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Heart, grit and passion: Munster: 14 – Racing 92: 7

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Happy faces all round

Like the popping of a champagne cork, the outpouring of excitement, relief and delight after an hour of cut and thrust with neither side making a breakthrough was euphoric as we watched Conor Murray block down the box-kick, chase after the ball, gather it and score in the corner.

Jumping for joy, cheering, waving flags, the noise levels would have gone through the roof had there been a roof.  Storm Brian could do its worst but could not dampen our delight.  Ian Keatley, supported by Rhys Marshall to steady the ball in the swirling wind added the conversion to rapturous acclaim and throw down the gauntlet to the visitors.

Playing in their special Irish Heart jerseys in honour of the first anniversary of the death of Anthony Foley, I believe he would have been so proud of the heart and grit shown by his team.

The previous hour had been an absorbing contest. Racing 92 had made a statement of intent with the star-studded team they had named the previous day.  An early tangle between Dan Carter and Chris Farrell thankfully did not end the former’s participation.  A few minutes later it was Peter O’Mahony’s turn to require medical attention but to our delight he was soon patched up and back into the action.

The scrum up against a huge French pack did very well, more than holding their own and as per the photo below put in a dominant performance to win a penalty for Munster.

scrum

Trojan work by the pack at scrum time – this one led to a penalty to set up good territory for Munster

Despite playing with the wind advantage in the first half, Racing were pinned back for a long period as they conceded penalty after penalty in their own half approaching the quarter-hour mark.  Unfortunately Munster could not turn that pressure into points.  Leone jumping at the front of the defensive lineout by Racing allied to the windy conditions proved challenging for the hooker and lineout caller.

POM_LO

A first half lineout in front of the WT as Peter secures the ball

Then Racing had their period of possession but the defense was immediately up and in their faces, until eventually they made a mistake.  I could hardly believe that we were nearly at half time with no break in the deadlock.  The stats show the dominance in possession and territory for Racing in the first half but they could not find any weakness to exploit.

Nil all at half time is not a typical rugby scoreline but with the wind advantage to come and the expectation that the heavier French pack would tire in those conditions given the pace of the game there was hope.  The much improved discipline of the team over the previous two weeks (just 3 conceded in the first half) combined with their workrate and doggedness gave us plenty of encouragement.  It was fast, frenetic at times, gladatorial, the pressure and tension were unrelenting. There were errors, knock-ons and lost lineouts but in the conditions and that pressure cooker atmosphere it was understandable.

The crowd more than played their part despite the stress they were under.  Each big tackle, turnover, blockdown and the delicate juggling skills displayed by Rhys Marshall were greeted as rapturously as if they were in fact scores as were the knock-ons or accidental running into his own man by the visitors.  Likewise, the excellent touch finder by Zebo returning a kick by Pat Lambie which just found the white wash and the sublime one deep in the second half by Ian Keatley to pin back the visitors were cause for celebration.  Magic moments included the around his back pass by Simon Zebo to Keith Earls which nearly resulted in a score and if it had we would have been watching it on repeat for years to come!

The new front row unleashed by Racing in the 52nd minute nearly paid dividends when as their maul surged for the try-line but the resolute defence bolstered by John Ryan after a great shift by Archer held firm.

Rory kicks

Rory Scannell puts his left boot to work for a penalty kick to touch in the 2nd half

Cometh the hour, cometh, the man.  From a scrum on the Racing 10m line, Murray blocked the box-kick down.  The ricochet off his midriff bounced kindly and he gave chase, collecting the ball just before the 5m line and diving over the try-line before anyone could get a hand to him.

Rhys Marshall stretched out on the cold pitch to hold the ball steady as willed on by the Red Army Ian Keatley put the ball between the posts despite the incredibly difficult conditions on the east side!

Rhys_Ian

Rhys prepared to hold the ball steady for the conversion attempt

A penalty kick went to the right of the posts in the 65th minute but was followed up by a sublime kick to touch which put Munster back into a great position on the 5m line.   Another lineout soon after, again thrown in by Kevin O’Byrne making his European debut was secured.  The maul formed and probed this way and that.  Eleven phases later Conway dived in at the corner after Munster stretched the defence through quick passes by Simon and Rory who got the final pass away out of the tackle to Conway.

Lead up

The maul leading up to the Conway try

In the buildup the pack had been superb, driving hard at the defence, forwards and backs working tirelessly to protect the ball and keep the pressure on, hunting in packs as exemplified by Tommy on his 150th appearance driving Killer on but there were too many such contributions to give all their due.

This time from the opposite wing, as Conor Murray steadied the ball Ian Keatley lined up another difficult conversion attempt.  The smile on his face as the ball again split the posts was brilliant and reflected the joy we were all feeling at the 14-0 scoreline.

Racing showed their pedigree though and stepped up their efforts to ensure they did not again leave Thomond Park empty-handed.  Their reward came in the 75th minute.  Leone Nakarawa who had been a thorn in the side of Munster throughout the game, especially in the lineout, scored a try, converted by Teddy Iribaren which meant we were in for a tense end game again.  Maybe tiredness was a factor as the penalty count went up with Racing pushed hard to get more from the visit than their losing bonus point.  In the final minute when they lost possession off their own lineout and Keats kicked the ball out it was cheers and smiles all around as the referee blew the final whistle.

 

The stats especially defensive duties from the game are impressive per ESPN.
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Match reports: from The42.ie and the Irish Times  and Sky Sports

Post match comments from Rassie in The42.ie

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander

Replacements: John Ryan for Archer (52 mins), Mark Flanagan for Kleyn, Andrew Conway for Sweetman (both 55 mins), Kevin O’Byrne for Marshall (63 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for O’Donnell (71 mins), Liam O’Connor for Kilcoyne (77 mins)
Not used: Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan.

RACING 92: Pat Lambie; Joe Rokocoko, Henry Chavancy, Anthony Tuitavke, Louis Dupichot; Dan Carter, Maxime Machenaud (capt); Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Ben Tameifuna; Bernard Le Roux, Leone Nakarawa; Wenceslas Lauret, Yannick Nyanga, Antonie Claassen.
 Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski for Chat, Viliamu Afatia for Ben Arous, Census Johnston for Tameifuna, Rémi Tales (all 52 mins), Albert Vulivuli for Dupichot (57 mins), Edwin Maka for Nyanga, Teddy Iribaren for Machenaud (both 71 mins), Baptiste Chouzenoux for le Roux (all 71 mins).

