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Another Strong Finish! Ospreys: 23 – Munster: 25

Supporting Munster may not always be easy on our nerves or blood pressure but their pride in the jersey, their determination to fight until they hear the bell, their fitness levels, workrate and self-belief make it a rewarding experience.  The four valuable points earned in Swansea restored them to top spot in the Pro12 league.  The famed Munster defense against the most prolific try scorers could have resulted in a low-scoring arm wrestle but instead it was an exciting full-on game where momentum swung dramatically from one side to the other at different stages in the game.  The updated table is below;  conceding just 21 tries in 15 games is a fantastic achievement while the 49 tries scored isn’t shabby at all!

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Munster were on the attack in the opening minutes and were first onto the scoreboard when Tyler Bleyendaal put an early penalty kick between the posts after a high tackle.  However the Ospreys then had an extended period of domination.  Sky flashed up a stat showing Munster only had 21% possession in the opening 18 minutes!   Sky also showed 6 missed tackles in the opening 14 minutes contributing to the two tries scored by Ospreys – a great line break set up by their back row of Sam Underhill with James King taking it on before it was finished off by Hanno Dirksen.  Their second was even more disappointing as it came off a Munster scrum when Ospreys disrupted to win possession.  A few missed tackles later Ospreys scored again, this time through Kieron Fonotia after some good work by Ashley Beck.  Sam Davies converted both and Ospreys were 14-3 ahead within 13 minutes.  It looked like this would be a short blog!  A forward pass helped Munster avoid conceding three tries in the opening quarter when the TMO confirmed that Beck was in front of Davies.  However a penalty for offside against Munster gave Davies a chance to extend their lead, his kick made it 17-3 within 24 minutes.

Jerry Flannery was asked for a soundbite shortly after and it was all about the “D” – defensive issues!  Possession and territory were also in short supply as the stats below show but Munster began to grow into the game.  They put more phases together and their pressure paid off.

A good scrum won a penalty for Munster which was kicked to touch.  The maul was repelled but Munster retained possession.  Ospreys conceded another penalty in front of the posts so Munster opted to take the 3 points on offer.

Ospreys took a quick throw-in after forcing Ronan O’Mahony into touch, but Rhys Marshall was up quick to tackle the recipient while Duncan Williams in support won a penalty when the Ospreys player did not release the ball.  That was kicked to touch and Ospreys were expecting to defend a maul.  Munster showed good variation in their play.  Dave O’Callaghan secured the ball and offloaded quickly to Billy Holland who passed to Jack O’Donoghue on the charge for him to score with only Keelan Giles between him and the line.

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Daryl Feehely captures Jack on the charge leading up to his try

Tyler Bleyendaal was surprised to see his conversion was unsuccessful.  A penalty against Darren O’Shea for being ahead of the kicker gave Ospreys an easy penalty to make it 20-11 entering the final minute of the half.

However a kick out on the full gave Munster one more attacking platform before the break.  We roared about the headlock put on Rhys Marshall but play continued, going from one side to the other.   Jack O’Donoghue showed great strength not to forced into touch (with help from Ronan O’Mahony) before play came back infield.  A lovely offload from Tyler to Saili put the latter through a gap.  While he was tackled he was able to stretch over the line to score. Tyler converted.  As the players headed for the changing rooms Ospreys must have wondered how their 14 point lead had been cut to just 2!

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Francis Saili scores the second try just before the break – photo by Daryl Feehely

There was plenty of controversy in the second half.  Ospreys thought they had scored but the TMO advised that the base of the corner flag is out of play.  The tackle on Beck leading up to it by Saili looked to be worthy of TMO review but was not which understandably angered the home supporters. (update Saili was cited for that incident but no sanction was applied as it was not deemed to be a red card offence)

An offside by Rory Scannell gave Ospreys their only points of the half after 58 minutes when Sam Davies kicked that penalty between the posts to make it a five point game.

A lovely kick through by Andrew Conway was chased by Darren Sweetnam who almost won the foot race to the line but could not control the ball.  However the knock-on kept Munster in the right part of the pitch.  Another ball to Darren on the wing was also well defended but crucially Munster retained possession.   Tyler came agonizingly close to the line in the 65th minute but the TMO advised the ball was just short.

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Tyler Bleyndaal just short – photo by Daryl Feehely

Another 5m scrum for Munster should have provided a chance to pile on more pressure but Ospreys drove Munster back.  Wave after wave of Munster players attacked the Ospreys defensive line before conceding a penalty for not releasing.  The clock continued to tick down.

Reinforcements played their part.  Dan Goggin and Conor Oliver kept the momentum going after a super break by Sweetnam with Conway in support.  Another break by Andrew Conway after a sweet pass by Tyler brought play to within a few metres of the line.  Kevin O’Byrne carried, before Kilcoyne who seemed to lose his balance and be driven backwards over the line.  He fell the right way to score.  However he seemed to hurt his knee and was taken off with Peter McCabe taking his place.

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Dave Kilcoyne scores the third try – photo by Daryl Feehely

Tyler’s conversion under pressure put Munster into a 2 point lead with less than 2 minutes of normal time remaining.  An anxious few minutes as twice the referee indicated advantage to Ospreys but Munster kept them pinned back in their own half.  I was surprised and relieved to hear him say “advantage over.”

A great turnover won by Kevin O’Byrne secured possession for Munster.  Andrew Conway kicked the ball out but our celebrations were cut short when the TMO was asked to check for a high tackle on the Ospreys scrum half.  Players on both teams lay stretched out on the pitch, exhausted!  The replays showed Kevin and Conor had combined to tackle Brendon Leonard but they had not been too high so Marius Mitrea blew the final whistle.

Munster: I Keatley (A Conway 46); D Sweetnam, F Saili, R Scannell, R O’Mahony (D Goggin 71); T Bleyendaal, D Williams; D Kilcoyne (P McCabe 79), R Marshall (K O’Byrne 54), J Ryan (S Archer 79); D O’Shea (D Foley 46), B Holland; D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell (C Oliver 71), J O’Donoghue. Replacement not used: Abrie Griesel.

OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Keelan Giles, Kieron Fonotia, Ashley Beck, Hanno Dirksen; Sam Davies, Tom Habberfield (capt); Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin, Rhodri Jones, Lloyd Ashley, Rory Thornton, Olly Cracknell, Sam Underhill, James King.  Replacements: Sam Parry, Paul James, Daniel Suter, Tyler Ardron, Dan Baker, Brendon Leonard, Luke Price, Ben John.

Congratulations to Billy Holland on his 150th appearance for Munster.  Billy put in another big performance tonight including a super lineout steal and another big defensive display.

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Billy Holland at the heart of a Munster maul – photo by Daryl

Stats from ESPN are here – the back row and Billy made a serious amount of tackles, Jack was top with 23!  This week’s man of the match Dave O’Callaghan made 19 of Munster’s 173 tackles.  The stats don’t reflect the momentum shifts within each half but Munster dominated the closing stages of both halves.

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Daryl Feehely took some great action (and crowd) shots as usual, which you can view in full here

SKY SPORTS highlights are on their website here

Match reports from The42.ie and WalesOnLine and post match views of Rassie Erasmus reported in the Examiner

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Mam of the match Dave O’Callaghan on the charge – photo by Daryl Feehely

Also worth reading these words about Conor Oliver from someone who should know – Wally himself wrote in the Independent: “He has all of the attributes to become a really good flanker, and he’s unique in Irish rugby at the moment.   Oliver is smaller and that allows him to use his fantastic agility to get to the breakdown a bit quicker. He has big future in the game.”

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Conor Oliver and Jack O’Donoghue – photo by Daryl

The Social Side

The look on the faces of the two lads who wandered downstairs in the River Bar (presumably looking for the toilets or maybe a salsa class) as we were chanting “Kil-ler, Kil-ler!” in celebration of Dave Kilcoyne’s try-scoring heroics was priceless.  I am sure they were surprised to see such a large crowd wearing Munster jerseys in the heart of Dublin!  They knew better than to walk across in front of the screen until there was a break in play.  The conversion was also greeted with a big cheer and the turnover which enabled Munster to end the game was louder if possible until we saw the referee indicate he was referring to the TMO!  Not another last minute penalty to test our already strained nerves!  We watched the replay and concluded that it was not above the shoulder but our opinion counted for nought.  When we heard the referee and TMO come to the same conclusion and the final whistle blew we almost blew the roof in relief and celebration!  No it wasn’t easy, unlike the 33-0 home fixture against the Ospreys in Cork in November but it was sweet!

There was a good crowd again in the River bar for the game, many familiar faces and readers of the blog so it is always nice to meet them in person.  There was a cute toddler in her super hero costume who I had not seen there before.  Wearing a red cape it was clear who she was supporting and given the win she may be our lucky mascot!

Jim almost succeeded with the positive vibes he was sending Munster for an intercept try early in the second half as Conway came very close to making one!  Keep practicing Jim, we might be glad of your abilities in a future close game.

Great to see all four Irish provinces win this weekend as did Racing 92 (bonjour Pascal!)  I will be in Limerick next weekend for the third of four legs against Welsh opposition, this time it will be the turn of Scarlets before the game in Cardiff.  Check out the WTView Facebook page for interesting articles about Munster rugby during the week.

If you enjoy the blog please share it on social media, tell your friends, like / comment etc.  Last week’s view numbers were disappointing – maybe the 6 nations meant we all overloaded on rugby!

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Nearly another try for Darren Sweetnam – photo by Daryl

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Three Jacks in a Winning Hand: Munster: 45 – Newport Gwent Dragons: 17

  1. Jack O’Donoghue was the official Man of the Match in the week of his 23rd birthday.  In his player diary in the Independent on Friday he had written how they were disappointed in Edinburgh and how he would “be looking for an improvement” so he delivered on that objective!  I read the following Friday in his diary how that had been his first MOTM for Munster!  Congrats Jack.
  2. Jaco Taute played at centre and full-back, made some great tackles and brought his try count for this season to 7 with a brace – creative license taken as his name is pronounced Yaco – so he should be well pleased with his performance also.
  3. Throughout the match, the defence coach/physio Jacques Nienaber was paying close attention to proceedings from the sideline, often in front of us, ice pack in hand and first aid kit at the ready. I felt colder watching him in his shorts, often with one knee on the cold ground as my gloved fingers and double socked toes went numb!  His contribution to the winning run has been significant.
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Jacques speaks to Jaco as Jack and he pack seem to be preparing for a scrum as Rory and Darren look on.

