United, in Grief and Pride: Munster: 38 – Glasgow: 17

Since the shocking news last Sunday, once confirmed the game on Saturday would proceed, it became a focal point for the team and supporters to come together to pay our respects to the late, great Anthony Foley. The players wanted to do him justice on the pitch while the Red Army wanted to play their part from the terraces and stands. As Ronan O’Gara wrote in his column in the Examiner on Friday: “But what we will see is the crowd at Thomond Park carrying the Munster team. There is only man who could trigger the tsunami of emotion we are bracing ourselves for and that is Axel, because that ground hasn’t been full in a few years, and there’s one reason it’ll be full tomorrow — to go and respect Axel. That’s why I’m going. People have seen what Axel did with Munster and to earn the respect and reputation he has and now it’s payback time.”


No one, including themselves, knew if the players would be able to channel the emotion of the occasion or if they would be overwhelmed by it, as Peter O’Mahony had been at the press conference on Wednesday. We said that the result was unimportant given the context; that it was a superhuman effort just to take to the pitch in the first place but the players were determined to do him proud. I felt that they were glad to have a target to hit, on which to take out their pain as they lined up Glasgow player after player and knocked them backwards, often knocking the ball out of their grasp and pouncing on it to set up another attack. The maul and scrum were weapons of choice as befitted their fallen leader and they were deployed ruthlessly and effectively. I heard Gregor Townsend say that his team had not turned up but in fairness they were not allowed play for much of the game. Munster were glad to let their actions do their talking as they put in one of their most complete and dominant performances against a quality team to seal a bonus point win perhaps since the Toulouse quarterfinal in April 2014.

The Toulouse game came to mind as we were saying that we had not seen as large a crowd in Thomond since that game, even for the Christmas derby games. When I arrived at 11.30 there was already a good crowd on both the east and west terraces while the north and south were both filling also. Imelda had kept me a spot and it was great to have the support of our usual bunch, the Waterford crew, Kevin and Joan from Cork, Tony, Imelda and Pascal from Limerick, Conor and George… for the emotional day ahead.  Paul arrived from Tipperary on crutches after wrecking his knee to take a seat in front of us.  He did not want to miss the game.

I had meant to buy the commemorative program but as I had walked through from the LIT carpark I had not passed by the sellers. When I heard that it had sold out (a reprint is planned) I asked Paul and Pauline behind me if I could take a photo of the back cover for the blog as it has a lovely graphic, charting the career of our special #8.


Back cover of the program celebrating the life of Anthony Foley

The pre-game atmosphere was muted, with such songs as “From Clare to Here,” “The Parting Glass” and U2’s “One” playing over the PA. Peter O’Mahony wore his emotions on his face as he ran out for the warm-up and my heart went out to them all. The 16th man found it’s voice to provide encouragement.  Glasgow received very warm applause as they left the field after their warm-up while the roars as Munster exited would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

The crowd almost drowned out the choir’s rendition of “The Fields of Athenry”.  It was hard to belt out “There is an Isle” past the lump in my throat but I got myself under control again to finish strongly. It was so moving and earned a standing ovation.  We cheered as the PA announced the teams – very few talking through it – and when the choir returned to lead us for “Stand Up and Fight” you could actually hear the hush as we waited for them to start. It was a bit surreal but ultimately respectful.

Another nice touch was to see the guard of honour line up in their Shannon RFC and St Munchin school rugby kits. A great roar went up to welcome the team to the pitch in sharp contrast to the minute’s silence which followed as all 23 players lined up. The big screen showed the photo of Anthony Foley, so we missed seeing the West Stand above us hold up red cards to form a mosaic of 8 AXEL 8.   The sight of the two large Munster flags in midfield with the tips touching the ground (like the lance of a fallen knight) was beautiful. I did not see the name Axel on the jerseys below the Munster crest till I watched the highlights later. Kudos to the organisers who planned all the details to create such a moving tribute.


The tile which Aideen held aloft for the minutes silence

The first try came early and gave us an insight into the mindset of the team as they physically imposed themselves on Glasgow.  From a lineout claimed by the captain, the forwards mauled into Glasgow territory.


Peter O’Mahony claims the first lineout of the game

Niall Scannell, Tommy O’Donnell, then Dave Kilcoyne took it on before Earls darted through a gap. As he was hauled down he got the offload away, Tyler on his European Cup debut gathered it before weaving his way into their 22 and over the line. The TMO had a look but momentum had carried him over the line and the score was awarded after only 3 minutes. A dream start.


Tyler manages to score despite three defenders. Photo by Sean Ryan

Applause broke out at the 8th minute as another mark of respect to Anthony Foley.

Glasgow won a penalty shortly afterwards to make it 7-3 before Jaco Taute, also making his European debut, took a lovely pass from Rory Scannell to score the second try.


Jaco Taute put into space by Tyler and Rory -with Earls in support – to score the second try. Photo by Sean Ryan

That had come from a turnover won by CJ Stander from which the forwards and Conor Murray worked hard to set up field position before Tyler and Rory combined well to create the 2:1 overlap for Jaco and Keith on the wing. It was also converted by Tyler to make it 14-3.


Tyler, Rory, Jaco, Darren and Simon line up as Munster take a lineout

An incident in the 19th minute when Keith Earls lifted the leg of the Glasgow hooker Fraser Brown, did not seem to us to merit a red card, maybe yellow but surely not red? The TMO and ref did not agree and off he went. There seemed to be some niggle as he walked past the Glasgow players on his way to the bench which had CJ rushing forward to provide back up. Given that Keith had played with Anthony Foley in 2008 as he was breaking into the squad and their fathers had played together I think the adrenalin flowing through Keith gave him more strength that you would expect which meant when he lifted the leg he actually managed to topple the heavier man. He had been putting in plenty of big hits up to that point.

We – biased as we are, – felt that the red card was harsh. The citing commission will look at it and decide if further sanction is required. When the penalty kick went wide it felt like poetic justice! The crowd realised that the team needed a lift and we raised our game also. At times it was like a sing-off, we would have started singing Stand up and fight on the west side while the East side might be doing the Fields of Athenry but the overall effect was incredible, a veritable cauldron.


The maul was superb

They say forwards win games and the backs determine by how much and so it proved to be. Billy Holland stole the first Glasgow lineout after Earls went off as the pack continued to heap pressure on Glasgow.  After a crooked throw-in to their own line out a few phases later, Munster again applied great pressure to the Glasgow scrum to win a penalty which Tyler kicked to give 14 man Munster a two try cushion. A miskick by Finn Russell went dead giving Munster excellent position from which to launch an attack off their solid scrum. Rory Scannell was again central to the move as he broke through before his pass set Simon Zebo free down the wing. The TMO had a close look to ensure he had not gone into touch and that it was not a double movement before awarding the try. Tyler added the conversion. There was no Z celebration but a glance heavenwards said it all.  Glasgow were not getting much of a look-in, they did finish the half in the Munster 22 but went in at the break 24-3 down.


Simon Zebo did so well to keep his feet in the air and out of touch as he scored in the corner. Photo by Sean Ryan

The half time minis featured Ballina/Killaloe, Bruff, Waterpark and Tralee/Listowel.  The sun shone and it felt like his spirit was present and pleased with what he saw.