Before the game a pigeon gave us hope of good luck when it kindly left a deposit.  Then we had the unusual sight not of a pitch invasion but of a terrace invasion as Paul managed to climb up into our section from the seated area in front of us to take his normal position!  It was great to have Imelda back amongst us for the game and she can tell Tony how absence does make the heart grow fonder as Ger and I reminisced about his unique catch phrases!  George had brought along a visitor from the East side who may have started a new tradition when he brought back some spare glasses of wine for the ladies at half time.  T3 is welcome back anytime!  He avoided the worst of the rain blowing into the east side but the swirling wind did manage to blow the rain in onto the west terrace on occasion.

One of the highlights watching the warm-up was seeing Ronan O’Gara out on the pitch in his Racing tracksuit, kicking the ball, re-familiarising himself with the conditions and discussing how to handle the wind with Dan Carter.  There was a broad grin on his face as he was kicking in front of us, hearing us try to distract him into dropping the garryowen.

We also enjoyed seeing the choir performing on our side during the warm-up.  I recognized some of the faces from last weekends trip to Castres and our discussions in Toulouse and Gatwick airports about cancelled flights!
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The minutes applause prior to kickoff to honour the contribution of Anthony Foley was a fitting tribute to the man, Ronan O’Gara and Donnacha Ryan had presented a framed picture to Peter O’Mahony but we did not see what was framed. Did anyone on the east side see?
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At half time I was delighted to see my home club Thurles RFC take to the pitch for the minis. The enthusiasm of the youngsters is infectious and helps to develop the next generation of players and supporters.

Minis

Half time featured Youghal V Killorglin and Thurles V Thomond in the minis.

It was another special night at Thomond, the cauldron like atmosphere the singing, the tension, the banter, the camaraderie, the drama!  As Tommy made his 150th appearance for Munster on the night they played their 160th game in the European competition, there were debuts for Kevin O’Byrne and academy player Liam O’Connor while Rhys Marshall made his first start in Europe.  Meanwhile the A team put in another big win in the British and Irish Cup game on Friday night in Cork to show that the Academy continues to develop talent.  It was great to see Bill Johnston back from injury and kicking 6 from 6 in difficult conditions while Darren O’Shea also returned from injury to feature in that game.  The A team match report is here

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Blow it up ref: Castres: 17 – Munster: 17

The referee had too much occasion to blow his whistle.  Similar to the previous game the penalty count against Munster was high in the first half including a yellow card for Conor Murray in the 5th minute.  Eleven penalties were conceded in total.  I’ve heard a draw being described as “like kissing your sister” but it is better than a losing bonus point!

Munster nearly threw it away in the closing minutes of the game. A missed penalty kick and an off-target drop goal were all that saved them from an opening round defeat despite their early lead in the second half. Amongst the good elements were the tries and a particularly exciting line break by Ian Keatley who combined well with Andrew Conway to nearly score the winner for Munster while the defense put in stellar work especially the try saving tackles to deny Castres twice in quick succession around the hour mark.

With Murray in the bin, Castres had a lineout on the 5m line.  A few minutes later they had one on the other side of the pitch in a similar position but Munster’s heroic ferocious defense kept them out.  Miraculously Tommy O’Donnell came away with the ball and passed to Darren Sweetnam who surged forward before Niall Scannell took it on as Munster counter-attacked and got out of their own 22.  Billy Holland was next to carry as Tyler Bleyendaal filled in at scrum half to kick the ball downfield.

Castres gathered the ball and took the opportunity to counterattack.  Rory Scannell had to make a key tackle to keep the Munster line intact and a few phases later CJ Stander won a turnover when Kockott failed to release the ball.  Munster were back on the attack until a pass was intercepted by Castres centre Robert Ebersohn who raced through to score under the posts from his own 10m line despite a great burst from Earls racing in from his own wing who just failed to get to him in time.

Conor Murray returned to action.  Castres attempted a long range penalty to move further ahead but Urdapilleta miskicked it.

A penalty in the 27th minute won by Mark Flanagan on his first start provided Munster with a great attacking position through a lineout about 10m from the line.  Peter secured the ball and the maul tried to find a chink this way and that before Murray charged forward.  CJ nearly got to the line but the Castres scrumhalf gave away a penalty to prevent him scoring.

Attack

Munster putting pressure on the Castres line

Peter secured the lineout again.  This time CJ peeled around the corner.  Killer charged for the line and nearly got there.  Then CJ carried again and Stephen before Conor spun the ball into midfield where Rory and Simon were both available and it was Simon who took the pass and used his momentum to roll through the tackle to ground the ball over the line.

Niall Scannell was being treated for an injury when Castres broke through at the other end of the pitch.  While Rory Scannell brought down the lock, the Castres support arrived to get the pass away to their full back Julien Dumora who scored.  The successful conversion made in 14-7.

Zebo try

Simon Zebo about to charge over the tryline for Munster’s first score.

A penalty at 35′ was kicked to touch by Rory using his left boot to find a good position.  The maul was repelled but Castres had infringed so another penalty was kicked to touch.  Munster were inches from the line when Ebershohn was sent to the sinbin to the whistles and protests of the home support.  Awarded a penalty in front of the posts Tyler kicked it to reduce the gap to 14-10.

Early in the second half a neat reverse pass from Tyler put Simon through a gap at pace but he was hauled down short of the line.  However Castres had been offside in the subsequent phase and when Munster took a quick penalty they took everyone by surprise as Dave Kilcoyne barged over the line with CJ and Peter in support.  I was scratching my head as the scoreboard awarded the points to Castres!  The TV screens had been replaying the previous action so missed the live action also but had different angles to show in their replays.

wrong score!

Killer’s try awarded to Castres! It should have been 14-17

Tyler converted the try and the scoreboard was corrected to 14-17 as Munster were ahead for the first time in the game.

Which team would finish stronger given the heat and the wind?  It turned out to be Castres who had a good effort by Taylor Paris pushed into touch at 48 minutes.  However the referee had indicated advantage when Murray had tackled a player when the ball was still in the scrum leading up to that break.  Castres kicked that penalty to tie the game at 50 minutes.

Munster had a dominant period a few minutes later but lost momentum when Peter O’Mahony ran into his own player as Chris Farrell couldn’t get out of his way in time.