It was a bitingly cold night, just 3°C before adding the baltic wind chill factor but that did not deter 8,008 supporters packing out Irish Independent Park to cheer on the team as they maintained their winning ways and position at the top of the league.  At one stage it looked like they would pass 50 points but they had to settle for 45 from 6 converted tries and a penalty. The players won’t get carried away by their win either. They will be looking to reduce their penalty count (12 conceded) and to defend against mauls better, perhaps studying the recent excellent defensive maul master class by Donnacha Ryan in Paris but the 14 clean line breaks were very exciting and overall it was a big improvement from the previous game in Edinburgh.  Stephen Archer on his 101st Pro12 game may come in for some praise at the review on Monday for his handling skills in the second half which TG4 likened to the Harlem Globetrotters!

A lovely kick by Tyler Bleyendaal was well chased by Ronan O’Mahony to put Munster into the Dragons 22 in the opening minutes before a high tackle on Rory Scannell resulted in a penalty for Munster which Tyler put between the posts to get the first points on the board after a lively opening 6 minutes.

Darren Sweetnam, in his first game since his knee injury on St Stephens Day showed no ill effects and continued his impressive workrate as demonstrated when he made a tackle, released the player and when that player rolled and went again he reacted quickly to chase and tackle him again on the 5m line!

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Darren Sweetnam

A few phases later Dragons won a penalty which they converted to tie the scores after 11 minutes. That was as close as they got on the scoreboard.

From the restart when Dragons kicked possession away Jack carried play back to them.  Andrew Conway brought the attack into their 22, before the pack went through phase after phase with big carries from Rhys Marshall, Dave (Killer) Kilcoyne, Tommy O’Donnell, Ronan O’Mahony, Dave Foley, Jean Kleyn, Rhys again and Dave O’Callaghan, sucking in the defence before Duncan sent the pass wide to Jaco who scored his 6th try.  We could even hear the Dragons players talking during the silence as Tyler kicked the conversion.

Jaco continued his impressive defence when he and Darren combined well to drive the Dragons winger Pat Howard into touch.

Shortly after when the Dragons were attacking the Munster line Tyler intercepted a pass and charged out of the Munster 22m.  Knowing he did not have the pace to run the length of the pitch he checked to see who was in support before kicking infield as he approached the Munster 10m line for the chasing Conway and Sweetnam.  From that distance we could really appreciate the pace of Andrew as he raced after the ball which bounced up well for him to gather it without breaking stride, fend off the sole defender Dorian Jones and touchdown beside the posts.  Tyler converted to make it 17-3 after twenty minutes. Half way to the bonus point win we hoped!  Andrew’s pace in chasing the chip by Tyler was almost “rewarded” by naming this weeks blog “Speedy Conzales” in his honour.

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The TMO advised foul play was committed when #5 Landman shoulder charged Conway as he got up from a tackle.  Tyler tried to get too much distance out of the resultant penalty and failed to find touch.  Munster claimed possession back through Sweetnam and Tyler put in a lovely grubber to bring play midway into the Dragons 22m.  The Dragons lineout was put under pressure and Munster won back possession.

There was controversy when Dave Foley was tackled around his legs, lifted up and dropped to land heavily on his shoulder.  We thought it was surely a card offence but the TMO and referee were satisfied that a penalty was sufficient.  Darren O’Shea came on to replace Dave.  The ball was kicked to touch and Munster were on the attack.  Dragons were penalised again, this time for taking out the lifter and again Darren claimed the Munster throw.  The maul was pulled down so the forwards took on the defence.  Jack came close then Williams picked out Jaco again to score from about a metre out right beside the post.  Tyler had no problem adding the conversion to make it 24-3.  The bonus point by half-time was looking possible with 11 minutes left.

However, from the restart the Dragons won a penalty for not releasing which they kicked up to the 5m line.  The Dragons maul surged one way and then another and Munster conceded a penalty.  Again the Dragons kicked for touch and deployed their maul. They thought they had scored but the referee could not see a grounding with the mass of bodies from both sides.

Andrew Conway required a HIA and was replaced by Dan Goggin who took up position on the wing.  From the 5m scrum Munster drove them back initially but Dragons retained possession.  Another advantage for not rolling away kicked to touch and the line-out and maul set up again and this time they succeeded in scoring the try through Rhys Buckley.  Dorian Jones added the conversion to make it 24-10. “There’s your 4th try before half-time” said Kevin with three minutes left!

From the restart the Dragons under pressure passed the ball deep in their own 22 before a loose pass went straight into touch.  From the lineout Jack carried towards the line, then Killer.   Jaco came close to scoring a hat trick but was short, then Killer took it on again. A scrum was awarded as the ball was unplayable and the pack drove forward.  Munster won another penalty and opted to scrum again as the clock went past 40 minutes.  From that scrum it went wide and Rory Scannell was just inches from the line when he was tackled.  Munster still were in possession and the pass to the wing was knocked down with one hand – so after consultation with the TMO it was deemed to have prevented a probable try and the full back Carl Meyer was yellow carded for an intentional knock on and a penalty try was awarded.  Tyler kicked over the conversion to go in at the break 31-10 up.

During the break the minis enjoyed a lively game while over on the west side the record-setting Sinead Kane and her sighted co-runner John O’Regan were warmly welcomed by the crowd.  How inspirational her accomplishment of running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days was as she told us: ”I wanted to show people that a disability should never hold you back”

Jean Kleyn who had been treated several times did not return for the second half so Conor Oliver came on with Dave O’Callaghan moving into the second row.

I noted that the sin binned player had a foil wrap to keep warm. Kevin wondered what he would do with the foil when he left the bin! It did not get over to us anyway.

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We looked longingly at the foil blanket as the cold seeped into our bones.

Despite the man advantage Munster failed to capitalise though they had some good attacks including a super kick ahead by Tyler which Darren Sweetnam collected.  A few minutes later Darren gathered a Dragons kick and weaved his way to the halfway line before passing to Ronan who charged into the 22.  Unfortunately his pass to the supporting Jack did not go to hand and Dragons were able to clear the danger again.

Darren Sweetnam was replaced by Francis Saili resulting in a Munster backline of four centres with Jaco moving to fullback and Dan on the wing.

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Jaco moved to full back when Saili replaced Sweetnam

Darren O’Shea was sinbinned after charging in to clear out a ruck “with no attempt to grasp the body.”  Brian Scott came on for Archer shortly before Rhys Marshall was replaced by Kevin O’Byrne.  Another driving maul from a lineout on the Munster 5m line resulted in a try for Dragons awarded to Elliot Dee their replacement hooker.  Dorian Jones converted to make it 31-17.

Rory Scannell stooped to grab the ball in the Munster half and accelerated through a gap to charge deep into the Dragons 22.  Phase after phase Munster applied pressure near the Dragons line.  Ronan O’Mahony came close as did Duncan Williams.

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Munster putting the Dragons line under pressure.

From the restart O’Byrne came close before Killer took it on and there was no stopping him as Jack and Brian helped drive him over.  Tyler converted to maintain the 100% kicking record of both teams in the game and bring the score to 38-17 with 15 minutes left. A great achievement to get a try during the sinbin period!

Pat Howard who played for Munster as a medical joker some years ago made a super break down the east wing for Dragons but as he slowed to gather his kick ahead Rory caught up to tackle him.  The referee was not sure which restart applied so had to call on the TMO for assistance which earned him a sarcastic “three cheers for the referee” from a bright spark on the terrace as he awarded Munster the scrum for the knock-on.

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Preparing for a second half scrum featuring Kevin, Brian, Darren and Conor from the A team.

Killer was replaced by Peter McCabe.  Dan Goggin made a super run to bring play back close to the Dragons 5m line and ensured Munster stayed in the right area of the pitch. When Jaco went off with 7 minutes remaining Abrie Griesel – a scrum-half for Young Munster – came onto the wing with Ronan switching to full back.

Dragons continued their efforts to break out of their half but the defence held firm.  Darren O’Shea intercepted a pass with Brian Scott in support but possession was turned over.  Dragons began to find some space but a great tackle by Ronan O’Mahony won possession back and Rory tried to set Dan off down the win only to be called back for a forward pass.  Three minutes remained but as per the first half there was to be another final score at the close.  Jack made another good break into the Dragons 22 but it was a clearance kick in the 79th minute which was received by Ronan and he accelerated through a gap to extend his lead at the top of the try scoring charts for this season.  Tyler converted and the full time whistle blew.

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Match stats from ESPN are here

Munster: Andrew Conway (Goggin 32); Darren Sweetnam (Saili 55), Jaco Taute (Griesel 73), Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal – capt., Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer (Scott 56); Jean Kleyn (Oliver HT), Dave Foley (O’Shea 24); Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue.  Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Peter McCabe, Brian Scott, Darren O’Shea, Conor Oliver, Abrie Griesel, Francis Saili, Dan Goggin.

DRAGONS: Carl Meyer; Adam Hughes, Tyler Morgan, Adam Warren (Sam Beard ’61), Pat Howard; Dorian Jones (Angus O’Brien ’61), Tavis Knoyle (Sarel Pretorius ’61); Sam Hobbs (Thomas Davies ’63), Rhys Buckley (Elliott Dee ’52), Brok Harris (Lloyd Fairbrother ’63); Matthew Screech (Nick Crosswell ’53), Rynard Landman; Ollie Griffiths, Nic Cudd (Harrison Keddie ’69), Lewis Evans.

I think I overheard the ultimate compliment for Duncan Williams as someone mused the number 9 was really Conor Murray wearing a scrum cap!

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The choir perform in front of a full house

I spotted Joan and Kevin as I arrived so I stopped to enquire how her TV appearance at the Racing 92 game had been received!  After the game John said hello as he passed by heading for Waterford.  I am sure he was delighted with the local hero claiming the MOTM.  Ian also spotted me as he was leaving and when he took off his glove to shake hands I was amazed by how warm his hands were compared to mine!  He made a good investment in his gloves. Bernie and Edward had arranged to meet after the game. They had arrived early and with free seating in the stand had opted to sit right behind the team.  Bernie was delighted to get a photo with Andrew Conway and a high-five with Rassie 😊  They are also planning to attend A team quarter-final in the British and Irish Cup in March against Ulster A.  It is great for MRSC members to get free entry to the only home Munster action in March.  Like me they had also bought their tickets for the European Quarter final in April also which went on sale to members during the week.