It was important to lay down a marker early in the second half that Munster were not letting up.  Conor Murray nearly got a try off the base of the posts but instead won a 5m scrum.  After three resets the penalty try was just reward for the efforts of the pack. CJ Stander had nearly gotten through but having been playing with advantage the pack went for the jugular and the scrum was called for again.


Early in the second half, leading to the penalty try, you can see the ball at the back of the scrum as the pack drive forward

Garces eventually awarded the penalty try but there was more than half an hour left. Would the emotional and physical energy drain their reserves as the game went on? Could they maintain their intensity and defend their line? Glasgow came close a few times, Simon Zebo got back in time to deny one effort, Darren Sweetnam took down another or rather two players in the same attacking move as if to say “thou shalt not pass”.

It was also Darren’s European debut and while he did not have much opportunity in attack there was one brilliant take of the 2nd half kick-off close to us that had us gasping in admiration in the second half.

The roar of appreciation as Peter O’Mahony left the pitch (and Jack O’Donoghue entered) was a rousing endorsement of his leadership and doggedness to keep Munster on the front foot all day. There was similar appreciation as others were also subbed to bring fresh legs onto the pitch. Unfortunately, Duncan Casey who came on for Niall Scannell was injured shortly after his introduction and had to be helped from the pitch. He has had no luck with injuries in recent years, hopefully this is just a short term set-back.

Eventually Glasgow got their first try after 66 minutes through Pat McArthur off the back of a maul, and 5 minutes later through Mark Bennett, both converted by Stuart Hogg.  An anxious finish looked likely until a fifth Munster try through Rory Scannell who just managed to dot down in the corner despite the tackler trying to force him into touch, meant that victory was secured as Glasgow had only minutes left to score three tries. Ian Keatley kicked the difficult final conversion to maximise the points. The defence held firm until Robin Copeland won the final turnover which Ian booted out of play to bring the game to a close.  Clapping had started as the clock turned past 79 minutes and it became thunderous applause at the final whistle.  But there was more to come.

No one left early. Often as the end approaches a few folks shuffle past to make a quick getaway but that was not apparent at this game. At the final whistle, utterly spent, emotionally and physically I expect, CJ Stander (wearing # 24) fell to his knees. There were embraces and slaps on the back as the players made their way to clap Glasgow off the pitch before coming back out to show their appreciation for the crowd. Then they formed a circle in midfield. We were still singing but when we realised they were also singing we hushed up and felt privileged to join in with them as the extended squad – including Johnny Holland, Cathal Sheridan, Mike Sherry, Dave Foley amongst others, – sang their foot-stamping anthem “Stand up and fight”


The extended team – SUAF

It was only when watching it on the big screen that we saw the circle had included Tony and Dan Foley, what a special moment! The lap of honour took longer than usual, but no one was complaining. The group in their Shannon #8 jerseys on the north terrace and for the ball boys lined up in front of us got special attention, as players and supporters savoured the moment.  As Tom English wrote for BBC Scotland: “of all the remarkable things that have been seen here down the years – the great performances and seismic European wins – that simple moment when a family, a team and a support were united together was one to top them all. “

While Tyler won man of the match there must have been a lot of competition for the selectors as the team were superb throughout. All the subs got time on the pitch, – including Brian Scott who also made his European debut replacing Dave Kilcoyne – and their fresh legs were crucial as Glasgow looked to finish strongly.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Ronan O’Mahony ’78); Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls 9 (red card ’20); Tyler Bleyendaal (Ian Keatley ’66), Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’76); Dave Kilcoyne (Brian Scott ’72)), Niall Scannell (Duncan Casey ’61 to ’67), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’68); Donnacha Ryan (Robin Copeland ’77), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Jack O’Donoghue ’61), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

GLASGOW: Stuart Hogg; Sean Lamont, Alex Dunbar (Mark Bennett ’61), Sam Johnson, Rory Hughes; Finn Russell (Peter Murchie ’61), Henry Pyrgos (Ali Price ’48); Gordon Reid (Alex Allan ’27), Fraser Brown (Pat MacArthur ’48), Zander Fagerson (Sila Puafisi ’44); Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray; Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson (Lewis Wynne ’76), Josh Strauss (Simone Favaro ’33).

Stats from ESPN can be found here


The stats from ESPN show the dominance of Munster

In the Sky  match report they included the post match thoughts of Fla.

Official match photos are available here

Video highlights are available here with extended highlights on the TG4 player for the next month here.  The link below to the full game may be taken down but there for now🙂

As I was leaving it was nice to be greeted by Rathbaner who recognised me from my regular photos in this blog so we had a chat before I went outside. There Ian met me and said he was looking forward to this week’s edition and complimented me on last week’s tribute, which I appreciated as it was a difficult one to write. Indeed earlier Imelda had said she thought it was my best one yet. Up in the MRSC bar Aideen also said that she had enjoyed that edition. Aideen had been up in the west stand and gave me her red “tile” as per the photo above.

Arnaud found me chatting to them so it was lovely to finally meet him also, over for the weekend from Brittany. Carmel was there with her sisters and friends; Mr Chips had driven down from north of Belfast and introduced me to another forum poster, Jenta. Piquet recognised me also; he was disgusted to have missed seeing Stringer’s try as the TVs in the bar were replaying the 2006 final.  Jay from MRSC London found me to give me my tickets for the Leicester away game, well done to them for organising a group discount – 300 tickets were bought through them! After a final farewell to my MRSC Dublin buddies it was time to head home, stopping en route to see the wonderful tributes displayed outside the Shannon clubhouse.


The tributes outside the Shannon Clubhouse inside the gates of Thomond

The rugby world has been united in support of Munster this week, with Clermont encouraging their supporters, the Yellow Army to wear red to their home game and Scarlets having the number 8 on the front of all their jerseys for their game. In Belfast the supporters sang “The fields of Athenry” in solidarity and they are planning a tribute to Axel in their away changing rooms, as Munster had done when Nevin Spence tragically died a few years ago.  I had not noticed until I watched the game back that the Glasgow players wore a black armband sporting the name Axel in red letters.  On Sunday the Leinster players wore red tee shirts with the initials AF before their game in France while the Connacht team wore red armbands during their game in Italy.

See the official EPRC montage here

If you enjoyed reading this please tell your friends, sign up to get future editions by email, and / or follow me on Facebook (where I have saved more of my photos from today) or Twitter.

As I walked out the gate I was hailed by John who I first met on one of my early away trips since I started the blog almost 4 years ago.  He introduced me to two of his friends and told them that the blog is phenomenal!  I think the players were phenomenal today and hopefully the shared traumatic experience of the past week will reinvigorate the bond between the team and the supporters.  What better tribute would Axel want?

Thanks to John for his video of this stirring version of There is an Isle from the game.  He has other videos also from the day on his channel jdtvideo – this one includes the SUAF in midfield after the game.

Also adding in this analysis from The42.ie of the performance for those who enjoy their excellent analysis.  He also spotted after Darren’s great tackles that “play should have been halted for Favaro’s foot in touch.” – I was surprised that the commentators did not pick that up.


A Man Of Munster, For Munster

Shock, disbelief, numbness… How can it be possible that Anthony Foley will never again be seen out on the pitch, overseeing the warm-up as we congregate on the terrace before our home games?  The pitch he loved since his boyhood days watching his father Brendan – himself a rugby legend – play for Shannon, Munster and Ireland.