Approaching the hour mark Castres thought they had scored through Kockott but Keith Earls and Conor Murray had done enough to force him into touch.  Just 2 minutes later #13 Taumoepeau crossed the line on the other wing but again had been forced into touch this time by Darren Sweetnam after a great break by their #8 Vaipulu.

Ian Keatley replaced Tyler and attempted a long range penalty to put Munster back into the lead at 66′ but his kick drifted wide.  A few minutes later he made a great break after dummying a pass before linking up well with Andrew Conway and then taking it on again to bring play back into the Castres 5m line.  However the defense held firm.

As the final minutes approached it was time for ice in the veins but instead Munster conceded a penalty which fell short of the posts and Munster cleared their lines to our relief.  The TMO was called on to look at another potential penalty or yellow card conceded by Robin Copeland but he was adjudged to have knocked on the ball giving Castres the put in to a scrum as the clock went past 80.

For  phase after phase the Castres pack took it on, sucking in defenders to set up the drop goal attempt only to watch it finally go wide and bring proceedings to an end.

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Team huddle after the game

Castres: J Dumora; T Paris, A Taumoepeau, R Ebersohn, D Smith (F Vialelle, 76); B Urdapilleta, R Kockott; A Tichit (M Lazar, 70), J Jenneker, D Kotze ((D Tussac, 73); L Jacquet (A Jelonch, 55), R Capo Ortega; Y Caballero, S Mafi, M Vaipulu (C Samson, 64).

Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam (A Conway, 66), C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal (I Keatley, 59), C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell (R Marshall, 56), S Archer (J Ryan, 56); M Flanagan (R Copeland ’64), B Holland; P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell (J O’Donoguhue, 70), CJ Stander.

Match stats from ESPN are here

Post match thoughts of Rassie: “In the last two or three minutes we definitely tried really hard to throw it away,” can be read here

The42.ie also has a summary including a paragraph on Rory Scannell who I had picked out as my Munster MOTM – he put in some key tackles during the game.

The train from Toulouse took about 70 minutes to reach Castres stopping often on the way.  As we disembarked we met Joe and Dee and were chatting to them as we walked into the town centre.  After a few minutes we realised that a band of the Red Army were following behind, trusting that Joe with his phone knew where he was headed which of course he did.  We must have looked quite the sight to the locals out and about early on a Sunday morning!

There was a market in the main square, selling mainly antiques and one restaurant was open. I have heard of Irish supporters drinking a bar dry but the Red Army managed to eat that place out if its petit dejeuner or at least the yoghurt element of it!!

We had time to explore some of the sights, the Goya museum and gardens, and to take a photo of the interesting houses along by the banks of the river which featured in the Tripadvisor recommendations as we walked out to the Stade Pierre Fabre.

Castres

Castres cantilevered artisan houses

We arrived before the teams and sat in the sunshine chatting in broken French to Marie Ellen and Patric whose son was part of the guard of honour for the teams entering the pitch.

Castre supporters

Marie Ellen shows me her season ticket as she poses with Patric

Denise and Judi met us there as did Miriam. The Castres team bus arrived first and they were greeted with chants of “Allez, ..” to the same tune as Ulster use for “Stand up for the Ulstermen”  Their  two mascots and the youngsters from the guard of honour welcomed them.   The Munster bus arrived shortly afterwards.

As we waited to enter I noticed a stream of ladies in dark dresses walking over to the opposite stand where they could be seen putting out covers on the sears, presumably in the Corporate section. They reminded me of the Robert Palmer videos from the 80s!

Corp Section

Setting out the cushioned covers in the Corporate / VIP? section

When the gates opened security checked bags and tickets. I wonder what they made of the big cheese Judi had brought along for lunch.

The attendance for a first round European game was disappointing with plenty of empty seats but the drummers at either end and the swathes of the red army added colour to the occasion. I was glad to be on the shaded side as two hours in the unrelenting sun would have tested my factor 20 probably beyond it’s limit.

pixie

The Red Army made a splash of colour on the far side, and the poster “Ou est Pixie” made me smile (Pixie is a username from the munsterfans forum)

At half time two men in dark suits came out onto the pitch and I wondered if they were to sing to entertain us but instead their role was to escort the referee off the pitch. At full time three of them came out to do the same.

I went down to greet Marc and his Flemish friends who were in the front row below me. They had amused us as they hung their two flags from the railing (and then realised they had blocked their view so retied them this time to hang below the glass. Regular readers may recall reading of my meeting Marc at the Racing game last January and he confirmed that they were booked to return to Thomond for their annual visit when Castres come for the return leg in round 6.

After the game, one of the stewards was looking for a Munster flag so I donated mine for her collection before heading back into town. There were more places open by that hour, locals and supporters sitting outside in the sunshine.  Thoughts began to turn to Storm Ophelia, approaching Ireland and the impact on our return logistics.  The following afternoon at Toulouse airport some people already knew that their connecting flight was cancelled but mine was the later 7pm departure so there was a possibility it would go ahead.  However by the time we landed it had been cancelled also.  Other people had to stay on longer in France or had to re-plan connections through Amsterdam or Madrid.  It looks like another storm could impact the game next weekend and a big disciplined performance will be required to keep our European aspirations on track!

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A poster seen in a Castres store

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The Earl in full flight – Leinster: 23 – Munster: 17

What a wonderful sight it was to see Keith Earls in full flight, crossing the line three times on his first game of the season.  OK, one of them didn’t count as there was a blatant forward pass before his scorching run but it certainly got our hearts pumping.  He was the standout Munster player and it is great to see him continuing the fine form we enjoyed last season and on the summer tour with Ireland.

The consolation when I have to face my Leinster colleagues at work on Monday will be that Munster outscored Leinster 3 tries to 2 but the final scoreboard favoured the home team due to discipline issues.  Three penalties in the second half enabled Leinster to add nine points.  While Munster scored ten points in the same period they had to settle for a losing bonus point as they had been 14-7 behind at half-time.

In the 12th minute Earls burst from just inside the Leinster half to cross the try line but the pass from Chris Farrell was forward so after watching the replay the referee disallowed it.  At the time he had called it flat to the disgust of the  home supporters and Leinster captain.

Four minutes later Rory O’Loughlin found his way through a gap, pivoting out of John Ryan’s tackle to score the opening try under the posts despite the best efforts of CJ and Robin to get under him to prevent him grounding the ball.