During the week I was pleased to pass the 75,000 views milestone.  While other blogs may get that number of hits in a few months or even weeks a lovely community has built up over the past four years since I started writing this.  The appreciative comments on the blog facebook page and Twitter when I publicized the milestone are testament to that.  Regular readers will know that I love when virtual becomes reality and I get to meet some of you!  I was delighted during the week to get an email from Olive who comments from time to time and read that I plan to go to Cardiff for the away game on March 4th.  She is also planning to go and offered me a lift from Bristol so I am looking forward to meeting her as well as Peter and Daryl then.  If any more of my readers are going to the Cardiff game let me know!

Some match reports from the Irish Independent, Irish Examiner, The42.ie and Wales online

TG4 player has the program here

I enjoyed the TG4 interview pre-game with Tyler Bleyendaal which is also available on their player here

Super action shows from the MRSC photographers here – all included in the blog are my own.

Congrats to Ireland who won in Italy with a great debut by Niall Scannell, two tries finished by Keith Earls and three by MOTM CJ Stander who is probably on everyone’s Fantasty Rugby team!  Glad he is on mine anyway.  I had Jack on my Pro12 fantasy team so his MOTM was good for my team in that league also 🙂

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Scottish Smörgåsbord: Edinburgh: 9 – Munster: 10

The baltic conditions combined with the disruption to squads as a result of the increased involvement of Munster players in the Irish camp meant we were not treated to champagne rugby.  Instead we watched a mix of superb line-breaks, thrilling offloads, excellent touch finders and scrambling committed defence, undone at times by knock-ons, fumbles, kicks out on the full and missed tackles.

I headed into Dublin to watch the game with the supporters club.  For our appetizer we enjoyed the first half of the women’s game and were delighted to track the second half on our phones to see them go on to grab the bonus point win in the final play of the game!  COYGIG!  The game from Myreside was of course our main course while the second half of the Under 20s provided an enjoyable dessert when they came from behind to secure a valuable away win to start their 6 Nations campaign.  Meanwhile in Limerick, Bill Johnson made his return from injury with Garryowen and may see some game time for the Under 20s later in the campaign or like 19 year-old Calvin Nash who after impressing in the AIL and A team made his debut on the wing for the senior team Bill may also get game time with Munster.

The Six Nations window provided an opportunity for some of the younger players who had performed well for the A team in the B&I Cup to take a step up while others returning from injury wanted to give a timely reminder to the management of what they have to offer also.

Despite Munster doing well with their opening scrum, Edinburgh took the lead in the 6th minute arising from a scrum penalty which Jason Tovey kicked between the posts.  Rhys Marshall got Munster on the front foot with a super break as both sides weighed each other up.  It was interesting to see Jaco Taute at full back with Dan Goggin partnering Francis Saili in midfield.  Jaco has shown great hands at centre and those skills were on display again after 12 minutes when his lovely offload out of the tackle put Ronan O’Mahony away down the wing.  Ronan’s kick ahead was carried over the try line by the defence and put Munster into an excellent attacking position with a 5m scrum.  Dan Goggin took it up in midfield before the forwards edged closer to the line, Stephen Archer celebrating his 100th Pro12 appearance, Conor Oliver, Dave Foley, Jean Kleyn, sucking in the defence. Then Duncan went wide, finding captain on the night Tyler Bleyendaal,  whose inside pass to Ronan put him over the line.  A well deserved try since it was his break and chase which had set up the attack.  That was his 8th try of the season, ahead of Zebo on 6!  Tyler converted to make it 3-7 after 16 minutes.

A penalty conceded for not rolling away allowed Edinburgh to get a foothold deep in Munster territory.  When Duncan Williams kicked the ball out of Kennedy’s hands as he was passing it from the base of a ruck it resulted in a yellow card for Duncan and another 3 points for Edinburgh from the boot of Tovey to make it 6-7 after 24 minutes.

Dan Goggin put in a super kick to pin Edinburgh back and shortly after Tyler did the same.  In previous games when the scrumhalf was in the bin Ian Keatley has stepped in as scrumhalf but there did not seem to be anyone designated this time.  At times it was Stephen Archer, Calvin Nash, Jack O’Donoghue or Conor Oliver who stepped into that role.

A super line break by Rhys Marshall after half an hour of play moved Munster deep into the opposition 22 again.  Unfortunately, his pass intended for Saili was gratefully received by an Edinburgh player instead and another promising attack ended but it was good to see Munster on the attack despite being a man down.

Calvin Nash gathered a long kick and ran it back but when possession was turned over a great kick by Tovey pinned Munster back as he targeted the space where the winger was missing.  From the Munster lineout a knock-on gave Edinburgh a scrum in the Munster 22 as Dave Kilcoyne came on for Peter McCabe.   Edinburgh put on the pressure and won a penalty which Tovey kicked to take another three points as Duncan Williams prepared to return to action.  A rare sight indeed this season to see the scrum under such pressure.  Plenty to work on before the Dragons visit next Friday.

Approaching half-time another Munster try seemed possible when Conor Oliver burst through the defence but the move again broke down when possession was lost.  Still they were in the right part of the pitch.  Tyler and Killer got close to the line but were held up.  Munster had a scrum from which Goggin got close, as did both Daves (O’Callaghan and Kilcoyne) but credit to the Edinburgh defence who ensured it was the home side who went in 9-7 ahead at the break.

As one of the lads said “Munster don’t do easy” – although we have enjoyed the luxury of some big wins this year to dispel that myth! – but with just one score in the 2nd half for which we were waiting a long time it certainly made for tense viewing.   The rain fell in earnest to make handling more difficult in the second half.

Shortly after the resumption Tommy and Billy added experience to the pack before Dan moved to the wing in place of Calvin as Rory Scannell made his appearance from the bench.  Kevin O’Byrne and Brian Scott came into the front row replacing Rhys and Stephen with about half an hour remaining.

Strong defence of a Edinburgh maul put Munster back on the front foot and forced Edinburgh to launch an attack from their own half again but they still had a two point lead.

Duncan put up a box kick which was chased hard by Ronan but Hoyland won possession.  However it did put Munster into the right area of the pitch and a turnover won by Kevin handed possession back to Munster.  A late tackle on Jaco as Munster went on the attack earned Munster a penalty kick on the half way line.  Rory kicked it to just outside the Edinburgh 22.

Kevin found Dave O’Callaghan in the lineout.  When the maul made no ground Rory Scannell carried strongly in midfield.  However when he was tackled by Phil Burley, the latter tried to play the ball on the ground to concede a penalty.  “Take the points” we urged as the penalty was awarded in front of the posts.  Tyler took the kick and the lead with 13 minutes remaining.

I could hear “low lie” ringing out to show that there was good travelling support at the new Edinburgh home ground on a miserable night.  A bit more musical than the “you’re all offside” I heard chanted later!

As the clock ticked down both teams ensured a dramatic finale.  Edinburgh went through over 20 phases of play but the Munster defence showed it is a force to be reckoned with despite missing key personnel as they drove Edinburgh back into their own half time and again, keeping their discipline.  Eventually there was a mistake, a penalty conceded for not rolling away.  As the clock was in the red Hidalgo-Clyne took a quick tap and Munster had to let him go 10m before he was tackled.  A few phases later, Munster conceded another penalty on the half way line for the same offence and if it was not the last kick of the game there might have been a card shown as Ben Whitehouse had a word with the captain.

We don’t deserve to win” my glass half empty neighbour said but I countered that Edinburgh had not done enough to deserve the win either!  Blair Kinghorn stepped forward.  Would it be a repeat of Leicester away?  No! As his kick fell short we were able to breathe again and celebrate being top of the table!  Winning ugly sure beats losing ugly!

Stats are available on ESPN here

Munster: Jaco Taute; Calvin Nash (R Scannell 47), Francis Saili, Dan Goggin; Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal Capt, Duncan Williams; Peter McCabe (D Kilcoyne 31), Rhys Marshall (K O’Byrne 52), Stephen Archer (B Scott 52); Jean Kleyn, Dave Foley (B Holland 43); Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver (T O’Donnell 43), Jack O’Donoghue.    Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Darren O’Shea, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Angus Lloyd, Rory Scannell.

EDINBURGH: Blair Kinghorn; Damian Hoyland, Chris Dean, Phil Burleigh (Michael Allen, 78), Tom Brown; Jason Tovey, Sean Kennedy (Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 69); J Cosgrove, Neil Cochrane (C) (Stuart McInally, 57′), Murray McCallum, Fraser McKenzie, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, John Hardie (Viliame Mata, 65), Cornell Du Preez.

In the absence of CJ Stander 🙂 the Man of the Match was awarded to Ronan O’Mahony.

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Ronan O’Mahony -photo I took in Thomond recently

The start of the rugby viewing marathon weekend brought to mind that the 22 game league is a marathon, not a sprint and it is hard-fought victories like this during the international window that test the depth of our squad and can make or break our play-off ambitions. So while not easy viewing (or playing I assume) it is great to go back to top of the table. There will be plenty to work on during the week to prepare for the run of 4 games against Welsh opposition during the six nations…Dragons (H), Ospreys (A), Scarlets (H) and then Cardiff (A)

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11 wins out of 13 is a superb improvement on last season and puts up a point clear of Ospreys who will be gunning for revenge when we visit later this month after their whitewash in Cork.

Match reports from Edinburgh rugby here, Irish Examiner here and The42.ie post match thoughts of Rassie Erasmus here.

Highlights

Check out https://www.facebook.com/wtview which is where I post interesting articles, podcasts etc. during the week.  One worth sharing in case you missed Gift Grub during the week – Radio ROG and the inspirational Paul O’Connell – you should check it out here.

I’ll be in Cork for the game next Friday, hopefully conditions will be kinder for players and supporters 🙂

22 Comments

Bienvenue and Welkom to our home! Munster: 22 – Racing 92: 10

Back in Thomond for our first visit of 2017 with a home quarter-final on the line and the return of Ronan O’Gara, it was fantastic to be at another sold out game!  The third Irish province to take on French opposition over the weekend, would we be the first to win or would the gruelling run of three European games in a row, two on the road take their toll?

Munster made a good start but Racing 92 showed early on that they had come to play and indeed they dominated the opening quarter.  We were hoping to see less of the action up our side!  When Jean Kleyn went offside at a ruck Maxime Machenaud had a penalty attempt at goal after 12 minutes.  With Donnacha Ryan facing him down, giving him his “look” the kick fell short.  Dave Kilcoyne was introduced early when James Cronin injured  his hand.

