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Masterclass in poaching: Munster: 49 – Ospreys 13

A thorn in the side of the opposition, a thief, a master poacher, a turnover king… players with these abilities are valuable assets of a team as they win back possession, be it at a ruck or in a lineout.  Munster is blessed with several such athletes.  Ospreys certainly felt the brunt of the masterclass provided by Chris Cloete, Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne when they came to Cork.  It was a key element of a dominant pack performance which was appreciated by the backs and supporters alike.
You hear how players need to get a few games under their belt to achieve match fitness and optimum performance but Chris Cloete and Peter O’Mahony blew that out of the water in their first game of the season.  Ospreys did not come fully loaded with their international contingent so the result needs to be viewed in that context but the capacity crowd in Cork enjoyed a masterclass in poaching from some of the leading exponents of that art combined with 8 tries and plenty of action.  While it did taper off a bit at the end with the substitutions and injuries it was an entertaining game and a performance which hints at what could be this season, with Keith and CJ to return in the short term.

In the opening minutes Ospreys got into a good position when the bounce of a ball on the 3G surface led it to bobble between Mike Haley’s legs.  Munster withstood the maul and when Ospreys tried plan B Chris Cloete was in like a flash to rip the ball in the tackle and put Munster back on the attack from within their own 5m line in the 2nd minute of the game.  Chris went on to play the entire 80 minutes and while there was a worrying sight of him requiring attention in the closing stages he was able to play on so hopefully it was just cramping.  What an athlete and incredible poacher he is, I am glad he is on our team!  I had a great view of him in action early in the game – noting his impressive speed getting to the ruck, setting his feet to support his weight and instantaneously going for the ball, text book technique.  With Peter O’Mahony also a proven expert poacher a backrow combining them both looks set to test and torment the opposition this season.

Sam Arnold also impressed, showing his power and pace, making an early break in midfield and shortly after picking up a long lineout throw and making a few metres.  He was even used as an option for receiving kick-offs being lifted by Chris, as was Dan later on in the game as shown in this photo. 

Cloete Goggin

Preparing to lift Dan if the restart comes his way, we were fascinated by Chris pulling the shorts up in preparation, to get a better grip I assume

Cloete was penalised for not releasing a few times but after one game he already leads the turnover table for Munster with 3.  

Kudos to Stephen Archer for a sweet offload to put James Cronin through a gap, the more often players can show these skills the better opportunity there will be to punch holes through the defence instead of opting for contact and slowing down the play which allows defences to realign.

Also back for his first game of the season, Andrew Conway made a break but could not get the pass away when tackled.  A few minutes later it was Sweetnam who made ground and put Munster into good position after a superb maul by the pack.  The cross-field kick to Conway’s wing was not paying dividends but Munster had been playing with advantage.  Joey consulted his captain Peter and the ball was kicked to the corner.  The maul was pulled down and the referees hand went out again.  Sweetnam and Arnold came close but the referee brought them back.  Again they went for touch, again Darren O’Shea secured the ball and the maul was formed.  While they crossed the line the referee awarded a penalty try which no longer needs a conversion and showed a yellow card to the Ospreys lock Nensadze for collapsing the maul. 

maul

Darren secures the lineout and the maul forms around him just prior to the first try

Tadhg capitalised on his absence in the lineout to steal their throw in.  Peter won another turnover cleaning a player off the ball as Munster were rampant. 

Although Ospreys were next on the board with a penalty kick when Cloete was penalised, the second Munster try was special.  Ross O-Carroll Kelly will be crying to see Joey score his first try in red but for those of us there it was an exciting counter-attack and a lovely piece of skill.  Davies put in a cross field kick for his winger to attack but Joey came on to it at pace from the defensive line, weaving a path between Allen and Hook to touch down for his first Munster try .  Players and supporters celebrated as he calmly focused on his conversion kick.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Conway conceded a penalty when he mistimed his tackle on James Hook, hitting him before he had landed.  It looked worse in slow motion but the referee did not refer to the TMO and the Ospreys kicked to touch.  Munster again poached their lineout as Beirne batted the ball down.  However, Arnold got caught in possession and Davies had a second kick at goal which was successful to make it 14-6.