Just coming up to the twenty minute mark when Niall Scannell got between Rob Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong he was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on.  Credit to Munster for the way that they managed the ten minutes he spent in the sinbin.  Earls made another great linebreak and found Ian Keatley to get play away from the Munster line and reduce the pressure.  Unfortunately Ian tried to loop the ball over the tallest man on the pitch and Devin Toner had no problem catching it.

A few minutes later, CJ Stander – who it was suggested had the potential to be an international hooker at one time in South Africa –  showed his class in throwing in to the only Munster line out in that period, safely secured by Peter O’Mahony at the front despite the pressure of Fardy.  Andrew Conway chased a box kick and got Munster on the front foot in the Leinster half.

Peter O’Mahony deserves a special mention for how when he lost both boots at the bottom of a maul he managed to use up a valuable half minute retying them!

Leinster had won a penalty when Peter pulled down the maul and were playing the ball across the half way line when against the run of play Ian Keatley intercepted a pass between Henshaw and Tracy to run in unopposed under the posts.  He converted his own try to make it 7-7 after 27 minutes despite being down a man.

A kick by JJ came off a Leinster player but surprisingly none of the officials had noticed so Leinster had the throw-in – despite the protests of the visiting fans.  Regardless, to win the sinbin period 0-7 was a credit to the workrate of the team.

Leinster continued to target the smaller Munster backline under the high ball.  They went through 25 phases including several garryowens before finally they made space for Rory O’Loughlin to score his second try of the game in the 34th minute.  Sexton converted.

Another penalty early in the second half was kicked by Sexton to increase the gap to 10 points and make him the top points scorer ever for Leinster.  John Ryan and Ian Keatley were replaced by Stephen Archer and Alex Wootton before play resumed as the management considered options.

A good break by Leinster was snaffled out when Tommy took the pass intended for a Leinster player.  Tommy was to the fore again when a Munster lineout near their own 22m line was not secured but Tommy reacted well and charged over the Leinster 10m line before sucking in two defenders and passing to Earls on the wing.  Adam Byrne tried to get back to Earls in time but Keith managed to keep out of touch as he scored in the corner.  The TMO confirmed there was no reason not to award the try and Munster were back in the game at 17-12.  The conversion attempt by JJ was unsuccessful.

Another penalty kicked by Sexton after 54 minutes made it 23-12 and it looked like a long way back for Munster.  The penalty count began to swing against Leinster then, none more significantly than when they were camped on the Leinster 5m line and putting pressure on the hosts.  The lineout was thrown to Robin Copeland, the  maul formed.  Side entry by Leinster gave Munster the chance to go again.  Another penalty for jumping across the gap and again Copeland secured the ball and the maul formed.  Super defense and the opportunity was lost as the referee deemed the maul unplayable and gave the scrum put-in to Leinster.  We of course saw an offence by Cian Healy at that breakdown but we are just a tad one-eyed in such matters.  If only Munster could have capitalized on their pressure there it could have changed the outcome.

Alex Wootton got his hands on the ball in the 64th minute receiving a cross field kick.  While we willed him to call the mark he decided to play the ball only to be tackled and lose possession.  I am sure he will learn from the experience of playing in such a high pressure game.  Rory Scannell came on shortly after in place of Tyler to give the backline a more familiar look.  I wonder what the management will make of their experiment to play three outhalves in the backline and how the team will line out in Castres next weekend.

Mark Flanagan came on to line out opposite his cousin Devin Toner in the 69th minute.  It was a worrying sight when JJ chased back to prevent a score by Barry Daly and tumbled over the line requiring medical assistance.  Thankfully he was able to play on.

As the clock ticked into the final five minutes there was nice interplay off a lineout between Earls and Wootton.  The young winger was involved again shortly after, claiming a high ball and offloading before he was tackled near halfway to put Munster on the front foot.  A Leinster knock-on was not deemed to be the same as Scannell’s yellow card offence but Munster had secured a penalty.  From the lineout they managed to work the ball from Billy via a nice offload through CJ and Jack before Rory, Liam and then Stephen took it on.  Quick hands  by the backs through Farrell, JJ and Conway moved the ball at pace out to Earls to score his second try.  The dropkick conversion was unsuccessful as Munster went looking for glory in the closing two minutes.  It was not to be as Leinster kept them pinned back in their own half and so it ended 23-17.

LEINSTER: 15. Joey Carbery, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Rory O’Loughlin, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Barry Daly (Fergus McFadden 70′), 10. Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne 76′), 9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park 61′); 1. Jack McGrath (Cian Healy 48′), 2. James Tracy (Sean Cronin 48′), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent 48′), 4. Devin Toner, 5. Scott Fardy (Ross Molony 69′), 6. Rhys Ruddock (Jordi Murphy 61′), 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan.

MUNSTER: 15. JJ Hanrahan, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Tyler Bleyendaal (Rory Scannell 65′), 11. Keith Earls, 10. Ian Keatley (Alex Wootton 45′), 9. Conor Murray (Duncan Williams 73′); 1. Dave Kilcoyne (Liam O’Connor 67′), 2. Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall 66′), 3. John Ryan (Stephen Archer 45′), 4. Robin Copeland (Mark Flanagan 68′), 5. Billy Holland, 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain), 7. Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue 63′), 8. CJ Stander.

Stats are on EPSN here.  A final penalty count of 8-11 does not reflect that after 55 minutes it was 1-11 (1-7 in the first half alone)

Post match comments of Peter O’Mahony in The42.ie are here   It really was an inappropriate question from Reggie Corrigan.  Peter was asked about it later and replied: “I think it’s a silly question, essentially calling myself and my team-mates out and questioning do we want it enough,” he said of the pitch-side interview. “Myself – I’m a very proud Munster man and Irishman and that’s at the core of everything. Everything is based around work-rate and you want to win, and for someone to question that, I’d take huge offence at it.” 

The Irish Times report while in this article they include Peter’s post match TG4 interview when Reggie Corrigan questioned the team performance.

Highlights on Sky website: http://www.skysports.com/watch/video/sports/rugby-union/11071963/highlights-leinster-23-17-munster

Rassie and Peter’s thoughts in this article from The42.ie

The OffTheBall podcast with their post game analysis is here

CJ_Daryl

A photo from Daryl Feehely’s archive of CJ Stander to mark his 100th appearance for the province

CJ became the eleventh player of the current squad to have made 100 Munster appearances joining 9 of his teammates from this game: Stephen Archer, Keith Earls, Billy Holland, Ian Keatley, Dave Kilcoyne, Conor Murray, Tommy O’Donnell, John Ryan, Duncan Williams – Simon Zebo has also passed that landmark but is currently injured.