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Peter O’Mahony claims a first half lineout

Andrew Conway chased box kicks all night and when he could not secure possession himself he made it difficult for the Racing players.  Heading into the second quarter he chased and knocked back his own garryowen into Munster hands, getting the team into the Racing half.  A penalty was awarded to Munster which the left foot of Rory Scannell kicked to great effect, putting Munster almost up to the opposition 5m line.  The maul could not get going as Racing collapsed it but Munster had advantage.  Then Racing went offside and Munster had a penalty opportunity to kick at goal for 3 points.  Instead captain Peter O’Mahony opted for the scrum and it was great to see them push the heavy Racing pack back.  However when the ball came out to Rory Scannell he was not able to get through their defence.  Munster choose to scrum again from the next penalty awarded. Despite another great drive by the pack forcing the visitors to retreat they were told by the referee to use the ball.  It went out to the backs and Rory got to within a meter of the line but again the defence held firm.  Possession was retained though, and Jean, CJ, Killer, and Zebo all came close as did Tommy.  Then American football style Murray tried to dive over and it looked like he had just made it.  However the referee awarded a 5m scrum to Racing 92 for a knock-on after a long discussion with the TMO to our disappointment.

A few minutes later from a Munster lineout near the Racing 10m line, CJ Stander burst through the defence and almost got to the line before being hauled down.

When Benjamin Dambielle tackled Murray he was sent to the bin and Munster opted for the scrum again but despite a good burst by Stander there was no way through and a few phases later Munster knocked on to hand possession back to Racing 92.  To be scoreless at the half hour mark was definitely not what we had expected or what their efforts deserved but you had to credit the Racing defence.

Typically it was Peter O’Mahony heading by example, who single-handedly stopped Racing clearing their lines by dragging down their #8 when he had tried to charge from the base of the scrum.  Peter was then straight up on his feet challenging for the ball to win the turnover and keep the pressure on Racing.  From that scrum they went on the attack again and even got over the line but could not ground the ball.  However Marc Andreu had been offside so another penalty was awarded.  Lineout secured, then the maul formed, from which Niall Scannell went on the charge, followed by Jaco Taute before Simon Zebo wrestled his way through to ground the ball despite being surrounded by two defenders who tried to wrap him up while a third was beneath him.

It had taken till the 37th minute to score and the floodgates never opened as Racing 92 were determined to redeem themselves after their capitulation in Paris.  Indeed it took a super tackle by Zebo to stop Andreu scoring at the other end of the pitch and a good challenge by Ronan O’Mahony to prevent him claiming a subsequent cross field kick to keep the Munster try line intact.  Instead a penalty for not releasing earlier in the play allowed Racing 92 to put 3 points on the board before half-time.

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Donnacha Ryan giving Maxine the eye

During half time there was a tribute to the team of 1967, marking the anniversary of their famous victory by 11-8 on January 25th over Australia.  The minis had a good run out.  There was a lot of support near us for the team from Crosshaven but I am sure family and friends of each of the four teams (Dunmanway, St Senans, Clonakilty and Crosshaven) enjoyed seeing their youngsters playing in Thomond.  I was also delighted that Dee who was in Paris and Glasgow with Joe over the past two weekends supporting the team won the “selfie” competition sponsored by SnapParcel.com, who had won the Bank of Ireland competition to have their business’ name on the jerseys for the game..

Munster started the second half well and when Nakarawa was penalisd for a high tackle on Tyler he was able to make it 10-3 within minutes of the restart.

Another great kick by Rory pinned Racing back inside their own 22.  Peter capitalised on the position to steal the lineout but as play went wide a fumble by Zebo handed back possession.  Racing lost the ball and Munster took advantage.  Ronan O’Mahony was nearly in the corner but the defence just got to him in time.

However minutes later he did score after the pack had done some damage through the maul, then carries by Niall, CJ, Donnacha and Tommy supported by Killer sucked in the defence before Tyler and Rory moved the ball wide.  Ronan collected the pass and almost tripped but he managed to control his fall to get over the line.  The conversion made it 17-3 but resistance had not been broken. Indeed the visitors were back on the attack and approaching the hour mark Teddy Thomas and Henry Chavancy combined, the latter just got to the whitewash with Simon Zebo on his back.  The TMO had no reason not to award the try and the cameraman was right there to capture the reaction on the west terrace where Pascal and Francis were so delighted and excited that in the spirit of friendship Joan celebrated with the former by giving him a kiss on the cheek.  No need to kiss and tell in this instance since her husband Kevin was right behind her smiling at their excitement. That clip, featuring me beside her made it into both the TG4 and the official Sky highlights and will probably not surprise anyone who knows her as the very first time we spoke – on a bus going to watch Northampton v Munster – she was being called “Sky Sports Joan” by her family due to her frequent appearances on TV!  It was all part of the joie de vivre and bonhomie we were enjoying with our guests although we told them (and they jokingly agreed) that that was enough now – no more French scores please!

Ronan O’Mahony had another close call after 68 minutes but could not finish off the score after his excellent chase.  Two minutes later we were celebrating for real when Tyler and Rory again combined to move the ball wide at pace.  When the pass went between Ian Keatley and Andrew Conway, the latter did well to gather it and make ground down the wing.  Fending off the defence he made space for Keatley running in support to collect his pass and score his first European try!  The smile on Ian’s face was priceless!  His contributions to the team this season whether at outhalf, centre or full back have demonstrated his versatility and I was delighted for him to get on the scoreboard and for Munster to move the crucial 12 points clear of Racing 92.  The visitors kept up the pressure while Munster were also hunting for a bonus point but there were no more scores.

Munster had the benefit of playing later than the other contenders for home quarter finals – Clermont had sealed top place, while Leinster’s draw had opened the door for Saracens or Munster to claim second place. Saracens had kicked off mid afternoon and won but only by 10-3 and hence Munster just needed to beat them on points difference – the bonus point was not essential.  When Rory Scannell kicked the ball out some felt he should have set up an attempt to go for the fourth try but he knew it was not necessary.  After three gruelling European games in three weeks it was great to celebrate the win, second place and a home quarter-final with the team.

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Peter O’Mahony leads the team over to salute the supporters.

Pity Connacht could not make it four Pro12 quarter-finalists!  Munster are in the same side of the draw as Saracens so if both win their home games the semi-final will be in Ireland.  However if Glasgow win in Allianz Park (where the 4G pitch will not pose a challenge to them) then they would have home country advantage.  Quarter final dates will be confirmed later this week.  The last visit by Toulouse was a great day in Thomond and the first European MOTM award for CJ Stander.

Munster: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: D Kilcoyne for J Cronin (12 mins), F Saili for J Taute (47 mins), B Holland for J Kleyn (51 mins), R Marshall for N Scannell (58 mins), T du Toit for J Ryan (67 mins), I Keatley for S Zebo (69 mins), D Williams for C Murray (70 mins).  Not used: Jack O’Donoghue

Racing 92: Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Henry Chavancy, Etienne Dussartre, Marc Andreu; Benjamin Dambielle, Maxime Machenaud; Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Ben Tameifuna; Manuel Carizza, Leone Nakarawa; Yannick Nyanga, Matthieu Voisin, So’otala Fa’aso’o. Replacements: C Gomes Sa for B Tameifuna (30 mins), Julien Brugnaut for E Ben Arous (54 mins), F Pourteau for B Dambielle, A Vulivuli for E Dussartre (both 63 mins), C Masoe for Y Nyanga (64 mins), A Williams for L Nakarawa (65 mins), J Hart for M Machenaud (74 mins), B Tameifuna for C Gomes sa (76 mins).

When I had read Ronan O’Gara’s column in the Examiner on Friday I wondered if he was playing mind games with Munster or with his own team – daring them to prove him wrong!  At the end he was pleased with their performance.  They did him proud. It also did Munster and Thomond Park credit.  Munster will learn more from that tough test of our defence than the facile bonus point win that some had predicted.  The fact that the team are disappointed with aspects of their performance shows how much hunger and determination they have to continue on their upward path.

The detailed stats are on ESPN

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ESPN Stats

Post match thoughts from Ronan, Simon and Billy on the Munster Rugby site – click here

Highlights from YouTube (unless channel GG taken down for copyright breach)

There are several interesting video clips on the Sky site including the highlights (including this weeks kiss on the terrace!!), MOTM CJ’s post match interview with some scenes of the team celebrating with the crowd and their interview with ROG including his views of the current Munster team and his future plans.

Match report from the Independent and The42.ie and plenty of positivity in the Irish Examiner.

SOCIAL SIDE: bonhomie:

Thanks for the positive feedback on last weeks social section, it is what makes this blog unique:-)

I wrote after the Leicester game that the fear factor is back, after this weekend the “awe” factor is back too.  Some lovely tweets from the Racing 92 players about the atmosphere and below from Sky analyst Will Greenwood while Thierry Dusasatoir of Toulouse remembers their visit in 2014 when he was injured so did not play.  He is looking forward to experiencing it himself in April.

I arrived in Limerick before 3 so I popped into the MRSC bar to see the recording of the Sky sports studio chat during the break between the Clermont and Saracens games.  Representatives from both the Racing 92 and MRSC Supporters Clubs were interviewed about the special bond which has developed between the two as a result of the tragic death of Anthony Foley in Paris in October. May he rest in peace. I had a word with Sinead, Pascal, James and the “other” Sinead before heading down to join the guard of honour to greet the team buses.  As I passed the entrance to the west terrace the regulars had started to queue so I said hello and reminded them to keep a place for me. Over in front of the east stand I met Aideen and Judi with the Racing 92 supporters they had gotten to know at the game in Paris two weeks earlier.

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Racing 92 supporters with Judi and Aideen

Well done to the MRSC who had gathered a large crowd to line the drive from the road up to the entrance where the players enter the stadium.  It was much better than the previous times when we lined the main road only for the bus to pass in the flash of an eye!  I gave my flag to young Odhran who had travelled up with his dad from Dingle to his first game in Thomond.  Credit also to the various businesses in Limerick who welcomed the visiting fans also with banners and special offers.  It was great to have the opportunity to greet Racing 92 and repay their warm welcome, support and hospitality two weeks earlier and in October (as detailed here).  Regular contributor John recorded the Racing bus arrival to give you a sense of the crowd gathered there.

I headed over to the west terrace where a good crowd had already gathered. We were delighted to meet Pascal and Francis from the Racing 92 Supporters Club who were seated in front of us as they were to participate in the flag bearing group to welcome the teams to the pitch.