Conway chased the restart and got his timing spot on.  The cavalry arrived and won the turnover through the captain.  Cloete was almost in but when he was tackled it was James Cronin who plucked the ball out of the mass of bodies and touched it down against the posts to score the third try.  The conversion was a simple affair and it was 21-6 by the end of the sinbinning period.

Duncan Williams played well, linking with both backs and forward to keep the tempo up on the artificial surface.  Munster ended the half strongly, parked in the opposition 22.  Cloete won another turnover.  Ospreys were warned about discipline when trying to defend the maul so it was no surprise when their other lock Adam Beard was shown a yellow card just before half time.  The maul this time could not be legally stopped and it was Rhys Marshall who benefitted, scoring his second try in two weeks.  Joey maintained his 100% kicking record and Munster went in at half time with the bonus point secured on a scoreline of 28-6.

During the break the victorious Cork ladies camogie team were presented and there was an interview with Kieran Donaghy who was involved with the new pitch but I could not hear what was being said.  The minis featured two girls teams and they scored some nice tries.  I wonder what they made of the new surface.  Before the game the pitch was officially opened by Simon Coveney which we had watched on the big screen.

Munster again made their numerical advantage count in the opening minutes of the second half.  A high tackle on Joey Carbery was kicked to touch and the maul dragged by Peter O’Mahony at the front crossed the line.  Rhys peeled off with Duncan in support to claim his second try of the night.  After the conversion Munster were 35-6 to the good with just 44 minutes played.

An intercept by Peter put Munster back on the attack, through Goggin, Carberry and Sweetnam.  When Darren was tackled, Arno Botha was there in support to power his way through and claim his first try for Munster.

Another successful conversion, this time from the opposite side of the pitch made it a good evening for the latest heir to ROG.

Andrew Conway was busy throughout, he made a good break up the wing before Cloete took it on.  Shortly after, another good kick chase by Conway resulted in the Ospreys carrying the ball back over their line giving Munster a 5m scrum.  Arno dragged the defence over the line but could neither ground nor pass the ball.    

Conway challenged for the garryowen but could not get to it in the congestion.  The ball bounced and was gathered by Luke Morgan who had a clear run to the line.  Davies maintained his 100% kicking to make it 42-13 with just under twenty minutes to go. 

Munster responded well to score through Darren Sweetnam after excellent work by Keatley and Botha to break the line.  The former hurler (to be read in an ironic tone) used his excellent footwork to finish it off closer to the posts.  Keatley added the conversion.  Kilcoyne, Ryan and Sherry had been heavily involved in the build-up also.  Unfortunately Ryan was injured, meaning Stephen Archer had to return as John was helped from the pitch.   

When Archer had to leave for a HIA on 74 minutes it was strange to see Kleyn pack down in the front row for a change, all 6‘8” of him!  Of course, without a front row specialist it was for an uncontested scrum as Munster finished the game with 14 players.  James Cronin had been ready to return but was not allowed by the officials I believe.

There were a few exciting moments in the closing stages; Dan Goggin made a great break.  Moments later, Hart came even closer to scoring after a great break by Tommy (after another turnover by Cloete) but the defender managed to drag him down short of the line.  Dan Goggin tried again for the score to bring Munster over the half century in the closing minutes as did Keatley and Killer but eventually Munster were penalised for holding on in the tackle to bring the game to an end.

Credit to Tadhg on his impressive home debut on his first start for Munster, another contender for MOTM as he so often was last season in the other red jersey.

The stats from ESPN are here   I was surprised to see that Ospreys had also won a lot of turnovers from Munster so there is room for improvement to avoid giving possession away too cheaply to be exploited by stronger opposition.  