Two photos from Daryl Feehely’s archives of Anthony Foley in pre-match action from this season.

Those early years hanging around his father’s teams changing rooms imbued him with the Munster values that he brought to his playing and managerial career.  His pride in the jersey, his work ethic and ability to read the game helped him maximize his abilities as he racked up an impressive try scoring record (39) and 188 appearances for Munster (188 on munster rugby site so 202 maybe includes friendlies) plus 62 for Ireland and many more for Shannon including all 48 of their infamous 4 in a row league titles.  It culminated with the wonderful sight of him raising the European Cup aloft in 2006 as Munster captain.  Murray Kinsella analysed his performance in the final and highlighted his “typically robust, selfless, aggressive and gritty performance in the final against Biarritz on that special day at the Millenium Stadium” in this piece in The42.ie

Taken from the MRSC facebook page

His early steps into management included a secondment to the national team coaching staff with a focus on defence under Declan Kidney.

When he was promoted to head coach of Munster in 2014 they reached the Pro12 final – losing out to Glasgow Warriors – but the team’s failure to get out of the pool stages for that European campaign was a major disappointment, albeit being drawn in a pool with two other semi-finalists from the previous season made it a difficult task.

When the team struggled the following season to qualify for the European Cup you could see the disappointment and strain on his face as he fronted up for the post match interviews.  It certainly was not lack of effort or drive for success on his part as he gave everything in him to the club he loved.  When Rassie Erasmus was brought in this season as the Director of Rugby it was great to see Anthony with a smile on his face, freed up to spend more time hands-on, working with the players.

Now we take some comfort from the tributes and the sharing of the wonderful memories about a man wonderfully described by the Racing 92 coach Laurent Labit as Monsieur Munster as indeed Anthony Foley and Munster rugby are synonymous:  “He is respected in France for his performances for Munster and Ireland. He is part of the history of Munster, he is Monsieur Munster, the same as Serge Blanco in Biarritz or Philippe Sella in Agen. It is a tragedy.” 

Reading through all the tributes, we share their sense of disbelief and bewilderment.  Munster rugby posted tributes on their website giving an example of the breadth of tributes paid to him from around the world in the close knit rugby family.


A small sample of tweets from his team mates Frankie, Peter, Ronan and his team CJ & Conor

The next home game with a minute’s silence and perhaps a rendition of “There is an Isle” in his honour or some other tribute will be our opportunity to show our solidarity and support for his grief-stricken family, friends, teammates, colleagues and the wider Munster community.  In particular our hearts go out to his wife Olive, sons Tony and Dan, his parents, sisters, friends and relatives. The team will need our support more than ever as they aim to live up to his legacy.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Books of condolence are open throughout the province and in London at the Irish Embassy in London (17 Grosvenor Place SW1X 7HR) which will be open all this week, from 9.30am until 4.30pm daily, until Friday.

There is also an online option: https://www.limerick.ie/council/anthony-foley-book-condolence

Billy Keane in the Independent writes a very personal tribute: ” Munster, Shannon and Ireland were his passion but his wife Olive and their two boys were his life.” 

Alan Quinlan, his backrow warrior wrote: “To the outside world, Anthony Foley was the ultimate rugby man. But to those who were lucky enough to know him, he was that and so much more. A brilliant dad. A loving husband. The most loyal of friends. The kindest of brothers. A special son.”

Gerry Thornley recalled this quote from last season: “I can’t separate myself from Munster at times because it’s been 21 years nearly now, in and around the squad, since ’94. So it’s a good chunk of my life and I want us to win, and I want us to do well and I want us to be competing at the back end of every competition”

Murray Kinsella in The42.ie wrote: “He combined perfectly the values of the amateur and professional eras, bringing an understanding of the emotive side of rugby, the power of playing for something, for the people who meant most to him, for his friends, and sometimes for the craic”

Donal Lenihan who played with Brendan wrote in the Examiner: “The thing that made Munster great, better than the entire sum of their parts, was that everyone understood where they came from and who they represented.  Anthony was central in establishing those ground rules and no doubt that hard edge was nurtured and developed from his earliest days hanging around Shannon and Munster dressing rooms.”

A personal tribute from Gordon D’Arcy in the Irish Times praised him for his ability to be in the right place at the right time and for his contribution to Munster: “Munster won all those tough matches on the road and in Thomond Park because of their unity. They defended and looked after each other completely. That was a time in rugby when a rare team like them could overcome so much just by standing together and fighting as a team.”

Anthony Foley was asked by Alan English how he would like to be remembered:


Excerpt from the book written with Alan English about Munster’s European journey

Thanks Anthony for setting the bar high for those who follow in your footsteps.

Finally this brings a tear to my eye


Battle of Small Margins: Leinster: 25 – Munster: 14


Two tribes go to war

Leinster deserved to win and could have won by more but equally they could have won by less as Munster gift wrapped a few points for them!  If Simon Zebo had not gotten back to deny Isa Nacewa twice (once in each half) or if Garry Ringrose with the line at his mercy had managed to pick up the ball kicked through by Johnny Sexton they would have secured a winning bonus point.  However they also rode their luck – the second try scored by Nacewa seemed to be off a forward pass, while for his first I thought Darren Sweetnam had just pulled his foot into touch but he must have grounded the ball just before.  Back to the gift wrapping, Nacewa might not even have had the opportunity to score that one if Munster had executed a better exit strategy from the 5m scrum arising from Ringrose’s fumble which ended up with that try.

Similarly in the second half if James Cronin’s had not been penalised for a double movement but had resulted in a try for Munster, or if Ronan O’Mahony had touched down the ball behind his own line instead of fumbling it… on small margins such as this are battles lost or won.

Johnny Sexton was the man of the match, Isa Nacewa and Garry Ringrose must have been contenders also.

We knew this would be the first serious test of the progress made by Munster this season and so it proved to be.  Instead of writing about events unfolding on the pitch I decided to write about what I learnt from this game.  The stats show that Munster had plenty of possession but not enough penetration as the blue wall of defence held firm.  Munster also gave away penalties and conceded turnovers at key times to hand momentum back to Leinster.


Initial stats from ESPN

The front row and scrum held up well against their international opposition, while not as dominant as against other packs.


Second half scrum

Peter O’Mahony got through a busy forty minutes of action including scoring a try, which will help to battle harden him for the tough games in the coming schedule.


Peter O’Mahony claims the lineout

Various midfield combinations got some invaluable match time together – Scannell was back from injury to partner Earls for the first time I believe, then he played for the first time with Taute before Keatley replaced Rory to partner Jaco.

Darren Sweetnam continues to impress on limited opportunity.  It was great to see him soar to claim a box kick, winning that contest against Nacewa.  Another example of his workrate was when he managed to grab Luke McGrath by his shorts to haul him down; when Luke got the pass away Darren reacted by getting up quickly and blocking down the clearance kick by Nacewa.  He has some work to do on his defensive positioning yet.


Darren Sweetnam

Tyler Bleyendall played the full 80 minutes and his 2/2 kicking return further improved his kicking percentages (89% coming into the game)

Jaco Taute scored his first try for Munster on his second appearance.