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Pascal in his Racing 92 cap and scarf carrying the Munster flag. A unique moment. Photo by Ivan O’Riordan

Their English was great and we made an effort with the cupla focal francais (a few words of French) especially Paul who had met them in Paris and Tony who likes to be multi-lingual as he frequently demonstrates in his comments on this blog.  They asked where Axel was buried and how far away it was as they were thinking about visiting the following day. (Francis emailed me the following week and told me they went there and left a Racing 92 flag on his grave after paying their respects.)  Francis was also asking how much we pay for our tickets.  When I showed him my season ticket he asked about my surname and what it meant.  He gave me his card so I sent him the photos and link to this blog and he enjoyed reading about his visit and the previous one about the Munster visit to Paris.

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Pascal and Francis from the Racing 92 supporters Club got a great welcome on the West Terrace.  Thanks to Ger for taking the photo.  Note this was taken an hour before kickoff!  Good crowd in early

As kick off approached I was looking forward to the welcome heat of the flames as it was a bitingly cold evening. I should have worn an extra layer!  Tony asked if anyone had brought the toast and I think it was Pascal (from Limerick not Paris) who replied he wanted French toast, in honour of our guests!

We were a bit bemused by the footwear of the Racing 92 tight head prop when he came out for a look around before changing for the warm-up!

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Are those Uggs? I could have done with a pair myself!

There was a big cheer from the east as Ronan O’Gara took to the pitch to participate in the warm-up.  It was a special day for him even though he was disappointed his team were not in contention for the play-offs. Keith Earls who picked up an injury during training was not on the team so he was interviewed pitchside pre-game. When asked about Ronan O’Gara he said that it was thanks to ROG and his team mates that we have such a great stadium as Thomond to enjoy days like this.

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ROG back on the Thomond pitch where he enjoyed many great days

Speaking of guests, Darren Sweetnam was passing by – maybe returning from media duties or meeting the minis.  Ger asked him and Francis to go over the Gayl… I just heard my name being taken in vain and looked up to see what he was talking about.  I don’t think either of them knew who Gayl was!  Then he told them to turn around to face me and I was still looking at them blankly to see what was up, when it was revealed he wanted me to take a photo of the 2 men!  So I duly obliged.  It would have been nice to get one of Darren with the gang of us behind him also but maybe next time there is a player visiting we could arrange that. It will be great to see Darren back playing next month hopefully.

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Darren Sweetnam and Francis

More great photos from the day captured by the MRSC Official photographers Ivan and John on their facebook page here

After a rousing rendition of “Stand Up and Fight” we were ready for action. The teams entered the pitch with the French captain carrying a beautiful bouquet of red and white flowers in memory of Anthony Foley, another lovely tribute from the team.

Outside the stadium it was nice to see Kathleen from MRSC London who had taken an early morning flight over for the game and hopes to return for the quarter-final.  Bernie and Ed stopped to say hello also before I went up to the MRSC bar which was busy.  The Downtown Dixieland band were entertaining the crowd and folks were in good spirits.

We got talking to some Flemish visitors who were over for the weekend, Marc Van de Peer, Walter Lambrechts and their friends from the RC Nijlen rugby team.  Marc was in Cardiff for the 2008 final and has been supporting Munster ever since!  They told us that they come over for the last home European pool game every year since. No one had a pen to write down the name of the blog so I was searching for WTView on Marc’s facebook app – which was a challenge as the keyboard had W on the bottom row not the top! We got there eventually and he liked the page so he can find it again.

Also over for their annual visit were members from the MRSC USA branch, many of whom were wearing shirts with “8” on the back.  As I was leaving Andy called me over to say hello to him and Steve who introduced me to Fiona.  Steve was telling me his mother was from Nenagh and how it was the posh side of Tipperary.  I felt obliged to defend my home town of Thurles even though I am not sure I want it to be described as posh!  Steve lives near Leicester now and very helpfully provided advice and taxi numbers to Munster supporters heading there for the last two seasons. For some reason, he was very keen to have his picture included in this weeks blog so the ever camera shy Mr Chips took this photo for us.

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Steve was in great form after the game

Also in the bar I met Dan who told me that he is a regular reader and had recognized me at Glasgow airport last weekend but did not want to disturb me.  It is always lovely to meet my readers, it’s not like there are thousands of you although hopefully there will be a few more views from France and Belgium as a result of the new friends made this weekend.  Au revoir!

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A welcome sign for our visitors present and those watching from Paris

A week later Christophe sent me this photo of the tribute they left at the grave of Anthony Foley, may he RIP.

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Christophe sent me a photo diary of their three day trip to Dublin, Limerick, Mountshannon and Killaloe which included this photo

A late addition from a friend of Johns:

I enjoyed seeing this video recorded from the East Stand as from the west terrace with the flames and smoke in front of us I had not seen the flowers or what happened to them.  Like the Maoris with the tee shirt the bouquet was presented with great respect.
13 Comments

It took everything! Glasgow: 12 – Munster: 14

“Whatever it takes” is the motto you see all around Scotstoun, and both teams gave it everything in this engrossing, closely contested, physical encounter.  Defences were severely tested and there was little to separate the sides as they exchanged penalties until a little piece of magic between Zebo, Earls and Saili finally gave Munster the breakthrough to take the lead. Then we had a nervous closing 7 minutes to endure!

Munster hardly got out of their own half in the opening minutes as Glasgow started strongly.  A penalty for collapsing the scrum was kicked by Finn Russell to put Glasgow onto the scoreboard after 12 minutes. Dave Kilcoyne got his revenge a few minutes later when from another scrum it was their tight head who was penalised.  The penalty kick attempted from half-way was short and Hogg cleared the ball – a quick lineout was not allowed and handbags ensued in midfield.

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John Ryan to the right takes on 2 warriors, That made it an even contest!

There was plenty of niggle between the sides throughout, Murray was not happy to be tackled after his box-kick but the officials had no issue with it.  That kick had moved Munster into the Glasgow half.  There they held onto possession until Lee Jones was penalised for a high tackle.  Tyler Bleyendaal kicked well to make it 3 all after 20 minutes.

From the restart we were all astounded to see CJ Stander concede a scrum for a knock-on as he failed to catch the ball cleanly.  However a key turnover shortly afterwards enabled Munster to go back on the attack.  Indeed while Glasgow had dominated the opening period it was Munster’s turn for a purple patch.  A reverse pass from Murray after a well executed lineout put Kilcoyne through the gap and he charged into their 22.  His front row partners were next to carry, Niall Scannell with Jack O’Donoghue on his shoulder and then John Ryan as Munster pressed hard.  Kilcoyne carried again, then Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony before play moved to the opposite side of the pitch but the Warriors defence held firm until after 12 phases they won a penalty and cleared the danger.

Just after the half hour mark, another long-range penalty was won by Glasgow when Munster failed to release the ball and Stuart Hogg stepped up to take it and make it 6-3 from just inside his own half (52m).  However just minutes later Josh Strauss got tangled up with Murray at the base of a ruck to concede a penalty and then a further 10m for backchat which made the kick easier.  Some booing of that decision ensued but Bleyendaal kicked the ball between the posts to tie the scores again after 35 minutes.

Another penalty for a high tackle earned the ref Luke Pearce more boos when he allowed Finn Russell to line up the penalty and then after intervention from the TMO insisted the ball be moved back to the half way line where the offence had occured a few phases earlier.  As a result the kick was attempted by Stuart Hogg but it was just wide.

Glasgow dominated the opening exchanges of the second half as they had the first.  Some great offloads and lines of running plus skip passes made them a constant threat and tested the impressive Munster defence.  After a sustained period of Glasgow possession Keith Earls read and intercepted the pass brilliantly.   However from the subsequent Glasgow lineout they again were on the attack.  Tim Swinson made a great linebreak through midfield into the Munster 22.  Andrew Conway managed to bring the big second row down but conceded a penalty when he could not roll away afterwards.  Finn Russell made it 9-6 after 47 minutes and it was no more than they deserved (with 81% possession for those 7 minutes.)

However from the restart Munster were back on the attack.  An excellent block down by Jean Kleyn unfortunately was recovered by Russell.

Tyler stepped up to level the scores again with just under half an hour to play when Fraser Brown did not release.

I wondered how much pressure Munster could absorb as they continued to defend in their own half.  Penalties against CJ in the 57th and 58th minutes gave Glasgow territory and another opportunity to kick for goal.  Finn Russell made it 12-9 as the game moved into the final quarter. Another penalty conceded shortly after allowed Glasgow kick for an excellent touch.

A shrill blast of the whistle and the referee called for the medics immediately which is always a bad sign.  There were no replays shown on the big screen so I was not sure who was involved.  After treatment Conor Murray was deemed ok to play on but a few minutes and a tackle or two later the referee told him he had to go off for a HIA.  He ran off the pitch.  (update Jan 16: Munster’s handling of the HIA to be reviewed)

Andrew Conway showed great aerial skills to win a high ball and when Tyler’s clearance kick took a deflection it gave Munster the throw in.  The microphones then picked up Andrew urging his teammates to get out of a maul and into position so Sky had to apologise for any offence caused.

Munster still had possession but needed to get into the opposition half.  Rory Scannell put in a super kick to take them to just outside the 22.  However, from the Glasgow lineout when Ali Price kicked straight into touch it gave Munster the throw in, just outside the 22.  Josh Strauss who had been immense limped off to be replaced by Chris Fusaro.  Rhys Marshall, after throwing in then took possession at the back of the maul.  We urged them on over the chants of “we are warriors” as the home supporters tried to encourage their men’s defensive efforts again.  The pack kept it tight for a dozen phases before the backs got a look in!  Saili burst forward, Duncan Williams was almost there, but the defence held firm.  However Munster kept plugging away within the 5m area.

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Two of the 21 phases – Rhys Marshall in possession in the left pic.

In the 21st phase of attack Tyler and Scannell combined to get the pass wide to Andrew Conway who raced forward.  Stuart Hogg caught him in the head with a flailing arm and while we thought it could be a penalty try the TMO decided it was a penalty and a yellow card as Lee Jones had managed to turn Conway to prevent him grounding.  Boos rang out as Munster kicked to touch, opting to try to win the game instead of looking to equalise once more as Conor Murray returned to play.  Lineout secured Munster went for the maul.  The Glasgow defence drove them back before collapsing and conceding advantage.  Play continued and with Glasgow missing their full back there had to be space out wide and so Munster went looking for it.  Tyler got the long pass to Zebo who made ground before getting his pass out of the tackle to Earls.  The interplay then between Earls and Saili was superb.  Earls brought the defence infield before pivoting to pass to Saili arching behind him, who went sailing over the line into the corner just 60s into the ten minute sinbin period.  The conversion just went the wrong side of the posts to set up the tense closing 7 minutes of the game – a penalty or drop goal would suffice for Glasgow as Simon Zebo (later seen with his knee iced) was replaced by Ian Keatley.