Highlights:

Post match interview with Johann on eir was interesting to see how he is looking at the workload for players in the season ahead and making substitution calls as a result

Match reports from The42.ie, Irish Examiner and Irish Independent plus excellent analysis from ThreeRedKings  Dan was singled out for praise in this report by Johann 

MUNSTER: 15. Mike Haley, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Sammy Arnold (Jaco Taute 52′) , 12. Dan Goggin, 11. Darren Sweetnam, 10. Joey Carbery (Ian Keatley 58′), 9. Duncan Williams (James Hart 64′); 1. James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne 49′), 2. Rhys Marshall (Mike Sherry 57′), 3. Stephen Archer (John Ryan 49′), 4. Tadhg Beirne (Jean Kleyn 52′), 5. Darren O’Shea, 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Tommy O’Donnell 58′), 7. Chris Cloete, 8. Arno Botha. 

OSPREYS: 15. James Hook, 14. Tom Williams (Hanno Dirksen 68′), 13. Joe Thomas, 12. Cory Allen (Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler 58′), 11. Luke Morgan, 10. Sam Davies (James Ratti 74′), 9. Tom Habberfield (Matthew Aubrey 58′); 1. Rhodri Jones (Nicky Smith 68′), 2. Scott Baldwin (Ifan Philips 49′), 3. Tom Botha, 4. Giorgi Nemsadze, 5. Adam Beard, 6. Olly Cracknell (captain), 7. Morgan Morris (Guido Volpi), 8. Sam Cross.

The A team had a great win in Wales in the second round of the Celtic Cup on a winning scoreline of 7-52.  You can check out Daryl’s photos from Swansea  here

I will be in Coppers next Friday night to cheer on Munster in Cardiff – their third week in a row to play on artificial surfaces and hopefully the first win on the road for the team before the inter-pros start with the visit of Ulster.  Might see some of you in MRSC Dublin’s new home for the game.

This made me smile during the week and wonder how Ross felt seeing Joey move to top point scorer for Munster after 3 games.  Maybe we’ll start singing about the fields of Athy instead of Athenry to help him settle in even better 🙂

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Saw it in Coppers: Glasgow: 25 – Munster: 10

Glasgow’s first half performance brought us face to face with the reality that there remains plenty of room for improvement especially on the road this season to unseat them at the top of Conference A.  Glasgow enjoyed 86% possession in the opening 34 minutes – a sobering stat and while Munster turned it around to dominate the second half they could not turn that pressure into enough points to overcome the deficit.  Credit to Glasgow for their resolute defence, especially when they repelled 22 phases of Munster attack in the 58th minute.  Indeed it took Munster almost 20 phases again when they managed to get over the line for their only try so they were made to work hard for everything.

I could not bring myself to watch even the highlights of the game on TG4 afterwards and I expect there will be a tough review session for the team on Monday.  Injuries to Billy Holland and Neil Cronin did not help in the first half.

It was good to see Tadhg Beirne come on at half-time and he brought a lot to the team.  Interestingly he went in to the back row.  The scrum and maul improved considerably in that half giving Munster more attacking opportunities.  It was good to see Jaco make his return from injury also.

Earlier that day I had enjoyed reading Rhys Marshall’s player diary in the Indo where he mentioned his rivalry with his cousin, the backrow for Glasgow.  Both of them got on the scoresheet but bragging rights will remain with Callum for another while, at least until they visit Thomond in October.  Mind you the referee thought he had seen some foul play involving Callum early in the game but the TMO could not find any footage so play continued.

GLASGOW WARRIORS: Stuart Hogg (Niko Matawalu, 73); Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Peter Horne, DTH van der Merwe; Adam Hastings (Alex Dunbar, 63), George Horne (Ali Price, 54); Oli Kebble (Jamie Bhatti, 59), Fraser Brown, (George Turner, 50) Zander Fagerson (D’Arcy Rae, 63), Rob Harley, Jonny Gray, Ryan Wilson (Matt Fagerson, 70), Callum Gibbins, Adam Ashe (Scott Cummings, 54).
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell (Jaco Taute, 64), Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan (Joey Carbery, 43), Neil Cronin (Duncan Williams, 35); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin, 56), Mike Sherry (Rhys Marshall, 48), John Ryan (Stephen Archer, 41); Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland (C)(Fineen Wycherley, 25); Dave O’Callaghan (Tadhg Beirne, 41), Tommy O’Donnell, Arno Botha.