Usually I go to the Aviva for the annual visit of Munster for the league fixture but I decided to watch the game in the River Bar with MRSC Dublin.  It was nice to walk in and get hugged as my friends sympathized with me, a great comfort which justified my decision to go there.  We watched the match on Sky and were amused by the constant references to the Lions in both teams.  My glass half full comments were in contrast to some of the others but if one of our wingers had twisted out of the reach of one of their props we would have been very pleased.  John Ryan will be disappointed with that tackle.  The atmosphere at the Aviva seemed muted, I did not hear any chanting or singing by either side.  If you were there was it better than it sounded on TV?

Next weekend I plan to be in Castres, pending no further Ryanair issues.  Safe travels to those going over by various routes.  I hope to see more of you the following weekend in Thomond for the emotional return of Racing 92 with Ronan O’Gara and Donnacha Ryan.  The special bond between our two clubs will make that another occasion to savour as we also think of the Foley family as the anniversary of Axel’s passing approaches.  Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

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Double J-light! Munster: 39 – Cardiff Blues: 16

TryScorers_Conor_JJ

Conor started off the try-scoring while JJ finished it!

Playing a high tempo game including more of the offloads and pop passes which have been a feature in the early season combined with excellent scrummaging provided the bedrock of this performance by a strong Munster team as the internationals return to the fold. Penalties conceded meant that Cardiff kept the scoreboard ticking over in the first half, and indeed the visitors went in ahead at halftime. However the hosts “gave them nothin’” in the second half to make it 4 wins from 5 this season.

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Cardiff had pinned Munster back into their own 10m area with some touch finders ROG himself would have been proud of in the opening quarter. When Munster strayed offside their first penalty was successfully converted in the 7th minute by Jarrod Evans.

Munster responded well with some direct running.  The lineout was secured by Billy and the maul formed. Niall Scannell made a break and was supported by his captain Peter O’Mahony who carried before Killer distracted us all when his shorts were pulled down to his knees as he took on the ball!  As a result several of us on the west side missed the lovely exchanges between Ian Keatley and Darren Sweetnam running good lines off each other to bring play into the Cardiff 22.  Thanks to TG4 for the highlights!

While that attack broke down when Tommy knocked on, the pressure put on by the pack on the Cardiff scrum won a penalty for Munster.  Despite losing possession from that lineout they kept the pressure on the visitors and when Cardiff kicked the ball away Munster returned it with intent.  Jaco Taute’s offload put Alex Wootton away down the wing.  CJ took it on before it went back to Wootton who was hauled down but Cardiff conceded another penalty.  Munster took it quickly, CJ surged forward but was stopped short.  A strong carry by Rory Scannell brought play close to the line and it was returning Lion Conor Murray who grounded the ball against the post to get Munster off the mark. Ian Keatley converted to make it 7-3 after 13 minutes.

Jaco looked very uncomfortable after making a tackle in mid field. Nick Williams came over to sympathise with him as did CJ and after medical treatment he was able to sit into the motorised stretcher to be taken off the pitch.  Hopefully he will not be out for long.

Cardiff added a second penalty to reduce the gap to a single point and just minutes later scored a try after a good break down the west side by Tom James who was stopped by CJ only for Cardiff to quickly move play to the east side, stretching the defense as Steve Shingler set up Josh Turnbull to score and take the lead 7-13.

A penalty was successfully converted by Ian Keatley to reduce the gap to 3 points temporarily before another penalty conceded near half way restored Cardiff’s 6 point lead.  Jarrod Evans had tried to steal a metre or 2 but the crowd and Peter O’Mahony highlighted his error and the referee moved him back to the mark.  The distance was not a problem to him as the ball sailed over the bar.

Another penalty conceded in front of the posts by Cardiff was again successfully kicked to reduce the deficit in the 35th minute and so it remained despite the pressure heaped on Cardiff in the closing minutes of the half.

Munster dominated the opening minutes after the restart.  Lovely handling and offloading out of the tackle were impressive.  From a lineout on the 5m line Munster looked to turn possession into points.  Cardiff conceded penalty after penalty with their scrum under pressure near their line.  When the yellow card was finally shown to their tighthead prop we were surprised that a penalty try was not awarded, and then annoyed as from the next scrum Cardiff were awarded a free kick to relieve the pressure.

ScrumPressure.JPGHowever, Munster made their numeric advantage count.  Peter nearly rivalled Killer’s wardrobe malfunction when his shorts were also yanked down in the build-up to the third try, scored in the 52nd minute when John Ryan powered over from just outside the 5m line to make it 20-6.

Handbags ensued shortly afterwards between Peter and Matthew Rees which was as good an excuse as any for another rendition of “Stand Up and Fight”.

John Darren.JPGAndrew Conway gave way for the returning Kerryman JJ Hanrahan who was barely on the pitch when he was involved in the 3rd try.  He passed the ball to Rory Scannell who took a great line through the midfield while JJ looped around in support before taking the pass as Rory was tackled to score the third try.

We had a laugh when one of Keatley’s excellent kicks to touch flew into the section next to us.  When the ball knocked the plastic container held by one of the lads there, he managed to hold on to most of it but some people got a beer shower!  I see a screen shot of it on the MRSC Facebook page – some gas expressions on the faces as people were trying to avoid being hit by the ball and the beer!

There was another super break when Darren’s pass put Alex Wootton into space and he raced to within 10m of the try line.  Unfortunately, Robin Copeland in support could not get to the line and possession was lost but a few minutes later it was Chris Farrell who made the break and found Sweetnam in support.  JJ took it on next and when he was tackled Conor Murray managed to squeeze down the blindside, keeping out of touch. He was dragged down just metres from the line but Copeland was there to pick and dive over to secure the bonus point.  Keatley converted to make it 34-16.

A high tackle in the 71st minute gave Munster a good platform to attack.  New short term signing Mark Flanagan made his debut and secured the lineout.

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Mark Flanagan made his debut

Another lovely pass by MOTM Keatley put Hanrahan through a gap and he showed his pace to score in the corner. The conversion went wide leaving the score at 39-16.

Peter O’Mahony was replaced by another Kerry and Currow man, Sean McCarthy making his second Munster appearance.