From the restart Munster secured possession but when Murray’s box kick was blocked down Glasgow were exactly where they needed to be – in the Munster 22.  Defence had to be robust and also discipline to survive this onslaught. Finn Russell moved into position for a drop goal but the option was not taken.  Five minutes still remained as Glasgow were pushed back out of the 22.  A dropped ball gave Munster a scrum and a chance to clear the danger again.  A reset of the scrum was welcome as the clock ticked down and though our nerves were shredded we urged them on.  Steam rose from the scrum as the rain fell.  Scannell kicked the ball back into the Glasgow half but they counter attacked.

The 63 metres run by Tim Swinson (MOTM) was the most by any player during the game and most of it was in that 77th minute.  A “gazelle” the Warriors fan behind me likened him to and it took a well executed tackle by Ian Keatley to bring him down after he had built up a head of steam.  Glasgow kept possession but opted for the chip ahead which Conway had covered.  He kicked it deep and Glasgow had to start again from just inside half-way.  Harley secured the lineout and the maul was formed but the defense held firm.

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Glasgow were being forced backwards until they managed a break down the wing.  Andrew Conway and Conor Murray combined to force Jones into touch and win possession back for Munster with less than a minute remaining.  By the time the lineout was thrown there were just 5 seconds left.  It wasn’t taken cleanly but it was in Munster hands and Murray kicked it out to bring the game to a close.

Highlights on SKY webpage here

Full game on YouTube

GLASGOW WARRIORS: Stuart Hogg (yellow card ’71); Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett (Nick Grigg ’63), Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Gordon Reid (Alex Allan ’78), Fraser Brown (Pat MacArthur ’63), Zander Fagerson (D’arcy Rae ’78); Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray (captain); Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson, Josh Strauss (Chris Fusaro ’68).  Replacements not used: Matt Fagerson, Grayson Hart, Peter Murchie.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Ian Keatley ’73); Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’57), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray (HIA – Duncan Williams ’65 to ’71); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’49), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’67), John Ryan (Thomas Du Toit ’61); Jean Kleyn (Billy Holland ’54), Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Dave Foley ’73), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.

Referee: Luke Pearce [RFU].

Match reports: Irish Times: here ; The 42.ie: here ; the Irish Independent here and the Scotsman here

The ThreeRedKings did an excellent analysis of the key 21 phases during the week which can check out here

Stats: from ESPN here show that Glasgow had more possession and territory in the second half

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The team walked around the stadium to thank their supporters and share their delight. Peter O’Mahony who had been taken off for a HIA in the closing stages was in good spirits.

Kiss and tell: CJ and Peter made up after a few words were exchanged when CJ conceded those two penalties in quick succession!  You can read CJ’s explanation in The42.ie here

Social side…

It was great to meet so many west terrace and other supporters over in Glasgow.  About 75% of the passengers on my Ryanair flight were Munster fans.  I enjoyed dinner with Paul on the Friday evening, hearing about his 7 month old daughter Anna and it was fun to chat about other rugby and non rugby topics also.  He is still on crutches so we didn’t go too far for food before catching some of the Leinster game.  Next morning I wandered around Glasgow.  At 10.30 there were not so many red jerseys out and about but I did see a few around the Cathedral which was worth a visit, but a bit of a walk up past the university area.  I said a prayer for Anthony Foley and for my mother there.

When I went back into the city I met the lads who are always behind us at Thomond who had arrived off the early morning flight.  After lunch I headed out to the stadium by train and met “MunsterBecks” on the platform before boarding so we had a good chat about how she has a season ticket for Glasgow and Scotland since she is working in Scotland but would naturally support Munster over Glasgow (and she was in her red Munster gear) and England or Ireland over Scotland in Murrayfield which confuses the heck out of the other season ticket holders sitting near her there!  She also told me how Rob who was with me at the Leicester home game had given her a lift from Manchester to the Leicester away game – another example of the great camaraderie between supporters.  She got off before Scotstoun so I started chatting to a Glasgow supporter as we walked to the grounds.  She was “working” with the supporters club so was heading in early.  I mentioned having read the Glasgow blogger earlier TopofTheMoon and she knew him by name which impressed me.  Then I realised that some of the MRSC committee would also know me, since I stand right behind them at the home games.

Anyway despite the gates not opening till 4pm I was not alone!  There were other Munster supporters there, one of whom recognised me from the MRSC Dublin gatherings at the River bar – with his ear-muffling hat on I did not recognise him but we had a good chat.  A stream of taxis deposited more supporters including Sinead and John from Waterford (and the WT) who had taken the afternoon flight from Dublin and come straight to the grounds.  They had the same taxi booked to collect them to 8 so I asked if I could join them – I wanted to pay my share but was not allowed so thanks John!

Fiona was handing out Munster flags so I complimented her Sky interview from Paris.  When I told her I could not hear her over the noise in the bar she joked that probably a lot who did hear could not understand her Cork accent!  I also met Joe, Dee and Hilary from my home town of Thurles.  Joe had bought 16 tickets when he saw they went on general release in December so he had made a lot of folks happy!  Glasgow had not experienced that Munster phenomena before as there is not the same amount of traveling support for league games.  The public sale of tickets boosted the 15% allocation to Munster. The official attendance was 7,351.  Hilary had travelled from Luxembourg through Charleroi and Edinburgh which was a bit of a trek but was delighted to be there and has booked out the quarter-final weekend and other key dates in her diary ready to SUAF again.  Priorities!

As the team bus arrived two pipers played.  When a few lads saw Jerry they burst into “There’s only one Jerry Flannery” which brought a smile to his face.

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Pipers welcome the team bus as we gather to cheer and wave our flags

Going through security I assumed my half empty bottle of water was more likely to be allowed than a full bottle (less of a missile I was thinking) but no, the sealed bottles were fine, the half empty one had to be binned in case I had “something” in it!  I saw a few hip flasks got inside while another man had his “wee drop” in a cough bottle!  Medicinal purposes to keep out the arctic chill!

The west stand is covered but a temporary and the metal base made a difference when the home support were stamping their feet and chanting “we are warriors, we are warriors.”  I was chatting to Sean seated near me, who had taken the bus and ferry option from Limerick, only to be unable to dock for 2 hours due to poor weather on arrival!  He introduced me to Niall Ronan’s mother so it was nice to have a chat with her.  I had enjoyed reading about his success with his local GAA club team in November.

I generally don’t like being behind the goal posts as you end up watching the action at the other end on the big screen but it was interesting to have a close eye on the Munster warm-up.  In Scotstoun the running track is between the pitch and the 2 main stands which means you are a lot further back from the action.

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I am used to seeing CJ warm up like this from the opposite terrace but the angle from behind the posts was good to see the power he is exerting against the two men

Local hero, Andy Wilson delivered the match ball.

After the game I met up with Sinead and John at the rendezvous point and the taxi had us at the airport in under half an hour.  A lot less hassle than my planned train and bus route.  The terminal was almost deserted with only the flight to Dublin and the charter flight back to Limerick for the squad and supporters on the schedule.  Mark and Ger who were waiting for the Limerick flight came over to chat to me.  Everyone was tired but happy.  A quarter-final secured with a game to spare.  Not a perfect performance but full of heart and grit and things to work on for next week, with the opportunity to ensure a home venue next weekend.  They will also be wary of not underestimating Racing 92 and Ronan O’Gara!

As the gate number for the Dublin flight was displayed the players began to filter through into the departure area.  John was keen to meet Jack to discuss the important match for Waterpark the following day in which Jack’s brother was expected to play.  As we were waiting we congratulated the others coming through, including Conor Oliver for the A team’s qualification for a home quarter-final in the B&I Cup.  He had played in Bandon on Friday night.  Then CJ arrived and Sinead got a selfie while I asked John to take a photo for me.  I was so thrilled when he mentioned the blog (I did not have to bring it up as a “by the way”) and more so when he said that he likes it.  When I mentioned getting a photo with him before in Glasgow he said that he remembered that, and commented that it was taken before boarding the team bus!  How many photos has he posed for since May 2014 with so many supporters?  It was a lovely moment for me, as I don’t write the blog for commercial reasons, I am not looking for a change in career, I just love supporting this team and sport.  So moments like that, or nice comments, shares, views etc. make the hours I spend on this worthwhile.  I was so excited I had to post about it on my facebook & twitter pages and there were some lovely comments back by the time I landed in Dublin.  it is no wonder CJ is such a favourite with supporters.

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Lovely to meet CJ at Glasgow airport.

PS I was glad to have my jacket inside my coat as it was bitterly cold at the game.  I had a base layer on also but had taken that off before the flight.

Watching the game back, the number of references to Lions throughout the commentary was high. I wonder can you take a bet on how often they will mention it?  I must ask my betting expert George next week 🙂

Next weekend is looking like a full house for the return of Ronan O’Gara and the chance to get into the top 4 for a home quarter-final.  There’s nowhere I’d rather be!

Thank for reading the longer than usual blog this week.  Check out my Facebook page for other updates.

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Above & Beyond: Racing 92: 7 – Munster: 32

 

At the European Cup launch Rassie Erasmus said: “When you look at the pool, you look for the easy games and when you look at this group you quickly realise that you are the easy game. We have to change that perception.”