One of the highlights was a super break by Sam Arnold but unfortunately he could not get the pass to a supporting player as he was tackled.  Holding Glasgow scoreless from the 37th to the 73rd minute when Hogg kicked a penalty their only score of the half showed the character of the team.  Denying Glasgow a bonus point may make a difference at the end of the season, plenty of rugby to be played in the meantime, starting with the visit of Ospreys next Friday.  Hope to see some of you there.

Match reports from The42.ie, ThreeRedKings, Irish Examiner and Irish Independent

Post match views from Johann: The42.ie

Stats from ESPN are here and highlight how much a game of two halves it was with Munster enjoying 79% of the territory in the 2nd half but only 15% in the first.  The wind was a factor also.

stats GLAvMUN

Highlights

On a happier note Munster A got their campaign off to a winning start in the new Celtic Cup competition.  Match report here

Could we be more culchie?

The Dublin branch of MRSC have a new home this season in Copperface Jacks.  I arrived before 7 to attend the AGM.  For the medium size crowd expected they were in an upstairs room with couches, tables, high and low stools.  As Kevin said it was like being in someone’s living room except there were about 35 supporters there and no complaints from the neighbours about the noise!  I volunteered to join the committee where my bus organising skills from a few seasons ago may come in handy as there are plans afoot to run a bus to the Connacht game.  I suggested running one to the European home games in October and December as both are 1pm starts.  outside Coppers

The red couches, red lighting on the stairs and in the ladies (can’t say if it was the same in the gents :-))  made us feel at home!  The TV looked very smart in a frame and the commentary from the attendees was lively.  The referee came in for a lot of comments most of which cannot be repeated here.  We cheered on players by name as we would if we were on the terrace but sadly there were not too many opportunities for celebrating scores.  It was nice to catch up with some of the regulars and discuss travel plans to the European pool games and indeed the RWC2019.  You can follow MRSC Dublin on Facebook or Twitter  This blog is also on Facebook and Twitter or you can enter your email to subscribe and receive an email whenever a new post is available.  Thanks for reading and especially for any comments / likes and shares.

 

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“Right here, right now” new season off to a Sweet start: Munster: 38 – Cheetahs: 0

Take it quickly!

Right here, right now” the Fatboy Skim song blasted over the PA as Billy Holland led the home team out for their first Pro14 game of the new season, to kick off the latest quest for silverware.  As Johann likes to say we “reset to zero” and that holds true for the 18/19 season.

Jean LO

Jean Kleyn secures the lineout as those on the east terrace shade their eyes

The Cheetahs enjoyed early possession and won a kickable penalty in the second minute when the defender did not roll away but thankfully the kick by Schoeman was off target.

Tommy and newcomer Mike Haley combined well to put Munster on the front foot in the 11th minute, but a few phases later a penalty let the Cheetahs off the hook and back onto the attack.

During an injury stoppage which resulted in their captain Mohoje having to be removed with what looked like a knee injury Kevin launched into the first terrace “stand up and fight” of the season and we rowed in behind him.  A sympathetic round of applause accompanied the unfortunate player from the field.

Sweetnam sowed confusion into the defence as he used his step, swerve and pace to attack from the Munster half.  Throwing a sublime one-handed offload to Rory Scannell gave the latter a clear run to the line to put the first points on the board for the new campaign.

Behind the kicker!!  From the restart the Cheetahs pre-empted the kickoff and we quickly pointed out the error of their ways as they were called back.

Sweetnam nearly created a try for himself, scything down the west side but was forced into touch by 2 defenders just short of the line.  He always has the X factor but lost his European games place last season to Alex Wootton so it is great to see him back in such scintillating form.

Dave O’Callaghan broke through and when not held gained more metres before the ball was passed out to new signing Arno Botha who charged upfield.  Munster went through the phases and John Ryan nearly made it all the way but knocked on.  However, Munster had an advantage and went for the lineout.  Billy secured the ball and offloaded to Botha charging around the back of the lineout. When he was hauled down a quick recycle saw Dave Kilcoyne barrel over with Jean Kleyn in support.  The TMO confirmed the grounding and JJ added the conversion to make it 12-0 in the 32nd minute.