Cardiff Blues were desperate to score something in the second half and threw everything at Munster.  A superb last-ditch tackle by Rhys Marshall on Blaine Scully in the 74th minute and by JJ on Tom James in the 76th minute were key to preventing this while the pack withstood pressure in the closing minutes to keep Cardiff scoreless.

So with the Lions trio and the Ireland tour players back in contention and injuries to Jean Kleyn in Glasgow and Jaco Taute in this game the management will have some key selection decisions to make as they prepare to renew rivalries with Leinster before starting their European campaign.

MUNSTER: Andrew Conway (JJ Hanrahan 54’); Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute (Chris Farrell 20’), Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams 73’); Dave Kilcoyne (Liam O’Connor 72’), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall 57’), John Ryan (Stephen Archer 61’); Robin Copeland (Mark Flanagan 70’), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (c) (Sean McCarthy 74’), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

CARDIFF BLUES: Rhun Williams (Matthew Morgan 61’); Blaine Scully (c), Jack Roberts (Steven Shingler 16’), Willis Halaholo, Tom James (Keiron Assiratti 49-58’); Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams (Lloyd Williams 71’); Brad Thyer (Corey Domachowski 70’), Matthew Rees (Ethan Lewis 61’), Taufa’ao Filise (Keiron Assiratti 58’); George Earle (Seb Davies 64’), James Down; Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams (Macauley Cook 61’).

Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU).

Match stats on ESPN site here

Match reports:

Sky sports report including video highlights are here

The42.ie report is here while the Irish Times report is here

 

“I’m sure glad to be, / To be where I c’n see /  So many friends o’ mine”

It was a lovely bright afternoon and given the early kickoff the west terrace basked in the sunshine for a while before the sun moved behind the stand.  The choir and pre-game interviews were conducted on the west side for a change but the choir returned to the east side for the anthemic Stand Up and Fight prior to the start of the game.

GG (the injured lock Gerbrandt Grobler) and Dave O’Callaghan came by on their way down from the MRSC bar for a photo with some folks on the terrace.

At half time as well as the 4 mini’s team the sinbin chair was pulled out into the pitch and I wondered why.  All was revealed – one of the “Dare to Care” fundraisers for TodayFM’s annual cancer appeal had featured a Munster lady being part of the Leinster guard of honour on Friday night.  Her “punishment” was to be sinbinned in Thomond Park at halftime.

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Roisin dared to care… and takes her sinbinning as a good sport

Some folks who had seen my post on Twitter and Facebook last week about the death of my beloved Dad – who has featured in this blog from time to time – came over to offer their condolences.  Many others had shared their sympathies via social media which was appreciated as was the note posted to me by Denise in Louth who I assume is a reader.

So last week instead of a blog I wrote and delivered the eulogy for my Dad.  Martin Ryan had asked if we would like to have the Thurles RFC flag drape his coffin.  Martin is now the last surviving member of that team from the 1940s.  In my eulogy I recalled how Dad had been about 9 stone and 5’8″ so not your typical rugby build.  I could picture him as another Stringer, fearless and wiry but when I asked him what position he had played he said that he was often on the wing but if they were stuck he would take his place in the front row!  I can’t imagine it but maybe his love of wrestling gave him a few tricks up his sleeve to make it a fairer contest there!  During the summer he moved into a lovely nursing home but he had his car outside so when he felt up to it he could drop into town or out to the house and he would enjoy coming home for lunch and a drive when one of us was visiting each weekend.   He loved the independence the car gave him but needed the support of the nurses when his breathing was in trouble due to his COPD.  He enjoyed the bit of banter with them also.  During the summer we had enjoyed watching the third Lions test together there as they had Sky Sports!

For the Communion song we had requested “The wind beneath my wings” as that is how Daddy was – the strong silent type but so supportive of his three girls, encouraging and reassuring, and ready to do anything for us – DIY, gardening, taxi or even baby sitting services for his three grandchildren (now teenagers) who thought he had a €5 printing machine as they never left after a visit without some extra pocket money.

Our Parish priest is a lovely singer and he started his homily with
You saw the best there was in me
Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach
You gave me faith ’cause you believed
I’m everything I am
Because you loved me 

Dad would have been 92 in a few weeks but it is never easy to say goodbye.   As Niamh tweeted me “Daddies are such special men x”   I will miss telling him about my life, my rugby trips and friends, the funny things that happen on the terrace; hearing about his day and his tales from times gone by, but I am fortunate to have so many happy memories of my time with him, my hero.  Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

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Thurles RFC from about 1949. Dad is the first player in the middle row

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This lock is on fire! Ospreys: 16 – Munster: 21

Who would have expected Jean Kleyn to be breathing down Alex Wootton’s neck for the accolade of top try scorer after three rounds of the league?  With four tries in three games he is just one behind the speedy winger.  By picking up the Man of the Match award in Swansea he is also making a valuable contribution to my Pro14 Fantasy Rugby team!

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Men on a mission – Munster take to the field. Photo by Daryl Feehely

A good start would have been even better if Tyler had converted two early penalty kicks in the opening 6 minutes.

The scrum was immense!  I watched the game in the River Bar with the MRSC Dublin folks and even a couple of Ospreys supporters.  The Sky commentators were raving about the power and weight which Jean Kleyn brought to the scrum!

There was an early opportunity for a try after an excellent break by Duncan Williams.  Munster kept the ball alive and went wide before coming back into midfield.

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Duncan Williams makes a break. Photo by Daryl Feehely

Unfortunately the final pass from Alex to Jaco was forward so he was called back.  A penalty won at the subsequent scrum in front of the posts was successfully kicked to get Munster onto the scoreboard in the 9th minute.

Despite all Munster’s possession and territory it was Ospreys who were next to score.  A penalty conceded for not releasing in the tackle gave Davies an opportunity to kick to touch to set up a lineout in the Munster 22.  The maul was repelled so they went to their backs.  Chris Farrell broke the defensive line to put in a big tackle on Sam Davies but he had gotten the ball away to James Hook who took an excellent line from outside the 22 to score a try, which put Ospreys in the lead.  Davies converted to make it 7-3 in the 13th minute.