It was great to see Jack O’Donoghue who replaced Peter at the start of the second half back so quickly after the serious looking injury he suffered in the Edinburgh game.

There were some good mauls including the first Munster try which featured forwards and backs driving over the line and in the second half in the build up to Taute’s try.

Munster put some good phases of continuity together – 21 at one stage and 15 leading to James Cronin’s effort but need to find more of a cutting edge to capitalise on their possession.


TMO checks Cronin’s non try

LEINSTER: 15. Rob Kearney, 14. Rory O’Loughlin, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Isa Nacewa (captain), 10. Johnny Sexton (Joey Carberry 70′), 9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park 63′); 1. Cian Healy (Jack McGrath 48′), 2. Sean Cronin (James Tracy 53′), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross 63′), 4. Devin Toner, 5. Ian Nagle (Ross Molony 53′), 6. Rhys Ruddock, 7. Jordi Murphy (Dan Leavy 60′), 8. Jamie Heaslip. Replacements not used: 23. Noel Reid.

MUNSTER: 15. Simon Zebo, 14. Darren Sweetnam, 13. Keith Earls (Jaco Tuite 57′), 12. Rory Scannell (Ian Keatley 71′), 11. Ronan O’Mahony, 10. Tyler Bleyendaal, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 45′), 2. Niall Scannell (Duncan Casey 75), 3. John Ryan (Stephen Archer 63′), 4. Donnacha Ryan (Robin Copeland 70′), 5. Billy Holland, 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Jack O’Donoghue HT) 7. Tommy O’Donnell, 8. CJ Stander. Replacements not used: 21. Duncan Williams.

Quinny’s verdict from the Independent: “The review session this morning won’t be pretty but Munster will know that the errors they made are rectifiable before going to Paris on Sunday.”

TG4 player link for those who can access it is here

The Battle


Book signing at Easons

I was in the queue, joining it outside Penneys, for about an hour and forty minutes, so it was great to have some good company to pass the time.  Rob who was on a day trip from Manchester for the game found me there.  It was good to catch up since our last meeting in Leicester where we plan to meet again next December.  I was chatting to Noel, originally from County Limerick and now living in Glasnevin who had seen Paul on the Late Late Show the previous evening and decided to come in and get the book autographed.  Eventually we worked our way into Easons and as we shuffled up and down the aisles by the wellness books, diet books, sports books etc. I was telling him about my blog.  When I spotted Charlie Mulqueen’s book on the shelf which includes an excerpt from my Munster v New Zealand 2008 match I joked that he should buy that one also and I could autograph it for him!  Noel promised to check out the blog so as he wears his Fainne with pride, táim ag suil le do chuid tuairimí a Noel!  I also showed him my photo taken on Wednesday with the silver medallists which I have now also included in the blog I wrote about them Inspiration from Lisheen

Unfortunately I did not have time to join Noel for a cuppa as I had to get to the stadium.  It was a mild overcast day and I enjoyed the walk from the city centre to Ballsbridge.  This fixture is always colourful and a source of great rivalry and banter amongst the supporters.  I was sitting in the third row of the lower west stand between a couple – one wearing red and the other blue on my left while to my right two deaf men – one red and the other blue – were having a great animated sign-language chat throughout the game.  As I left I noticed a father in blue with his young son up on his shoulders in his red jersey!  It was also great to catch up for the first time this season with Bernie and Eddie as we walked back towards the city.  Eddie was looking for positives and another group I passed were saying that maybe Racing would feel the backlash next weekend so there are a few other glass half full folks out there!

Before the game there was an impressive gymnastic display on the pitch, recreating the Leinster motto about grass-roots rugby.


From the ground up…

After the teams took to the pitch they lined up for a minute’s silence as a mark of respect for the sad death of the baby daughter of Leinster player Hayden Triggs.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.


What we came for: Munster: 49 – Zebre: 5

“This is what you came for” was playing over the PA as I arrived on the terrace about fifty minutes before kick-off. Those who were able to be there had come hoping for a bonus point win, to see the team building on the progress made over the past few weeks especially with strong scrummaging by a different front row, to support the team and hopefully pick up no new injury concerns.  The return to the field of play by captain Peter O’Mahony was worth the admission price alone and his twenty minute cameo was impressive given the length of his layoff since RWC15.


Peter O’Mahony

On the west terrace we were treated in the first half to frequent examples of the speed of Alex Wootton earning his first start in the league and second appearance of the season and we were impressed.  You can see why he did so well in the Ireland 7’s team and he was unlucky to be denied a try.  It is great to see his progress since the 2014 JWC.  In the second half Darren Sweetnam who went on to deservedly win man of the match was busy down our touchline.  It is great to have such options in the backline – the competition is genuinely fierce.  Alex chased plenty of long balls whereas Darren demonstrated on several occasions his ability to change gear when he took possession of the ball to accelerate and get through a gap or outside the defence. It is very exciting to see the talent coming through our Munster academy.


Alex Wootton had a fine game

It was also great to see Tommy O’Donnell back after his recent concussion – surprisingly he was not wearing his customary scrum cap.  He put in a great barn-storming performance although there was one pass in the first half that was not out of his top drawer!  Simon Zebo was also back after his rib injury, while Jaco Taute made his debut in midfield and showed plenty of promise with some good handling and carries.

Munster started well with captain Billy Holland stealing a Zebre lineout, right in front of us. Of course we take some share in the credit for the noise we made to make it difficult for them to hear the call!  This is what we came for indeed!.


Billy steals the ball- lifted by Darren O’Shea

Tyler knocked back Murray’s box kick, CJ charged forward before the ball went wide to Simon Zebo.  While Zebre got back to gather his kick ahead only to kick possession away. Munster regrouped and Conor Murray made a break to put them back on the front foot. Several phases later Jaco Taute put Darren Sweetnam through to score his first Pro12 try, despite being grabbed by the collar for his efforts.


Munster then had a bad patch conceding penalty after penalty.  Zebre missed their one attempted kick at goal after one of the few scrum penalties conceded by Munster this season.  However they soon returned to dominance, putting Zebre under pressure for phase after phase on their try line only for a pass to be intercepted but you had to credit the defence which scrambled back.  I could not see whose pass had been intercepted but according to the twitter updates from Munster Rugby: Venditti picks off Earls pass & runs from inside his 5m line up to our 22 where Darren Sweetnam makes the try saving tackle


Gotcha! The interceptor is intercepted

Only minutes later Donnacha Ryan (on his 150th appearance) secured the lineout deep in the Italian’s 22.  The maul formed around him and as they edged closer to the line, Conor Murray maintained his try scoring form, breaking from the back of maul with Alex Wootton in support to score.  Tyler Bleyendaal continued his excellent goal kicking form to make it 14-0.


Donnacha at the heart of the aul a Conor prepares to break

From another scrum Conor got the pass to Simon who kicked ahead for Alex to chase.  I was sure he was going to get in for his first try also but he seemed to be tackled right before the line.  We felt that Wootton was taken out without the ball as he chased the kick but the referee called a knock-on.  Maybe a TMO would have seen it differently or maybe we would have if given a replay from a different angle but it was another great effort that deserved more reward.

Just before the half hour mark Zebre had a lineout and passed the ball to their backline only for CJ Stander to block down the kick on the Zebre 22m line and storm through to collect the ball and touch down under the posts without anyone getting a hand on him.


