the Rainbow Cup will proceed in some format

The Southern Star newspaper ran a special feature on the rise of rugby stars from the region. Unfortunately I not find it available online but the below photo shared by George Murray highlights the number of clubs now regularly producing players of the quality required for the professional game. Considering that the Munster team selected for this game also featured players from other non-traditional sources such as Waterford, Tipperary and Kerry, a lot of credit is due to the grass roots clubs and Academy structure that is now paying dividends.

The performance featured a strong lineout, excellent mauls and some super cross field kicks and skip-passes. Lineouts were taken quickly several times making for a high paced game. It was great to see Andrew Conway excel, chasing kick-offs and grubbers, battling for possession as he comes back into form. However it was the visitors who scored first in the 22nd minute. Benetton attacked, going through the phases before spinning it wide and it was the quality of their offloads that made the score. Allan converted to make it 0-7

A high tackle on Rory was kicked between the posts by JJ to make it 3-7 just minutes later. It was a shame to see Paddy Patterson go off injured towards the end of the first half on his first start. I hope it is not a serious injury. As the clock ticked on to half-time Munster were on the attack. From a scrum in the 38th minute they went wide through JJ, Rory and Jake to Coombes who brought play close to the 5m line. If he had not had to juggle the ball he may have gotten all the way. The pack took it on through Chris, Cian, Liam O’Connor, Thomas, Diarmuid and Jack O’Sullivan before Nick went a bit wider, passing to Rory. He managed to get his hands free in the tackle to pass to Alex McHenry who finished off the score behind the posts. JJ converted and Munster went to the changing room 10-7 ahead.

Munster started the second half as they had ended the first. Chris Cloete pounced on a loose ball to kick start an attack. Liam Coombes charged forward, Andrew Conway found a gap and offloaded to Nick who showed a good turn of pace. When that attack broke down the referee brought play back for a penalty earned when Liam had been tackled by a player who went off their feet. When JJ kicked to touch on the 5m line we all knew what to expect and it was great to see them deliver. Thomas stretched to secure the ball and the maul drove for the line. Alex got close before Jack latched onto Kenyan and their combined leg drive got him over the line for his debut try. Prop power! JJ converted to make it 17-7

Barely a minute after Roman replaced Kenyan he also demonstrated his power to score his debut try! Jack secured the lineout and Nick kept up the pace with sharp passing until 14 phases later Roman powered over after Cian and Chris had come close as they laid siege to the line. JJ converted to make it 24-7

Benetton were not throwing in the towel, they scored the next try from a powerful maul with ten minutes to go, bringing the score to 24-12 but Munster struck back three minutes later as Liam and Ben combined brilliantly from a lineout won again by Thomas Ahern. The skip pass to Liam allowed him to take it at pace and stretch his legs as Ben ran a good support line, ready and able to take the pass and score his debut try. Ben converted to make it 31-12

Benetton had the final score of the game in the 78th minute, an excellent try finished by their powerful #8 after a super counter-attack from their own 22. Again it featured some sweet offloading and dummy passes to keep the defence honest. The conversion was missed to leave the final score at 31-17

MUNSTER: J Flannery; A Conway, A McHenry, R Scannell, L Coombes; JJ Hanrahan, P Patterson; L O’Connor, D Barron, K Knox; C Hurley, T Ahern; J O’Donoghue, C Cloete, J O’Sullivan. Replacements: N McCarthy for Patterson (37 mins), M Gallagher for Flannery (51 mins), R Marshall for Barron, J Loughman for O’Connor (57 mins), R Salanoa for Knox (all 57 mins), B Healy for Hanrahan (59 mins), J Daly for Cloete (67 mins), T O’Donnell for O’Donoghue (69 mins).

BENETTON RUGBY: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, J Riera, L Morisi, A Esposito; T Allan, D Duvenage; N Quaglio, T Baravalle, F Alongi; I Herbst, E Snyman; A Sgarbi M Zuliani, G Pettinelli. Replacements: T Gallo for Quaglio (h/t), T Pasquali for Alongi, C Els for Baravalle (both 51 mins), L Sarto for Tavuyara (56 mins), L Petrozzi for Duvenage, T Benvenuti for Morisi, N Piantella for Herbst (all 59 mins), M Barbini for Zuliani (71 mins).