Munster’s scrum continued to put the Ospreys under pressure even on their own put-in and when they conceded a penalty Tyler kicked to touch.  Sean O’Connor gathered and the maul was making some progress when an Ospreys player tackled Rhys Marshall at the back, coming in from the side.  Tyler again kicked to touch pinning the hosts back.  Jean secured possession and the pack mauled forward.  It came out to Jaco and then Stephen took it on before Billy popped the ball up to Jean who drive over the line with support from Tommy in the 19th minute.  The conversion brought the score to 7-10.

Approaching the end of the first half there was an exchange of kicks.  Andrew Conway chased and claimed his own garryowen before going to ground.  Jack went in at scrum half and passed the ball to Liam O’Connor who changed the direction of play, finding Jaco.  His pass found Chris Farrell who took a great line through the defence.  Sean was in support and took on the ball when Chris was being lined up by Davies.

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Sean O’Connor on the charge. Photo by Daryl Feehely

Sean got to within a few metres of the line before being tackled but he presented the ball well for the arriving support.  Billy got the ball to Jaco whose floated pass found Darren who dotted down in the corner.  The conversion was missed so Munster took a 7-15 lead in at half time.

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Darren Sweetnam scores – photo by Daryl Feehely

At half time on Sky they interviewed young Regan Webb who had participated in the minis game and his proud father Rhys!  Munster could soon be in a similar position with plenty of additions to the next generation in recent years!

Sean O’Connor almost got on the scoresheet early in the second half.  As Andrew chased another garryowen the Ospreys scrumhalf was penalized for crossing in front of him.  The penalty was kicked to touch in the Ospreys 22.  Sean claimed the lineout.  The maul made some ground before Rhys Marshall broke up the blind side.  Stephen was next to carry, then Sean who was tackled but driven over the line by the players arriving in support.  However it was not awarded – momentum v double movement.. I could argue the other way…

As conditions deteriorated, a penalty kick by Sam Davies reduced the Ospreys deficit but that was cancelled out by Tyler in the 5oth minute.  The front row was changed, John Ryan coming on at tight head to become the latest Munster centurion.

Davies reduced the gap to 5 points again with another penalty kick in the 56th minute (13-18).  A miskick by Tyler took the ball over the end line, giving Ospreys a scrum.   When the Munster pack was penalized for turning the scrum, Sam Davies stepped up and landed a great penalty from the 10m line to reduce the gap to 2 points.  Ospreys were on the front foot but Munster soaked up the pressure.  Possession was a liability in those conditions.

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The rain pours down on Jean and Billy. Photo by Daryl Feehely

Munster won a penalty from their scrum in the 73rd minute.  Rory Scannell who had replaced Jaco kicked for touch.  The lineout was secured by Robin Copeland who had replaced Sean.  The maul was taken down by the Ospreys winning Munster another penalty.  Tyler kicked that one to touch and they went again, playing down the clock and working the conditions.  Billy claimed the lineout.  Munster went through the phases, working their way infield when Ospreys were penalized for not releasing in front of the posts.  Tyler lined up the kick and restored the 5 point lead but there was still time for the Ospreys to snatch a draw or even victory, setting up a tense final 3 minutes.

From the restart Chris knocked the ball back, Niall Scannell charged forward with Robin in support.  When he was tackled, Duncan got the ball away quickly to  Tyler who threaded a lovely grubber kick through.  Alex Wootton set off in chase and while he did not get to it first he forced Keelan Giles to take it into touch and set up another Munster lineout in a great position as the clock ticked into the final 2 minutes.

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Alex Wootton and Keelan Giles chase the kick. Photo by Daryl Feehely

A conceded penalty gave Ospreys a chance to launch an attack from their own 5m line.  Biggar kicked for touch.  Munster pinned them back as the clock passed 80 minutes, only to concede another penalty to give the Ospreys a final throw of the dice.  They probed one way and then came back the other before Sam Davies found a gap.  He offloaded to Keelan Giles but Alex Wootton got to him and Simon Zebo (on for Conway) made sure of it by forcing him into touch to bring the game to an end.

Ospreys: Evans (Biggar 78); Giles, Allen ( Fonotia 54), Hook, Hassler; S Davies, Habberfield; James (Smith 40), Parry (Baldwin 40), Fia (Jones 75), B Davies, Ashley (Beard 52), Lydiate (Mercer 52), Tipuric, Baker.  Replacement not used: Aubrey.

Munster: Conway (Zebo 64); Sweetnam, Farrell, Taute (R Scannell 55), Wootton; Bleyendaal, Williams; L O’Connor (Cronin 52), Marshall (N Scannell 52), Archer (Ryan 52), Kleyn, Holland, S O’Connor (Copeland 66), O’Donnell, O’Donoghue.  Replacements not used: Wycherley, Hart.

Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa) – one of the changes with the expansion of the Pro12 to the Pro14 will be the inclusion of South African referees.

while not seeing much player rotation in the first three rounds of the league it is worth noting that only five of the starters this week started the Pro12 final. This experience will give a great boost to the two Academy players and shows there is genuine competition for places.

Stats: from ESPN are here

Daryl’s set of photos can be found on his Facebook page here

Match reports from The42.ie, the Irish Independent, Ospreys site  the Irish Times and the Irish Examiner.

TG4 player has the game on their player: http://www.tg4.ie/ga/player/baile/?pid=5578246261001 while Sky have highlights in English here

The Gentle Giant and other anecdotes:

After the game I was chatting to Michelle, Kevin and Sinead and asked if we would be handing out flags in the Aviva next month as we had for the European semi-final and Pro12 final last season, given that it was Leinster home game.  We used to distribute them outside the stadium in previous years but there was an issue with permits so we had to desist.  Anyway Sinead had a funny story to tell about when she was handing out flags at the Aviva before the Pro12 final.  She offered flags to two men, who were obviously Munster supporters, one of whom was very tall.  When they made no effort to accept the flags she took them to task and told them that they were not too cool to wave them and informed them in her best school-mistress manner that they would take them and they would wave them and that was the end of the matter!  Sinead is 5’2″ or 5’3″ with a great bubbly personality and I can imagine her telling the lads off!  Sinead is actually a Dub and a Leinster fan but was helping out on the day.  When Kevin the Chairman of MRSC Dublin came over to replenish her stock of flags she asked him about the 2 men as there was something curious about how they were dressed the same but very different sizes…  “Who are they?” she asked.  “What did you do?” he countered as he had recognized them as Jean Kleyn and Angus Lloyd (the scrumhalf who had played with Munster at the end of last season.)  The lads were probably a bit bemused by the encounter.