Little did I think when I quoted that last October how events would unfold or how the team, management, supporters and broader rugby community would respond to the tragic death of Anthony Foley.  The performances of the team since then have surpassed all expectations as they play to honour the memory of Foley – determined to play the way he wanted.  The results have followed, with just the one loss since, away to Leicester, albeit with two close shaves both won by drop goals in the dying minutes in Ulster and Glasgow, where the team showed their grit, “never say die” attitude and pride in the jersey which honours Axel’s memory as much as the other bonus point wins.  The impact has been seen off the pitch also, with “Sold out” signs at most home games since, and a genuine bond between the team and supporters as the 16th man, woman and child has raised their game.  A far cry from last season when Anthony was appealing to the fans to come out and get behind the team.
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Back in October the sympathetic responses of the management and supporters of Racing 92 was appreciated but probably the depth of it was not even realised through the numbness of our shock and grief.  They could have insisted on the walkover given the congested nature of the French fixture list.  Instead they opened their hearts and their grounds to the Red Army who had arrived for the game.  In December we appreciated their thoughtful gesture of solidarity when they offered accommodation to the travelling supporters to save them the expense of hotel costs.  Then as match day approached the Racing Supporters again reached out, this time to invite the Red Army to join them to form a guard of honour to greet both team buses and we learnt that they planned to display 2 large banners to welcome Munster – one reading ‘AXEL’, while the other read ‘Red Army welcome back’Another gesture was then revealed – that the team and coaches planned to wear red tee shirts with A Foley and 8 on the back during their warm-up and that a minutes applause was planned prior to kick-off.  A special bond exists forever more between the two clubs.  Merci Racing 92 – you went above and beyond to show true sportsmanship and brotherhood through your response to the tragedy.  Your generosity and friendship will not be forgotten.  I hope we get the chance to show our appreciation to those who travel to Thomond later this month.

For the minutes applause the Munster team supported each other in their circle, while the Racing players also in a circle joined in the applause, as I did gathered in the River Bar with a large crowd of MRSC Dublin supporters.  Many had come early to watch the build-up on Sky, including our youngest member, six month old Leia who managed to sleep through the first half despite all the shouting, cheering and clapping!

The game itself was exciting, a very physical contest as Munster looked to dominate the French champions.  While this was a dead rubber for the home team, the depth in their squad ensured that there were many well-known names including our former centre Casey Laulala and the man who broke our hearts in Thomond in 2008 – Joe Rokocoko – with the incomparable Dan Carter to be launched from the bench.

Tommy O’Donnell made a great break in the opening minutes and his pass set Tyler Bleyendaal free.  I thought Tyler was going to make a similar try-scoring start as he had against Glasgow in October but Racing defence scrambled well to deny him.  Munster continued to pile on the pressure while Racing 92 conceded penalty advantage time and again to prevent them scoring.  After 11 minutes Munster took the penalty kick to get onto the scoreboard.  It was good to have something to show for their possession and territory.

Conor Murray put in a great tackle to force the Racing player into touch when they had a spell of possession.  From the lineout the ball got to Rory Scannell whose terrific kick brought play into their 22m again.  Pressure on the lineout pinned the home team back and won a valuable turnover.  The pack went through several phases of pick and goes before James Cronin almost crossed the line but he was just short in the 19th minute.

From that 5m scrum Munster won a penalty when Racing collapsed it.  Niall Scannell with a white chalk band across his forehead looked like an Amazonian warrior amongst a team of warriors!

Munster opted for another scrum, from which Rory Scannell took it on, bringing play just a few metres short of the tryline.  Peter O’Mahony was next to carry before Murray sent the ball out to Simon Zebo.  He showed his strength to take the tackle and roll over to score the opening try, his 50th for Munster and the 400th for the club in European competition.
Simon Zebo’s score captured by Sportsfile:

The conversion failed to turn in and the score of  0-8 did not seem to be an adequate reward for the pressure being exerted by Munster.  A great choke tackle by Peter and Donnacha stopped another promising Racing attack.  The steamy scrum gave an idea of how cold it was in Paris.  Time and again when Racing had the ball they were driven backwards by the very aggressive defence we have enjoyed seeing throughout this season.

Conor Murray competed in the air for a garryowen from Imhoff before Jaco Tatute kicked the ball deep into their 22 again.  Conway could not get there before it crossed the line but it was another great position to put the Racing lineout under pressure approaching the half hour mark.  Hats off to Donnacha for his excellent anti-mauling technique as he put Racing under tremendous pressure, coming through the middle to disrupt them and win the turnover.

While Munster did not score a try from that pressure, Racing conceded a penalty in the 32nd minute which Bleyendaal converted to move them to 0-11.  Just three minutes later, CJ Stander charged forward to block the kick from Dambielle.  Rory Scannell collected the ball and got over the gainline.  When he was tackled the ball was recycled quickly to Peter O’Mahony.  He passed to CJ who was back in position and more than ready to charge for the line, to score the try despite the efforts of  two tacklers.  It was the look of pure joy on Peter O’Mahony’s face as he slid in beside him celebrating the score that made me smile even more broadly as the scoreline moved to 0-18 thanks to the successful conversion.

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Poor Casey Laulala got a boot in the face as he tackled Tommy and had to be bandaged up.  Tommy looked to be in trouble a minute before half-time as he had kicked a ball out of his own half and seemed to be tackled as he kicked.  Given his ankle injury the previous week it was worrying but after treatment he was good to continue as was Casey.  (updated Jan 9th – Tommy injured his other ankle and went off early in the 2nd half.  His foot is in a moon boot so doubtful for Glasgow)

Munster had a lineout to finish the half and when their maul was stopped Conor Murray’s grubber bounced well for Andrew Conway hugging the try line to gather and score.  The TMO confirmed he did not have a foot in touch and was not ahead of the kicker as the crowd could be heard singing the Fields of Athenry.  The conversion made it 0-25 which was a much better reflection of the dominance of the team.  Great photo of Andrew Conway scoring from Inpho:

Starting the second half Racing 92 came out with more intent and won 2 of their 4 penalties against Munster in the opening two minutes.  Donnacha Ryan stayed down injured momentarily and we watched anxiously for him to rejoin the fray.  Conor Murray stripped the ball in a choke tackle.  A missed pass gave Racing 92 a sniff but Ronan O’Mahony covered back well and the support arrived quickly to ensure no turnover.

Tommy was replaced by Jack O’Donoghue.  It was not quite a turning point in the match but when Racing were awarded a free kick from a Munster put into the scrum after 49′ and opted to scrum, the force exerted by the Munster pack to win a penalty against the head was a sure declaration of intent and was cheered as loudly as all the earlier scores.  Watching them drive the Racing 92 pack backwards at pace was a thing of beauty!

That penalty brought them deep into the other half.  Repeated infringements  – side entry to try to stop the Munster maul, collapsing the next maul which lead to a team warning – were kicked to touch.  We were of course protesting that no yellow card was shown to the French team for all the penalties they had conceded in their own 22 in both halves (10 conceded in total versus 4 by Munster).  The lineout continued to function well, and in the 54th minute launched another maul.  This time the pack got motoring – Niall Scannell at the back touched down for the valuable bonus point try and we could relax a little with the score at 0-32 after 55 minutes.  It also allowed the substitutes to be used early, Saili and Earls (making his 50th European appearance) replacing Taute and Ronan O’Mahony while Dave Kilcoyne came on for James Cronin.   Niall Scannell’s bonus point try captured by Sportsfile:

Keith Earls had a great take in the air but was pushed into touch.  He got up and faced off against one of the tallest men on the pitch!

A slip by Zebo gave Racing space and Matthieu Voisin took his chance to open the scoring for the home team.  Dan Carter’s conversion made it 7-32 approaching the final quarter-hour of the game.  Stephen Archer and Duncan Williams came on for John Ryan and Conor Murray.  Keith Earls continued to probe the defence and combined well with Zebo approaching the final 10 minutes.

More picks and goes kept Racing pinned back deep, defending their line.  Dave Foley came on for Donnacha.  As the camera focused on Donnacha  stripping off the tape around his head, he got another cheer- he was immense and along with his second row partner Billy Holland had the top tackle count – Billy top with 17 to Donnacha’s 15!  Rory Scannell, another who had a great game, had to go off for a blood sub so Jaco returned temporarily.

A knock on by Chavancy in the 75′ and crossing in the 79th minute were to be as close as Racing 92 got to adding to their score as time ran out.

Highlights on the Sky website:

The full game was available on YouTube (unless taken down since I last checked for breach of copyright)

ROG post match interview where he called out Niall and Donnacha as being immense is also on the SKY site here as is the post match interviews with Peter and Simon here.

Stats from ESPN are here and include the below:

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Stats from ESPN show dominance of first half when the foundations of the win were laid (updated Jan 8 )

RACING 92: Juan Imhoff; Joe Rokocoko, Casey Laulala (Henry Chavancy ’57), Anthony Tuitavke, Teddy Thomas (Dan Carter ’57); Benjamin Dambielle (HIA – Dan Carter ’12 to ’18), Xavier Chauveau; Khatchik Vartanov (Julien Brugnaut ’50), Camille Chat (Virgile Lacombe ’50), Luc Ducalcon (Cedate Gomes Sa ’50); Gerbrandt Grobler, Francois van der Merwe (Ali Williams ’62); Chris Masoe (captain) (So’otala Fa’aso’o ’57), Matthieu Voisin, Antonie Claassen.  Replacements not used: James Hart.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’56), Rory Scannell (blood – Jaco Taute ’74 to ’76), Ronan O’Mahony (Keith Earls ’56); Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’66); James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’56), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’62), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’66); Donnacha Ryan (Dave Foley ’74), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue ’58), CJ Stander.

It is great to see Munster top of the pool, three points clear of Glasgow, and also to have three Pro12 teams in the top 8 currently.  It will be interesting to see how it changes over the final rounds.  Leicester hope to still be in the hunt for qualification when they host Glasgow in the final round if they also do the double over Racing next weekend.

Match reports

From The 42.ie: here and the Irish Times: here plus the account of one supporter who was collected at the airport and hosted by a Racing supporter here.  Also worth reading Billy Keane in the Independent who wrote about the generosity of Racing and the values of Axel here

The Racing video report on the interaction between the supporters features several familiar faces from the supporters I meet at home and away games.  You can read more about their experiences on the MRSC page here

Ronan O’Gara pre-game in his red tee shirt was interviewed by Sky:

Some great action shots in this tweet from the Champions Cup:

Along with a good number of the Red Army I am heading to Glasgow next weekend for the likely pool decider and to Thomond the following weekend for the visit of Racing 92 and the return albeit to the away dressing room of Ronan O’Gara.  After the final whistle you could see Donnacha having a great catch up with Julien Brugnaut and this photo shared by Munster Rugby on Twitter captures the post game reunion with Ronan, Casey and Julien.  It’s been an emotional roller-coaster for us all, there was so much in the press during the week about the return to Paris.  It will always be remembered for the sad events last October but this performance was a fitting tribute and another part of the healing process.  As Simon said, they have “someone special upstairs” driving them on.