A Cheetahs lineout went over the top and was taken by Mike Sherry to put Munster back on the attack. Great to see Mike starting his first league game in many months after his injury ravaged seasons.

Mike LO

Mike Sherry has his eye on the over thrown lineout

Arno had another charge to get the crowd cheering and based on this performance he looks set to become a firm favourite and another welcome adopted son of Munster.

Arno

Arno – looking as implacable as Arnie!

*****

Low lie..” rang out during an early injury stoppage in the second half.  The Cheetahs best scoring opportunity came shortly afterwards.  At that stage Dan Goggin was down injured, pulling Darren infield to cover the gap.  The pass went out to winger Maxwane who stood up Mike Haley before offloading to his fullback.  It looked like Waer would go all the way but Academy player Shane Daly raced across from his wing hard, fast and low to haul him down short of the line.  The cavalry arrived and turned over possession through Darren and Mike.  Dan went off for a HIA with the bearded Sam Arnold taking his place in midfield.

Tommy put in a tackle with Neil Cronin going in for the poach.  When Neil went off his feet and was penalized the visitors opted for a kick at goal.  The scoreboard went up to 1, 2 and then backtracked again when it was confirmed that the kick had gone wide.

A penalty kicked to touch by Rory gave Munster a good lineout position.  Kleyn took the ball and the maul formed. It looked like a try was on but the final pass from Haley to Daly went beyond his reach to our disappointment.  However the momentum remained with Munster.  Tommy scored an easy try after a lot of hard work in the 52nd minute. Rory and JJ had put pressure on the Cheetahs preventing them executing their exit strategy from a scrum and a few passes later Tommy romped over the line..

There was a loud cheer as Joey Carberry took to the pitch to make his Munster debut, earlier than we had expected in the season.  Shane Daly made way with Mike moving to the wing and JJ to fullback in the resultant reshuffle. Dan Goggin returned after passing his HIA but after a few minutes he was again replaced by Sam. Hopefully he is OK.  Sam was quick into action of the handbags variety, before being summoned by the referee who warned Wiese and Sam in turn: “you could risk 10m and you could risk a reversal” so they shook hands and got back to work.

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A talking to by the referee for Sam

Another of the Academy players Gavin Coombes came on in place of Tommy O’Donnell to make his Pro14 debut after impressing in the pre-season friendlies.

A scrum penalty was kicked to an excellent touch by Joey Carberry.  Darren O’Shea secured the ball and the maul took it closer before captain Billy Holland appeared to be in for the bonus point try.  However the TMO was asked to review and the try was disallowed – the referee had heard Billy say to take the conversion quickly which aroused his suspicions and the TMO confirmed there was a knock-on!!  Maybe we need a code word for that scenario in future 😊

Joey

Joey kicks the penalty to touch

However the bonus point wasn’t long in coming when Munster kept the Cheetahs under pressure and it was JJ Hanrahan who finished off the attack and converted his own try to make it 24-0.

Neil Cronin got warm applause as he made way for James Hart after a good afternoons work in speed and accuracy of pass from the scrum/ruck/breakdown and in defence. I thought he played with great composure and smiled to read this morning that JJ said the same of him – “He’s got a real calmness to him, which is what you need from a nine and he takes everything in his stride.”

Dave O’Callaghan was next to score out on the wing as Darren who I think flipped on a pass from Joey to him was taken out in a late hit but thankfully he was ok to continue.

3 try scorers

Three of the six try-scorers – Rory, JJ and Darren – along with Joey and other newbie Mike Haley is out on the wing plus Tyler as water boy.

 

The icing on the cake came when man of the match Sweetnam reacted quickly as the ball bounced between two Cheetah players to gather it and race in under the posts in the 72nd minute from his own half.  Honourable mention to James Hart who made a great break which raised the volume of the supporters in the closing minutes before the ball eventually went loose.  However it brought Munster back into their own half to see out the final minutes and keep a clean sheet.