CJ gathers his blocked down ball to score photo by Daryl Feehely

Then just minutes later we were treated to the bonus point try.  Good work by Bleyendaal and Sweetnam set up the attack before Murray kicked the ball through for Simon Zebo to chase and score, showing his excellent footballing skills to control the ball as he sprinted towards the line.


Simon Zebo scores as captured by Daryl Feehely

Zebre came on the attack again and got close to the Munster line only for CJ to win the turnover and Alex again chased the long kick.  It was called back for a scrum to Zebre around the Munster 22m line and I noticed that Billy Holland had gone to 8 while CJ packed down at 6. Munster won a penalty so that strategy paid off!

The minis enjoyed their half time games. A nice touch before the game started had been when the teams lined up on the west touchline to wave flags and welcome the teams to the pitch, separate to the guard of honour on the east side.  It is great to see clubs travelling from around the province and enjoying their time on the Thomond pitch.  With free Junior membership of the MRSC available from next week hopefully many of those at the game will want to sign up and come regularly.


Minis waving their flags as teams arrive onto pitch

At half time smartphones were being consulted to get the latest updates from Croke Park and Hazeltine!

There was a massive cheer when Peter O’Mahony ran past the east terrace early in the second half as everyone eagerly anticipated his return to action.  Tyler and Keith were taken off for Ian and Cian.  Munster had a good period of possession with great interplay and offloads between forwards and backs before Darren was released down the wing only to be taken out mere metres from the line – the referee signalled T but as there was no TMO it was just indicating time out as he conferred with his assistant referee.  A penalty try I speculated and that was their conclusion along with a yellow card.  The lack of a big screen was another unfortunate consequence of no live TV coverage.  There were four fixed cameras recording events and TG4 showed about 12 minutes of the action that evening which was a great help to me in writing this up!

There was another moment when Darren was forced into touch near us – CJ had come to help try to keep the ball in play only for the Assistant Referee to raise his flag and give the lineout to Zebre – the disgusted look on CJs face as if to say “you cannot be serious” after his efforts were not rewarded was priceless!


Second half lineout with Peter eying up the opposition

As the hour mark approached there was a mass change with Duncan Williams, James Cronin and Peter O’Mahony all being launched from the bench.  The crowd made their presence heard to welcome them and to give credit to Conor, Killer and Darren O’Shea for their contributions.  It was a big day for that Darren also as he made his first Pro12 start and the 23 year old did well.  Given the injuries to Dave Foley and Jean Kleyn it is great to have him coming through also.  At 6’9” he is a huge man!

As a result of those changes Billy moved into the second row but it was Peter who claimed the first lineout on his return to action.  He was busy making tackles and at one stage was at the bottom of a ruck. “Get off him” I heard Ger call out, anxious that Peter suffer no damage on his first game back!


Peter is straight into the thick of the action

Ian Keatley made a break after some good play and his pass to Stephen Archer coming at pace a few metres from the line resulted in Stephen scoring the 6th try which Keatley converted to make it 42-0.

Sweetnam showed his defensive skills also, winning a penalty when Zebre didn’t release and I noticed Peter coming over to give him a pat on the head for his efforts.  When the two sides met on a miserably wet evening in Waterford for the pre-season friendly in Waterford Munster kept a clean sheet but Zebre did manage to break through once in this encounter.  They pulled the defence to the left and then attacked down the right leaving Wootton with too much to do – watching the highlights on TG4 you could see several defenders moving to the opposite side leaving a gap for Gabriele Di Giulio to exploit. The conversion was missed making it 42-5.

While we had hoped at half time to get past the half century scoreline it was not to be. However before the end Duncan Williams made a great break before passing to CJ on his shoulder who took the offload and stormed through to score beside the posts.  The conversion pushed Ian Keatley’s points scored for Munster past the 1000 mark and the final score to 49-5.

The post game interview with Peter and Darren also includes the medal presentation by a couple who are 10 year season ticket holders and were married in Clare only yesterday (as we were informed at half-time). Congratulations to them.


It is great to move up to second place in the league after the fifth round but tougher tests lie ahead.  There were errors in the performance which made us groan at times but plenty to build on also.  Leinster away followed by Racing Metro away will test the progress made to date and show how we measure up before we return to Thomond for the European Cup visit of Glasgow, another tough challenge.  Hopefully I will have plenty of positives to pick from those games.  In the meantime please share this blog on social media if you enjoyed it and consider subscribing to receive future editions by email and / or like my facebook page.  Comments, shares and views are the measures of success of my writing and I was delighted to receive positive comments last week including this one from a Frenchman who loves Munster rugby. Several hours are spent writing and editing every edition of the blog so all encouragement gratefully received.


Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Keith Earls (Cian Bohane ’48), Jaco Taute, Alex Wootton; Tyler Bleyendaal (Ian Keatley ’48), Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’60); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’60), Duncan Casey (Niall Scannell ’67), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’67); Donnacha Ryan, Darren O’Shea (Peter O’Mahony ’60); Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell (Conor Oliver ’67), CJ Stander.

Zebre: Edoardo Padovani; Gabriele Di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Castello (Tommaso Boni ’54), Giovanbattista Venditti (Lloyd Greeff ’54); Carlo Canna, Guglielmo Palazzani (Carlo Engelbrecht ’68); Andrea Lovotti (Bruno Postiglioni ’64), Tommaso D’Apice (Carlo Festuccia ’60), Dario Chistolini (Guillermo Roan ’50); Quntin Geldenhuys, Gideon Koegelenberg; Jacopo Sarto (Derick Minnie ’46), Johan Meyer (Joshua Furno ’65), Federico Ruzza.

Match report from the Irish Independent: http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/guinness-pro12/omahonys-return-adds-to-a-sweet-feast-for-munster-35096145.html

Also like this from the Examiner on Monday:  Zebo on Sweetnam; “He’s just a class player. He has exceptional feet. He’s great in the air where his GAA background has shone through. He’s an exciting player.”

TG4 highlights link for those in Ireland for the next few weeks provides 12 or so minutes of the action: http://www.tg4.ie/ga/player/baile/?pid=5149313029001

Shorter video highlights from Pro12 YouTube channel:


Front Row View: Munster: 28 – Edinburgh: 14

Seven-nil down, a penalty in front of their posts, what do you do?  Take the points?  Heck no, take the scrum!  And what a scrum!  The Munster pack marched Edinburgh backwards as Conor Murray shepherded them towards the line before darting in to touch the ball down.  Isn’t it wonderful to have such a weapon at our disposal again?  The front row have been superb since the pre-season friendlies, with John Ryan scooping man of the match last weekend but the full pack have to act in unison to get the push on and dominate their opposite numbers so kudos to all involved.  By the end of the game there were 4 front row forwards on the pitch when Stephen Archer had to come on in place of Dave O’Callaghan. That resulted in some strange line-ups with Archer in the second row and Billy Holland moving to 8 for one scrum and 6 for another but the pack held up well.


Archer packs down in the 2nd row between Billy Holland and Darren O’Shea. Photo by Gayl

Taking well over two hours to get to the final whistle, this was probably the longest rugby game I have attended due to the delay while Jack O’Donoghue was treated and eventually removed from the pitch after a head injury (good to read on Twitter that he was walking around at the end of the game), other injury stoppages and confusion over substitutions and sinbinnings.