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If you missed it I recommend Billy’s diary this week in which he writes about the last trip to Paris and the support from the rugby community since then.  There was also an interview with Ronan in the Irish Times and his own column in the Examiner this week which are worth reading.  I put links to those and other interesting articles on the blogs facebook page so please follow that page also.  During the week I must save up my blog from my visit to Scotstoun for the Pro12 semi-final in 2014 and the tourist one I wrote about my sightseeing in Glasgow.  Hopefully we will have a happier result from next weekend.

As ever, if you enjoyed this blog I would appreciate it if you would share it with your friends.

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Slipping & Sliding but Holding Firm: Connacht: 9 – Munster: 16

For a while it looked like it could be another 3-nil classic at the rain-swept Sportsground. Indeed that was the score from the 2nd till the 31st minute.  A bright opening period featured a smashing offload out of the tackle by Keatley to Earls.  Keith made some ground before passing the ball onto Academy centre Dan Goggin and it was great to see Munster moving into the Connacht 22 in the opening minutes.  Possession was retained and shortly after, another nice offload by Ian put Billy Holland through a gap.  The ball was carried forward by Dave Foley and Munster were almost over the line.  Connacht conceded a penalty and Munster took the points on offer.

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A picture from Daryl Feehely’s archive of man of the match Ian Keatley

Francis Saili on his first start of the season had to scramble well to put the dangerous Adeolokun into touch.  A kick through by Duncan Williams came back off a Connacht player and Marmion chased it as it crossed the line.  Ian Keatley was shepherding it out over the sideline but Marmion got a hand between his legs to touch the ball but I did not think he exerted downward pressure. The TMO reviewed and decided that the ball went dead.  That was a close call!

In the inclement weather there were plenty of knock-ons and therefore scrums.  Archer was penalised for collapsing, allowing Jack Carty to step up after 18 minutes but the wind took his attempted equalising kick wide of the target.

Rory Parata almost got through but Conway met him on the gain line and stopped him in his tracks.  Still it seemed to be all Connacht.  Matt Healy was next to get close but the ball was spilled and Saili tidied up.

A forward pass led to another Munster scrum, back on their own 10m line.  However, they lost possession and conceded a penalty after good work by Finlay Bealham. Jack Carty kicked for goal again and this time it went between the posts to tie the game after 31 minutes.  I expect that the supporters near the flame throwers were delighted to get a blast of heat to celebrate the score (and again as the players returned for the 2nd half – the flames must have briefly warmed the sodden supporters)

More lineouts, knock-ons and scrums as Munster struggled to get out of their own half. However, a penalty for Munster this time from a scrum after 37 minutes gave them a foothold in the Connacht half.  Captain Billy Holland juggled but secured the ball.  Again the maul formed and the referee penalised the Connacht hooker McCartney for entering from the side.  It was not a simple kick at goal in those conditions.  Ian Keatley’s experience in the sportsground stood to him as he was unfazed by the conditions.  Duncan Williams held the ball steady as Keatley lined it up and duly put it over to make it 3-6 approaching half time.

A psychological blow for Connacht who had seemed to dominate, other than the opening and closing minutes of the half.  ESPN STATS show that my perception was wrong as Munster had more possession in the first half but the tackle count shows how Munster made more than twice as many tackles during the game.

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Stats may be updated in the next day or so but this is what ESPN report on Dec 31

I had to watch the start of the second half a few times to confirm who was involved.  The restart was gathered by Jack O’Donoghue.  When he was tackled he went to ground, Jean Kleyn charged forward capitalising on a defensive lapse.  Jean’s offload put Duncan Williams through a gap.  Tommy O’Donnell was in support to take the pass and charge over the half-way line.  The attack broke down due to yet another knock-on but it was an exciting start.

Overall, it was a messy game.  Penalties, knock-ons, scrums, penalties, mauls, handbags, warnings, mauls; scrambling to make their tackles and keep their footing…  The bounce of the ball on the sodden turf was unpredictable and handling was tough.  Possession of the equivalent of a bar of soap was practically a liability. One slip, one missed tackle could turn the game on it’s head…I felt sorry for the players, officials and supporters having to be out in those conditions.

Andrew Conway was busy throughout and I thought he was away on 48 minutes after Rhys Marshall tackled Jack Carty and the ball went loose but the referee called it back for a knock–on, another contentious decision in my view watching the replay.

Munster dominated the lineout but Connacht dominated the scrums, to such an extent that when they drove Munster off the ball at pace to win a penalty after fifty minutes the referee issued a team warning to Billy about too many scrum penalties.

Carty stepped up and equalised (6-6) while Archer was replaced by Thomas Du Toit.  When James Cronin was penalised for a second high tackle Dave Kilcoyne was sprung from the bench and he picked up from where he had left off last week with some big tackles.

A few minutes later, it was the turn of Kilcoyne to be penalised for side entry to the maul which Connacht kicked to touch.  They secured their lineout but Munster stoutly defended the maul. “Use it or lose it” called Phillips.  A fantastic and crucial, match-changing turnover as Rhys Marchall ripped the ball off his opposite number.  I was a bit distracted watching that sequence as Kilcoyne almost had a serious wardrobe malfunction. Honestly I had to replay it several times, just to confirm that it was Rhys who had won back possession around the 55 minute mark 😊

Ian Keatley from practically the Munster try line opted to kick cross field where Conway collected the ball around the 22.  His mazy runs brought play up towards halfway. Earls chased the box kick sent up by Duncan Williams and put Carty under pressure as the support arrived to drive over and take back possession.  Duncan got the ball to Dan Goggin whose grubber kick was chased by Jack O’Donoghue and he managed to push the defender Marmion into touch to give Munster an excellent attacking position deep in their 22.  Connacht protested that Marmion had not been allowed get up but the referee was happy with the tackle.  That brave and ballsy kick by Ian Keatley and the work-rate of the supporting players was a game changer.  Rhys Marshall off the back of the subsequent maul scored his first try for Munster on 57” and put Munster ahead just minutes after Connacht had nearly scored at other end. The excellent conversion kick made it 6-13.

However there was still time for Connacht to equalise again, especially as Munster were still on a scrum warning despite changes as the referee reminded them.

A cross field kick after a Connacht scrum was gathered by Healy who raced forward. Ronan O’Mahony managed to stop him while Saili was second in and picked up Healy causing the ball to squirt out. Dan Goggin took possession allowing Munster clear the danger from their half.

All the time Munster were keeping the pressure on the home team, including the excellent Keith Earls who won a penalty when Connacht did not release. It was important to convert pressure into points and a drop goal by Keatley extended their lead (6-16).  Tommy O’Donnell looked to be in trouble in the lead up to that score and it was a worrying sight to see him going off.  Robin Copeland replaced him as Conor Oliver had already come on for Dave Foley.

Andrew Conway broke through again but again the whistle blew and he was called back for a scrum, and when it collapsed it was inevitable that a yellow card was shown to Killer at 71.”

Given the conditions it did not take long for a knock-on to occur so Munster had to take off Jack O’Donoghue to allow James Cronin back in for the scrum.  It also seemed inevitable that a penalty was conceded from that scrum.  Connacht kicked for touch and tried to make their man advantage pay via their maul before passing to their backline but the red line held firm as the clock ticked down.  The referee indicated advantage for Connacht and when their cross-field kick was fumbled he blew for the penalty.  Carty kicked it to secure the losing bonus point (9-16) and Connacht sought to set up the opportunity to equalise in the closing minutes.  Munster were in no rush to restart and worked their socks off to keep Connacht pinned back. Munster won another crucial turnover through Du Toit and while they then gave away possession due to a forward pass (which was a pity as I think O’Mahony would have scored from there otherwise) they were in the right part of the pitch and the clock was in the last minute according to TG4.

I was beginning to count my chickens and then worried I had jinxed the team as after fighting hard to keep Connacht pinned back, panic seemed to set it. Conor Oliver dived on a loose ball but instead of kicking it out to end the game, the ball was mis-kicked back to Connacht or maybe it was an attempted drop-goal.  In the following phases as Connacht tried to break out of their own 22 Duncan got sinbinned but the team dug deep (Killer had returned at least and according to Murray Kinsella Cronin had not left so Munster had 15 on the pitch?)  Eventually Conway kicked the ball out to bring proceedings to a close after a gruelling 84 minutes.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, James Cannon, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (Capt.) Replacements: Dave Heffernan, JP Cooney, John Andress, Lewis Stevenson, Danny Qualter, Caolin Blade, Ciaran Gaffney, Naulia Dawai.

Munster: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Dan Goggin, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Dave Foley; Billy Holland (Capt.), Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue. Replacements: Dave Kilcoyne, Kevin O’Byrne, Thomas Du Toit, Robin Copeland, Conor Oliver, Te Aihe Toma, Rory Scannell, Jaco Taute.

As a side note John Andress, recently retired from play (at Munster) came on for Connacht as he recently signed a short term contract with them due to their injury crisis.  Also good news confirmed January 2nd that Jaco Taute’s contract has been extended to the end of the season.

Highlights video from the Pro12 YouTube channel focus on penalty kicks but you do hear cheer when flames celebrate Connacht scores.  Pity they did not include the kick which set up the try and attributed the try to Ulsters Luke Marshall.  For the next month you can get the full game on the TG4 Player here and that kick is at 1 hour 30 minutes into the coverage.

Match reports from The42.ie and the Irish Times.  The updated table shows Munster sitting pretty on top 🙂

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Ospreys may move to the top next weekend as Munster had to defer their game in Edinburgh to complete their European Cup tie with Racing 92 but the position at this stage of the season gives great hope.  This time last year hope was all we had.  Out of Europe, embarrassed at home by Leinster the game in Ulster gave us respite from all the doom and gloom thanks to a drop goal by Ian Keatley in another man of the match performance.  That win moved Munster up to 5th in the table on 32 points but the worrying stat was a points difference of -17  See the full table in my blog from the Ulster game last year.  Going into this game Munster have one of the best defences in the league to date while 38 tries scored gives them a super points difference of +150.  It’s been an emotional roller coaster but heart-warming to see the team playing well and the supporters getting behind them.

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After 11 rounds.. 2016 v 2015.

 

Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh

Happy new year to all my readers, thanks especially to those who shared, commented, subscribed to and / or liked my blogs in 2016.  I appreciate the encouragement and while the number of views in 2016 are a few hundred lower than those of 2015 I am optimistic for 2017 and especially for the exciting few months ahead.

To finish up, this is my favourite from my photos taken in 2016.

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Looking over to the East Terrace at the Glasgow Round 2 game with the #8 balloon as tribute to Anthony Foley whose fingerprints are all over the teams performances.