Match stats from ESPN: here

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin (HIA – Sammy Arnold ’44 to ’54, permanent ’60), Rory Scannell, Shane Daly (Joey Carbery ’53); JJ Hanrahan, Neil Cronin (James Hart ’67); Dave Kilcoyne (Brian Scott ’63), Mike Sherry (Rhys Marshall ’51), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’47); Jean Kleyn (Darren O’Shea ’58), Billy Holland (captain); Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell (Gavin Coombes ’63), Arno Botha.

CHEETAHS: Malcolm Jaer; Rabz Maxwane, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Nico Lee, William Small-Smith (Ryno Eksteen ’80); Tian Schoeman (Ernst Stapelberg ’58), Shaun Venter (Tian Meyer ’57); Ox Nche (Charles Marais ’51), Jacques du Toit (Joseph Dweba ’70), Luan de Bruin (Aranos Coetzee ’51, blood reversal ’63 to ’70); Justin Basson (Walt Steenkamp ’58), JP du Preez; Junior Pokomela, Oupa Mohoje (captain) (Aidon Davis ’14),  Jasper Wiese.

I was delighted when Darren was named MOTM especially as I had included him in my Pro14 fantasy team.  If anyone wants to join my mini-league for a bit of fun and an honourable mention here the PIN is 715012-1729

Sean Cronin must have forgiven Neil for dressing his twins in Munster gear during the summer as he came along to Thomond Park to support his brother making his return to the red jersey after signing for the province during the summer from Garryowen and his job as a teacher.

Sunshades and Shorts

I arrived in Limerick at 2pm in order to attend the MRSC AGM which I was glad to see was much better attended than the previous year.  It was held in the new MRSC bar, still above UL Bohs but the entrance is now at the far side.  The media have relocated to the east stand while the 10 year season ticket holders now have a bar on the west.  I was surprised to hear from Dave that the builders had only handed over the room to them the previous day so they had a mad rush to get some photographs and memorabilia up on the walls. More seats are expected before the next home game.  The full length windows looking onto the pitch made it seem very airy and spacious.  It was nice to see James and Sinead as I entered and  d and to meet Paul and Therese from MRSC Dublin before joining Tony Imelda and Pascal.  Bernie was a little embarrassed to be serenaded with Happy Birthday on her arrival a few minutes later!

The AGM was interesting, a report by Committee members followed by the uncontested election of a new member to replace Linda and an update from Doug, Paul (8 weeks into his role replacing Jennifer Kiernan) and Philip.  The new strategic plan recognises that a key strength of Munster is the Red Army.  We were sorry to hear that Garret was on leave after his recent operation for a brain tumour and wished him a good recovery as he continues his treatment.  The Q&A was lively although the choir warming up over the PA system made it a little difficult to hear at times.

I was glad to see that the bar had adopted the practice I had praised in Ravenhill of having some staff pulling pints while others served which seemed to speed up  the service.  The stress test will come in a few weeks.

When I went back there after the game it was great to say hello to Andy and Breege, Carmel, Mark amongst others while Ed made a point of introducing me to Bernie’s cousin Shane (and Michelle) on the occasion of their first game as season ticket holders, welcome to the red army! I also enjoyed meeting baby Anna on her first visit prior to the game while waiting in the sun for the turnstiles to open. I have known her dad Paul since an away trip in May 2014 so it was great to meet the apple of his eye.

PoyntzFamily

Paul, Linda and Anna making her debut at Thomond Park

There were so many familiar faces in the queue at turnstile 7, even if some were dressed in the less familiar shorts and shades.  What a summer we have had!  When we got in it was great to see that the pitch looked wonderful in the sunshine, despite the summer drought, fair dues to the ground-staff.

There were greetings of “happy new season” some accompanied by hugs as we caught up with each other and assumed our positions on our beloved west terrace south.  Notable by their absence were the Waterford crew (at a wedding) and Patrick (Eilish gave his excuses) while Tony was over in the east stand keeping Dougie company.  There was an air of optimism, especially with signings like Tadhg and Joey although the injury to Conor is a major concern.