Kickoff was counted down from 12-1 on the big screen as the captains of the teams in the league flashed up, finishing off with our own Peter O’Mahony.  Hopefully we will see him take to the pitch in the coming weeks.

The scrum was dominant from the start, winning an early penalty.  A few minutes later Munster won a scrum against the head and CJ broke from the back to put Munster on the front foot. Edinburgh did not bring their international front row so tougher tests lie ahead for our pack but in the 6 games played this season they have been dominant and it bodes well for the future.

After thirteen minutes there was a long delay after a bad injury to Jack O’Donoghue.  The TMO was called on to review the dangerous shoulder charge and it resulted in a sinbinning for Fraser McKenzie.  It was worrying to see Jack require so much attention from the medics but with head injuries every precaution must be taken.  He did raise a hand as he was taken off the pitch and young Conor Oliver who is still in the academy took his place.


Conor Oliver on the charge, with Tyler and Cian in support captured by Daryl Feehely

After an early penalty kick miss by Munster it was Edinburgh who were first onto the scoreboard after twenty-two minutes.  A loose ball popped out and took an unkind deflection off a boot when the home team were on the attack.  Chris Dean took advantage and ran in to score from his own 10m line.  Duncan Weir converted to make it 0-7.

Munster responded well, winning a penalty on the 10m line which they kicked to touch.  Conor Oliver broke from the maul to carry the ball over the gain line.  Edinburgh went offside to concede another penalty, for which they received a warning from referee Whitehouse.  The scrum was called and the sixteenth man raised it’s voice to urge the players to heave.  The pack drove forward and I wonder if the player microphone caught what CJ had to say to Conor Murray after the latter picked the ball up to score from CJ’s feet after he had nursed it to the line.  CJ looked happy with the end result anyway J

A second try just before the break was very welcome.  This time Edinburgh had the put-in to the scrum after a Munster knock-on.  However we could sense their vulnerability on their 5m line and Munster turned the screw.  Edinburgh were driven back over their line and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne could not get the ball away.  Instead under pressure he knocked on.  Niall Scannell pounced on the loose ball and popped it up to Murray who burrowed under the defence to score his second try.


Daryl captures the moment of Conor Murray’s 2nd try

The opening minute of the second half lead to more delight when Conor Oliver scored his first senior try for Munster, benefitting from a great offload by Tyler and indecision in defence by Duncan Weir.  Tyler added the conversion to make it 21-7 and the bonus point attempt was on.


Conor Oliver scores his first senior try for Munster as captured by Daryl Feehely

The pack continued to exert pressure particularly in the scrum which resulted in a sinbinning for their replacement prop Dell.  However that led to uncontested scrums which in the context of this game gave the advantage to the penalised side!  Munster kicked to touch instead and mauled towards the line but CJ was held up.

From the subsequent uncontested scrum CJ picked and drove for the line only to knock on when a score seemed a certainty – so he is human!  However, it only delayed the inevitable.  This time it was Dave O’Callaghan who was in the right place to take the offload from Bleyendaal on the 10m line to score the key bonus point try.


Dave O’Callaghan secured the bonus point as captured by Daryl Feehely

Changes made, both tactical and enforced, led to a loss in continuity and when Edinburgh scored their second try after 66 minutes through Hardie, converted by Blair Kinghorn tension levels rose but that was the final score of the game.

Munster: Ian Keatley; Darren Sweetnam, Keith Earls, Cian Bohane, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal (Alex Wootton ’59), Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’59); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’58), Niall Scannell (Duncan Casey ’59), John Ryan; Jean Kleyn (Darren O’Shea ’44), Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan (Stephen Archer ’65), Jack O’Donoghue (Conor Oliver ’13), CJ Stander.  Not used: Dan Goggin.

Edinburgh: Glenn Bryce; Damien Hoyland, Michael Allen (Rory Scholes ’72), Chris Dean, Tom Brown; Duncan Weir (Blair Kinghorn ’52), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Sean Kennedy ’64); Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally (Neil Cochrane ’59), Kevin Bryce (Allan Dell ’5); Fraser McKenzie (Lewis Carmichael ’68), Ben Toolis; Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson (John Hardie ’25-’33, blood), Cornell Du Preez (Jack Cosgrove ’52) (John Hardie ’59).

CJ seemed to be everywhere so the stats showing 28 carries is not surprising. Billy Holland continues to lead the tackle count – 19 more today. We were a bit bemused when the man of the match was awarded to Edinburgh’s # 6 Magnus Bradbury!  Last week I was concerned about the high penalty count so I was delighted to see in this week’s stats that there was a good improvement with only 6 conceded versus ten last week but the team will be disappointed with the high number of turnovers and unforced errors. Plenty to work on but some good foundations in place with the set pieces working well.


Stats from ESPN

The injuries to Jack, Dave, Jean and other bumps and bruises will need to be evaluated in the coming days. Darren O’Shea and Alex Wootton made their league debuts while Cian Bohane and Conor Oliver gained more experience at this level. It was good to have Keith Earls back and hopefully we will see Peter, Tommy and Simon make their returns next week or at the Aviva the following week.

Reading back through the match thread on Twitter it looks like I missed some classic quotes captured on the player microphone worn by CJ Stander. This clip gives a sense of his enthusiasm, leadership and workrate throughout.

Post game comments from Rassie “I would never have wanted the game to feel like a horror movie, just watching minutes and minutes and minutes as it felt like we weren’t getting there”.

Also worth checking out the post match thoughts of try scorer Conor Oliver

“Nowhere I’d rather be” – so sang Clean Bandit on the radio as I arrived in Limerick and with my front row view from the terrace and the reunion with my friends it was true, especialy as the weather cleared up.  John was surprised to receive so many birthday wishes – who was telling us all John?  Kevin and George were in great voice and started us off with the usual songs a few times throughout the game. In the bar afterwards there was a reunion of the MRSC Dublin social media gurus as Catriona was home from Australia and I met her and the latest curator of the account Michelle there.  I asked Catriona if she enjoys going to rugby matches there and about the different climate there to be told that she has to worry more about sunburn than wet gear there and that she has only been to one game on a rainy day in 2 years!  Still there is nowhere I would rather be and at least the climate had improved dramatically in Limerick to dry up before kick-off and the sun even broke through before the end.


Selfie time for George, featuring Tony, Imelda and I with birthday boy John in the background.

Hopefully it will be dry again next weekend for the visit of Zebre. Considering how the Italians were leading Connacht 22-10 before their third round game was abandoned and then put it up to Cardiff before succumbing 21-23 this week their visit which will not be televised is likely to be a bigger test than their visit to the sunny south east for the pre-season friendly in August (see blog if you missed it in August).

Daryl was at the game – see all his photos here and check out my facebook page.


It looks like Billy almost making the blockdown while CJ tries to make ground. Photos by Daryl





Experience gained: Dragons: 16 – Munster: 20

The withdrawal of Keith Earls with a hamstring niggle left the midfield light on experience, with Colm O’Shea making his Pro12 debut alongside Academy player Dan Goggin on only his third league appearance (none of which show on his official record on the Munster rugby website yet!)  It is also hard to believe that Rory Scannell amassed 26 appearances last season alone.  No wonder his absence was felt this weekend.  When you add in the limited league experience of Tyler Bleyendaal playing for the first time I believe alongside Conor Murray – who himself would not be fully match fit on his first game of the season, – my optimism pre-game was misfounded.  It will be interesting to see how Jaco Taute settles into Munster and the experience he will bring to the team.