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

Congratulations to referee Hollie Davidson on her Pro14 debut, in the week that Tipperary jockey Rachel Blackmore dominated Cheltenham it is great to see another lady break through the glass ceiling. Her communication was clear including with her assistant referees and her decision making was excellent.

Another enjoyable performance which keeps the winning momentum going as Munster face into preparations for the Pro14 final. Fourteen out of sixteen wins has been superb but the province is hungry for silverware so a big performance will be required to topple Leinster.

#ThanksCJ – the beginning of the end

I started this blog around the time that CJ Stander made his debut for Munster and it has been a joy and a privilege to see him grow into an international player, watching his development from the terraces as he became a world class player and a class act on and off the field. The announcement of his retirement took us by surprise as we had hoped for news of another contract but you have to respect his decision to put his family first and finish up on his own terms. The pandemic has lead to a lot of soul searching and highlighted the importance of home and family when you can no longer take travel for granted.  Oh how we would all love him to end his days in red with some silverware to add to his multitude of Man of the Match awards like we had hoped for Paulie and many more before him, but sport can be cruel and does not always give the fairytale ending. Hopefully we will have a chance to bid CJ and Billy farewell at Thomond before a full house maybe next season if crowds are allowed back then post vaccinations, etc.

When CJ arrived in Munster as a 22 year old he worked hard to learn our ways. He completely bought into the ethos of Munster and Ireland, showing pride in the jersey and giving it 100% whenever he had an opportunity to represent his adopted province and country.  His natural strength, honed on the farm, helped him become a great ball carrier, relishing contact.  He won so many player of the match awards that we joked it should just be renamed the CJ Stander Man of the Match award.  How many young players has he inspired over his career?  He became a marked man, being double and triple tackled but he relished taking on the challenge, testing himself to force his way through, knowing the focus on him would free up space elsewhere. His try scoring exploits will live long in the memory. How often did I hear someone say “give it to CJ” when Munster laid siege to the try line?  He epitomises Stander up and fight. Even in that bad season (15/16) when Munster nearly failed to qualify for Europe he was always honest and humble in those difficult post match interviews. 

One of the common themes in the recent outpouring of support was about how CJ always made time for supporters, stopping to chat, for photos, autographs, etc. I was fortunate to have a few words with him twice, after the semi-final loss to Glasgow in 2014 and at Glasgow airport after a European Cup win against them in 2017. I remember being stunned then when he had a few kind words to say to let me know he recognised me and to encourage me to keep blogging. Another personal highlight is the middle image below where he used one of my photos from the semi-final loss to Saracens in the Aviva to thank the Red Army for their support.

When he wrote “Munster by the grace of God” you knew that he meant it. He always gave 100% to the red jersey and to the green once he made his debut in 2016. Learning the Irish anthem phonetically was no PR stunt but a mark of the commitment he made to his adopted country. As he made his 51st and final appearance in green this weekend I wore my Stander teeshirt (bought from TRK) for the Rugby World Cup in Japan. The samurai image seems appropriate for our warrior.

My Stander Irish Stout teeshirt (TRK) on tour at RWC Japan with a samurai warrior statue

ThreeRedKings wrote a great tribute to CJ during the week. I must update my tribute I wrote when he won his first Irish cap in response to all the negativity about project players before he departs but you can see in his post match interview what it means to the man himself.

There has been such an outpouring of love, gratitude and best wishes on social media which is a measure of the man, the gentleman and the sportsman who has become a Munster legend. In his 150 appearances to date for Munster he has scored 210 points (42 tries) plus a further 60 points for Ireland in 51 games. According to SportsJoe.ie he has earned more than 30 player of the match awards in his career here to date. It will be an emotional time watching him wrap up his career in Munster and maybe playing for the Lions if those games go ahead but let’s relish every moment before he passes on his “borrowed” jersey to the next generation who will have learnt so much from the way he trains, plays and represents himself, his family and his team.  We will cheer every tackle, every carry and every score and hopefully get to see him and the team he loves win silverware. Best wishes to CJ, Jean Marie and Everli, Thank you CJ.