George was stunned that Exeter had put their tickets for the visit of Munster in October on general release to be snapped up by the Red Army.  He turned out to be a travel guide supreme for that area, showing me pictures of some must sees.  Imelda had a few good sights to recommend also, hopefully we will have the weather to enjoy some of them. George also recommended my blog which he claimed was read by all the players (I wish) to the person beside him.  Seriously though, it is lovely to be considered an essential part of the match day experience by a niche group of the Red Army!

Next Friday night will be a tough test at Scotstoun.  I plan to go in early for the MRSC Dublin AGM.  There was some teasing about nurses and guards given the new MRSC Dublin base is none other than Copperface Jacks!  I am not sure if I will blog about the away games I don’t attend or not this season but I will have to blog at least my inaugural visit to that establishment!

More of my photos from the game are on the blog Facebook page and I will throw them up on my Instagram also.

Other links

 Match report from the Irish Examiner and the 42.ie, Irish Times and Independent

Post match including praise from JJ and Johann about Neil: http://www.the42.ie/joey-carbery-neil-cronin-munster-4214507-Sep2018/ and by JJ about Sweets in this one

 

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Sweep away the cobwebs – Munster: 32 – London Irish: 28

Darren maul

hereDarren O’Shea tries to stop #4 getting to the ball

It was great to head down to Cork to kick off the new season; to see some players return from injury, others step up from the Academy and some of the new recruits earn their first caps for Munster.  I love the optimism we have at the start of each season, a clean slate and with some good signings there are extra grounds for optimism to push through the semi-final barrier of recent seasons.  Of course the friendlies don’t tell you too much as the players are still a bit rusty and those involved in the tour of Australia for Ireland are unavailable but these games play an important part in the preparations for the coming challenges.  It also helps the coaches to see how the players respond under gameday pressure and sweeps away any cobwebs remaining after their vacation.

With no big screen since the game was not televised and a PA system which could not be heard on the east terrace it was hard to keep track of who was who, especially with all the substitutions.   That was made more complex by Munster fielding both JJ and Ian wearing the number 10 jersey while James Hart, Jack Stafford and Neil Cronin all wore the number 9 at different stages.  Presumably not the same shirt!

shirt numbers

London Irish were clearer with their numberings than Munster

The new 3G pitch had raised the height of the pitch considerably.  As a result Oscar looked taller when he came by before kick-off or else he had stretched over the summer. A cloud of black particles rose whenever the ball bounced on the new surface or the players’ boots caught it – you get an idea of it in the photo below. I was itching to get out there with a good brush or hoover (can you imagine how long it would take to cover the full pitch, I would still be there!)  It will be a great asset to the province especially during the heavy usage period for schools rugby competitions in the spring.

The West Stand and East Terrace were full for the game with sparser crowds lining up behind both posts.  Declan Kidney got a warm welcome back to Cork as captured by Daryl

I met Imelda and Tony on the terrace and enjoyed catching up with them after the summer break.

The new aqua tops did not look great during the warm-up over the maroon shorts (unless you are colour blind) but looked well with the navy or teal shorts – I thought the same last season with the orange warm-up tops!

Tyler and Hart

Water boy Tyler as James Hart lines up the first conversion

Against the run of play a mistimed pass gave the visitors a chance to attack from just inside their own half and Matt Williams showed a good turn of pace to chase the kicked through ball to the Munster line.  Greig Tonks converted to give them a 7 point lead.

lineout DOS

Darren is lifted by Fineen to secure the lineout

A good tackle by Dan Goggin knocked the ball loose a few minutes later deep in the visitors half.  He managed to hack it through and Darren Sweetnam won the race to gather the ball and score in the corner.  JJ was down for treatment so James Hart lined up the conversion but it went wide to leave the score at 5-7.

Daryl_Darren

Daryl captures the action as Darren Sweetnam swoops to pick up the ball he had kicked ahead and finish off the try

After great pressure on the London Irish line Brian Scott was quickest to react when the ball came out to score the second try.  JJ added a drop goal to make up for the missed conversions and put Munster into the lead.

maul

Kevin controls the ball at the back of the maul

Dan Goggin scored the third try for Munster, powering through two defenders to touch down, converted by JJ but London Irish struck back just before half-time, through Ollie Hoskins finishing off after a super maul to leave it at 20-14 when Theo Brophy-Clews converted.