Dan Goggin on the charge with Cian Bohane in support. Photo by Daryl Feehely

A win is a win is a win, they say.  We’ll take the points and get back to home comforts next weekend.  The team certainly made us sweat for the four points and the cheer at the final whistle was mainly relief.  It had all started more positively with a great cheer when the first Munster scrum of the game completely dominated the Dragons to win a penalty after about 5 minutes.  That was followed in quick succession by a maul and another strong scrum in the 9th minute which drove Dragons back to win Munster a penalty in front of the posts.  Tyler Bleyendaal put it over the posts to take a 0-3 lead.  However a penalty against Munster for not releasing gave Dragons the opportunity to level the score and Angus O’Brien did exactly that to make it 3-3 after 13 minutes.

Jean Kleyn made his debut and scored his first try in the red jersey.  That move started from a lineout he secured in the 18th minute.  A maul helped move play closer to the Munster 10m line before it was passed out wide where Conway and O’Mahony combined well before going to ground.  John Ryan made some hard yards before Dan Goggin brought play into the Dragons 22.  Munster probed one side then the other before quick hands from CJ Stander gave Jean Kleyn a gap to charge through and he just had the scrumhalf Pretorius to batter aside before touching down beside the posts.


Jean Kleyn about to score his first try for Munster. Photo by Daryl

Tyler Bleyndaal added the conversion to make it 3-10 and all seemed well with the world but the floodgates never opened.  Indeed it was Dragons who scored next off an intercept.  Hallam Amos picked off the pass from Colm O’Shea and sprinted in to score the try, converted by O’Brien to tie the scores again after half an hour.  Cian Bohane came on for O’Shea as a HIA replacement.

Niall Scannell was unlucky not to score a few minutes later when a kick ahead by Murray was almost gathered by Ronan O’Mahony but the referee checked with the TMO and ruled Ronan had knocked it on so Niall’s touchdown did not count.


Niall Scannell’s effort was disallowed after review by the TMO. Photo by Daryl

There was a great outburst of applause on 37″ as a tribute to someone (Player or supporter?) but I could not catch the details on Sky.  Maybe one of you can fill me in?  There seemed to be a good crowd there but according to Twitter the attendance was less than four thousand.

James Cronin stripped a ball to claim a turnover when Dragons were pressing for a score at the start of the second half.  The sun could have been to blame for Goggin dropping the restart which had given Dragons the field position to put on that pressure.

Penalties were exchanged to make it 13-10, 13 all, 16-13, 16 all and there was a real stop-start feel to the game that given the excellent weather conditions was a disappointment as I had hoped for more running rugby.

A shrill blast of the whistle indicated that Andrew Conway was in trouble after a heavy collision with the Dragons lock Nick Crosswell.  Both players were taken off for head injury assessments; it was good to see Conway indicating he was OK via  a thumbs up as he was replaced by Ian Keatley.

A Munster scrum led to the best backline move of the game.  Murray looped well with Bleyendaal before putting O’Mahony into the gap with a reverse pass.  O’Mahony got the pass to Darren Sweetnam on the wing and we were almost celebrating his try before we realised he had not grounded the ball!   When Felix Jones said, ‘if Sweetnam gets the ball all the other players have to expect an off-load‘ – according to Andrew Conway in the Indo, – I don’t think he meant it quite the way it transpired for Cian Bohane.  Sweetnam’s inexperience also showed perhaps as his eagerness to make the conversion easier could have backfired totally when Amos managed to get to him after he had crossed the line but before he had grounded the ball.  Fortunately the referee adjudged that the ball had been knocked backwards and hence Bohane’s supporting run and grounding of the ball gave him his first league points also.

The conversion made it a 4 point game so a penalty or drop-goal would not suffice for Dragons but both team had time to close out the game.  Kilcoyne made some great charges with the ball; Conor Oliver got a few minutes experience at 7; Dan Goggin made 11 runs as did CJ Stander according to ESPN stats, available here which also show that Billy, Jack and Donncha led the tackle count with Tyler making 12.  Jack made one memorable tackle to single-handedly drive a Dragons player into touch.  The final minutes were tense as Dragons had a lineout deep in Munster territory and attempted to maul over the line. Thankfully the defence held firm until the Dragons knocked on to loud cheers of relief in the River Bar.


John Ryn barges through with Jean Kleyn in support. Photo by Daryl

John Ryan won Man of the Match – not just for his excellent scrummaging but he made some great ball-carrying breaks and tackles also.  The post match interview with Rassie Erasmus left us bemused and looking for subtitles!  It was hard to hear over the noise in the pub, especially as he was speaking so quickly.

So three games into the new league season and there is plenty to work on, not least the penalties given away too cheaply.  Munster conceded 10 penalties in Newport and will be keen to reduce that number, especially around the breakdown area, where they were frequently pinged for not rolling away or for going off their feet.  With two home games at Thomond to come starting with the visit of Edinburgh next weekend followed by Zebre hopefully we will build some confidence and momentum before the annual trip to the Aviva followed by the start of the European campaign.

Daryl’s photos can be seen here.  Please check out to my facebook page / follow me on Twitter @WTView or sign up to receive my game day blogs by email🙂.

Munster: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Colm O’Shea, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Donnacha Ryan; Billy Holland Capt., Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Duncan Casey, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley,  Cian Bohane.

DRAGONS: Carl Meyer, Pat Howard, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon (Adam Warren 77′), Hallam Amos, Angus O’Brien, Sarel Pretorius (Charlie Davies 68′), Sam Hobbs (Thomas Davies 52′), Rhys Buckley, Brok Harris (Craig Mitchell 52′), Nick Crosswell (Cory Hill 55′), Rynard Landman, Lewis Evans (captain), Ollie Griffiths (Nic Cudd 58′), Ed Jackson (James Thomas 71′).  Replacements not used: Darran Harris.


Love this photo of CJ by Daryl.

Interesting read if you did not see it on Friday – Tommy O’Donnell’s diary in the Indo about dealing with the return to play protocols and the need to avoid tv, reading, phones etc.

As mentioned I was bridesmaid at a wedding last weekend and while most of the attendees were Leinster residents I got in a few plugs for the blog as you never know who they might meet who would be interested.  A man was chatting to the other bridesmaid Caroline and myself after the meal.  As he had already mentioned Lansdowne a few times in the conversation when he asked me what I did I replied that I was a rugby blogger!  We had a great chat then as it turned out he was Mick Quinn who played outhalf for Ireland in the 70s.  He was full of anecdotes about beating England in Twickenham and his great friend and team-mate at Lansdowne Moss Keane.  Mick also spoke passionately about his work with the IRFU Charitable Trust for injured players and their fundraising trip to Chicago to co-incide with the Ireland v New Zealand game there in November.  I hope it goes well for them and for the injured players they are supporting.