Changes made at half-time and throughout the second half disrupted the flow somewhat.  The introduction of Kilcoyne, Sherry, Holland and Kleyn gave the pack ascendency and resulted in two tries finished off by Mike Sherry.  Imelda noted that they had fixed the sign – the D has been restored to the Dolphin clubhouse.

Shane Daly who had done well on the 7s circuit caught my eye at number 22 (replacing Rory) and we were interested to see new-comer Mike Haley come on at fullback also.  Topsy Ojo had looked like a danger man all night and he showed his class late in the game with a perfect chip and chase to score in the corner.  Imelda had commented that he had played on our side of the pitch in both halves.  That score arose when Haley’s long pass was intercepted to put London Irish on the front foot.  Stephen Myler converted it and the final score of the night, a try finished by Scott Steele on full time.

Report from the Irish Examiner, The42.ie article focuses on the young players while this is their match report,  London Irish match report

Daryl’s photos from the evening can be seen on his Facebook page .

Nice to start the season with a win and a trophy!  Hopefully a good omen for the season ahead despite the additional challenges of squad management due to the World Cup in 2019.  Congrats to Rory, Sam and Andrew on their nominations for the Pro14 dream team for last season.

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The Stuart Mangan trophy presented to the victorious captain Tommy O’Donnell – photo by Daryl Feehely

MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald (Mike Haley ‘HT); Calvin Nash (Liam Coombes ‘HT), Dan Goggin (Rory Scannell ’71), Rory Scannell (Shane Daly ‘HT (Alex McHenry ’71)), Darren Sweetnam (Calvin Nash ’65); JJ Hanrahan (Ian Keatley ’45), James Hart (Jack Stafford ’45 (Neil Cronin ’65)); Jeremy Loughman (Cronan Gleeson ’32 (Dave Kilcoyne ’51)), Kevin O’Byrne (Mike Sherry ‘HT), Brian Scott (Ciaran Parker ’32 – reversal ’65); Fineen Wycherley (Billy Holland ‘HT), Darren O’Shea (Jean Kleyn ‘HT); Dave O’Callaghan (Sean O’Connor ‘HT (Fineen Wycherley ’67)), Tommy O’Donnell (captain) (Jack Daly ’51), Gavin Coombes (Tommy O’Donnell ’67).

LONDON IRISH: Greig Tonks (Sean O’Hagan ‘HT); Topsy Ojo (Reuben Knight ‘HT – reversal ’65), Matt Williams (Scott Steele ’22), Fergus Mulchrone, Ollie Hassell-Collins (Bryce Campbell ‘HT); Theo Brophy Clews (Stephen Myler ‘HT), Ben Meehan (Brendan McKibbin ‘HT); Gordon Reid (Harry Elrington ‘HT), Dave Porecki (Saia Fainga’a ‘HT), Oliver Hoskins (Petrus du Plessis ‘HT); Teofilo Paulo (Barney Maddison ‘HT), Sebastian de Chaves (Sam Twomey ‘HT); Josh McNally (captain) (Jack O’Sullivan ‘HT), Max Northcote-Green (Isaac Curtis-Harris ‘HT), Matt Rogerson (Jake Schatz ‘HT).

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

I won’t get down for the Exeter game next Friday but I will be at the Cheetahs game when the league season kicks off at Thomond the following Saturday.  I intend to go down early to attend the MRSC AGM also and to see the changes made to the bar which I had heard about a few months ago.  Hope to see some of you there as we stand up and fight in earnest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scrum with Robin playing at 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats from ESPN are here

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Au Revoir Zeebs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter O’Mahony secures the lineout on halfway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Congrats for Ciaran Parker from Johann after the game

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ready to terrorise the Ulster lineout

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

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

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

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GG secured the lineout and the maul drove forward

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

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

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

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Darren O’Shea secures the lineout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stats

Stats from ESPN

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

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

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

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

Jaco

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

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