The Munster emblem in City Hall – spotted during my Culture Night visit – photo by Gayl


Work in Progress: Munster 23 – Cardiff Blues: 24


First scrum after CJ’s arrival. Photo by Gayl

After the high of last weeks victory there was a reality check when Cardiff Blues inflicted a narrow home defeat in the second round of the Pro12 campaign this weekend.  In truth Cardiff could have won by more, but it does not mean that the result in Llanelli was a false dawn.  Rather the team fell short of the benchmark set last week.  Maybe the physical effort of that win with the short turnaround were factors.  Cardiff certainly cut through the defence with a lot more ease than Scarlets had done to score three tries on the night.  Munster scored two tries and came close another time or two only to concede a penalty when they were piling on the pressure.  However the players and management will learn a lot from those defensive frailties.  The lovely offloading displayed by the visitors negated engaging in as much hand-to-hand combat as had suited Munster the previous week.   With Earls, Murray and Peter O’Mahony to return soon and the addition of new short-term signing Jaco Taute there are grounds for optimism.  It is also worth reading the comments post game of Erasmus about needing to give the younger players “a proper chance, give them experience, let them learn from their mistakes, don’t crucify them when they make mistakes. That’s why we put them in there, its the only place they will learn.”


Andrew Conway races in to score Munster’s first try/ Photo by Robbie Ambrose

Due to being a bridesmaid for Amanda on Sunday I don’t have as much time as usual to write-up my blog so trying something different – picking out my favourite (glass half full naturally) memories from the game.  Normal service will be resumed next week when I will be watching the game with the MRSC Dublin folks again.  In Cork I watched the game in the company of Michelle who has taken over managing the MRSC Dublin facebook and twitter pages from me after 2 years so good luck to her with her new responsibilities🙂.

  1. The reception for Johnny Holland as he was interviewed pitchside pre-game was heart-warming.  As I wrote last week we were all disappointed for him when we heard of his pre-mature retirement.  After going through a difficult rehab the fact that he played so well towards the end of last season only for the injury to flare up again seemed cruel.  Johnny was also interviewed by Marcus Horan for TG4 and you can see that at 16 minutes into their program here
  2. Darren Sweetnam continues to shine in attack and defence and is cool under the high ball also.  His workrate is impressive, he never gives up the chase which continues to pay dividends.  His strength in the tackle has also improved since we first saw him play, now you often see him dragging the attacking player into touch.  The highlights video below includes his work in the build-up to Conway’s try as it was an incredible piece of skill and after securing the ball from a clever Keatley kick, surrounded by three of the Blues he had no right to get the pass away but he did.  In the photo link below there is also a series of photos from that play.

    Super footballing skills from the former hurling star Darren Sweetnam – photo by Robbie Ambrose

    • See also the TG4 player (9.5 minutes on match clock or 37 minutes into the playback here
  3. Andrew Conway also showed impressive skills, not least collecting a box kick that landed in his arms over his shoulder, (i.e. he had his back to the ball as he retreated to gather it) before he launched a garryowen and soared into the air to try to secure the ball against Nick Williams.  That feat drew great cheers and roars of encouragement from the terrace acknowledging his bravery, aerial athleticism and exciting counter-attack after about 15 minutes of play.  At 89kgs to Williams 130, that particular challenge did seem a bit David and Goliath and it was great when he managed to wrestle the ball free for Jack O’Donoghue to gather.
  4. Another strong memory was the roar of the 16th man when Cardiff were looking for a try just after the half hour mark as we urged on the players to keep them out.  Cardiff did manage to cross the line but the try was disallowed by the TMO as Gethin Jenkins had taken John Ryan out of the defensive line so obstructed him.  Unfortunately the Blues did score through Tom James shortly afterwards in an excellent move straight off the lineout into midfield where quick offloads from Lee-Lo put James away.
  5. Kudos also to John Ryan who has really made the number three shirt his own.  He got plenty of claps on the back from his team mates when the scrum won key penalties in the second half.  Brian Scott is also getting valuable experience also from the bench which will benefit his development.


    John Ryan on the charge with CJ, Billy and A N Other in support. Photo by Robbie Ambrose

  6. The rest of the front row are also worthy of mention – James Cronin and Dave Kilcoyne were both in barn-storming form while Niall Scannell put in another good performance and it is great to see Duncan Casey back, especially with the bad news of fresh injury woes for their colleagues Mike Sherry and Kevin O’Byrne.
  7. The scrum is back!  Another strong scrummaging performance especially in the second half – the penalty won by the first scrum after CJ arrived early in the second half showed great control and intensity.  Ten minutes later the scrum won another penalty to raucous acclaim which Keatley kicked to make it 13-17.
  8. Last weeks lineout woes were put to bed and there was a 100% return from goal kicks also.
  9. Around the 50 minute mark there was excellent interplay between Dan Goggin and Andrew Conway which had us roaring again.   Another of Robbie’s good photos shows how close Andrew and Dan came but the pass was just forward
    forwardpass_photobyrobbieambrose So near and yet so forward.. Photo by Robbie Ambrose
  • The Red Shed was heaving, the blue skies which appeared about 6 after a horribly wet day encouraged some extra folks along and the stand was almost full also.  It was nice to be recognised by Claire through the blog.  I am sure she and the other Waterford folks reading were delighted by the huge victory of their U21s in the All Ireland hurling final.  The WTView community continues to grow with contact this weekend from Robbie with the link to his photos which are featured here.  You can see all 64 of his pictures at his Flickr page here

James Cronin charges forward – photo by Robbie Ambrose

The key downsides beside the loss were the injuries to Tommy, Dave and Rory.  Hopefully none are too serious.  Rassie Erasmus post match seemed to indicate that Rory and Tommy were HIA / concussion concerns which Dave Foley looked to be in pain as he left the pitch protecting his elbow.

The third Blues try was made by two of their substitutes (Morgan and Williams) and their lively centre Lee-Lo to be finished well by Dan Fish.  With 12 minutes left Munster could only manage a penalty to reduce the gap to 1 point.  So more work to be done to improve handling skills and decision-making and bed in the new defence systems hence the title this week of work in progress.  Ospreys and Glasgow have set the early pace with Ulster and Cardiff making up the top 4 and Munster lying in 5th place.  Plenty to work on in the coming week before the visit to Rodney Parade in Newport!

Stats on the ESPN site are here and I was particularly interested in the kicking stats which you can see below.  Tomas O’Leary in the post match interview on TG4 spoke of the lack of control to make the kicks more contestable and the need to improve their exit strategy.  The back three are well capable of competing in the air when the kick is well executed.


Kicking away hard won possession stopped nster building momentum at time. Full stats on ESPN

MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell (Cian Bohane ‘HT), Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams (Tomás O’Leary ’66); James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’55), Niall Scannell (Duncan Casey ’66), John Ryan (Brian Scott ’73); Dave Foley (Donnacha Ryan ’52), Billy Holland (captain); Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell (CJ Stander ’45), Jack O’Donoghue.  Replacement not used: Stephen Fitzgerald.

CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James (Matthew Morgan ’67); Gareth Anscombe (Steve Shingler ’67), Tomos Williams (Lloyd Williams ’53); Gethin Jenkins (captain) (Rhys Gill ’49), Kristian Dacey (Matthew Rees ’59), Taufa-ao Filise (Scott Andrews ’49); George Earle (Josh Turnbull ’63), Macauley Cook; Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams (Sam Warburton ’49).