Some folks were talking about taking a trip to South Africa in April or in the nearer term to the Castres game (tickets now available on the Castres website).  I have booked flights via London to Toulouse for that game so the news of Ryanair cancelling flights at short notice is a concern to say the least.  Should I book via an alternative carrier to be sure of my flights?

Over the summer I came across this carving of Ronan O’Gara made by Ray Ryan whose father is from my home town of Thurles.  Dick proudly showed it to me when I visited in August.  A nice piece of work, a labour of love.

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A tribute to ROG carved by Ray Ryan

And speaking of love.. a photo from the wedding of Annika and James who met after watching a game with MRSC Dublin back in the Break for the Border days and the rest as they say is history…   It was lovely to be invited to their special day in Clare and to see each other in our guna’s and suits instead of our more usual Munster gear!

Cake

Congrats to Mr and Mrs Frost.

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The A – Z of winging it: Munster: 51 – Toyota Cheetahs: 18

Move over Zebo, there is a new kid in town! On his 10th senior appearance Alex Wootton became the first Munster player to score four tries in a single game since Mike Mullins (who accomplished that feat back in 2001 according to Stu Farmer on Twitter).  Of course Simon Zebo remains Munster’s top try scorer, and while he has several hat-tricks to his name, he now has a new record to aim for!  Isn’t it great to see such strength in depth with Keith Earls and Ronan O’Mahony (and some good Academy prospects) to come into contention for selection in the coming weeks and months?

It was a breezy showery day in Limerick but thankfully it remained dry for most of the game.  Indeed those on the East side needed shades.  I thought there would be a bigger crowd for the historic occasion of the first visit to Thomond by one of the new South African teams in the Pro14.  Maybe some of the regulars had gone to support Limerick to victory in the Under 21s hurling final instead.

Ian Keatley had an early penalty opportunity which he kicked deep to touch.  From the lineout the first maul of the day was deployed before Munster went wide to midfield.  An offside by #4 Bernardo gave Ian a simple penalty kick which he slotted between the posts in the 3rd minute to get his first score of the new season.  Alex Wootton got out hearts pumping from the restart which he claimed as he set off on an attacking run before passing to a supporting player, giving us a taster of what was to come from the former Ireland U20s and 7s player.

A loose pass gave possession away but Tommy O’Donnell dived on the ball when it squirted out and Munster were back on the attack.  Jaco passed to his midfield partner Chris Farrell who kicked ahead.  He gave chase alongside Darren Sweetnam.  While the defender got there first to touch it down he had carried it over the line so Munster had a 5m scrum.

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An early scrum as Liam “Boomer” O’Connor packs down in the front row alongside Rhys and Stephen

However a mix-up in communication resulted in crossing.  From the resultant Cheetahs scrum, superb pressure by the pack resulted in a turnover.  Jack claimed the ball and passed to Tommy O’Donnell who powered over for the first try of the game which Keatley converted in the 7th minute to make it 10-0.

Eight minutes later, an offside by Munster gave Cheetahs a penalty opportunity in front of the post enabling Robbie Petzer to get Cheetahs off the mark.

Another offside offence on halfway gave Munster a kick to touch in the 22.  Sean O’Connor secured and the maul formed around him, sucking in defenders.  It made some ground before being carried up in midfield.  Munster retained possession and a super skip pass by Darren to his fellow winger put Alex Wootton in for his first try of the evening.  Keatley converted in difficult conditions and at 21 minutes Munster were 17-3 ahead.

Another penalty for the Cheetahs kept the scoreboard ticking over (17-6.)  A serious looking injury to their #8 Niell Jordaan who had been driven backward in a ruck led to a delay waiting for the motorised carrier to arrive.  He got a sympathetic round of applause as he left the pitch.

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Sean, Billy and Jean ready to contest the lineout

In the 29th minute Wootton and Petersen collided shoulder to shoulder as they chased a kick.  It looked like the latter took a bad knock but after some treatment he was able to continue.

A superb turnover when Jaco became an auxiliary flanker put Munster back on the attack and when Cheetahs failed to roll away Keatley kicked to their 22m line.  Lineout was secured by Jean Kleyn.  The maul made progress before great handling by the backline got the ball quickly out to Alex on the wing.  He scooted in at the corner before deciding to go further infield to ground the ball.  The conversion was missed to make it 22-6.  I was taken by surprise when the ref blew for half time as the stadium clock read 37 minutes.  The Cheetahs had spent the final minutes of the half probing the Munster 22 but the defense held firm.

However immediately from the restart the Cheetahs cut loose and scored – their captain collected the kick-off, passed to his midfield partner William Small-Smith who took a great line between two red shirts to score in the corner.  The conversion went wide.

A great kick ahead and chase by Conway should have resulted in a Munster lineout as we thought the defender had come across to kick it out but the officials did not agree and gave the throw in to the Cheetahs.  A few minutes later Munster had a scrum in a good position from which they won a penalty. Credit to Academy player Liam O’Connor, on only his second senior appearance, who as per last week put in another great performance at loosehead.

From the line out the maul sucked in the defense before the ball went out to Chris Farrell. Duncan Williams ensured that the ball came back quickly when Farrell was tackled.  Jean Kleyn came onto it at pace to power over for his third try of the season, which put him temporarily joint top of this season’s try scoring leaderboard (3). Not bad for a lock!  Unfortunately, the conversion came back off the post.

Wootton continued to impress. He chased his chip ahead and gathered the ball.  We were protesting a high tackle on him but Munster retained possession and a few phases later Chris Farrell scored his first try for Munster.  The referee asked the TMO to check for obstruction by Tommy before confirming that the try was good. Keatley converted to make it 34-11 in the 51st minute.

There was no stopping Alex as he showed his power and pace to score his 4th of the night in the corner.  This time the score came from a scrum on the Munster 10m line.  Duncan Williams did well to kick the ball through the defense.  Alex chased, gathered the ball inside their 10m line and sprinted clear to slide in at the corner.  Another difficult conversion was missed given the windy conditions and so it remained 39-11 after 55’.

I felt sorry for the Cheetahs as an international front row of Kilcoyne, Scannell and Ryan prowled the sideline, waiting to be unleashed on them.  The trio were straight into the action with a lineout and maul.  Rory Scannell came on for Jaco in midfield.

2nd half scrum

The new front row plus Fineen and Robin towards the end of the game as James Hart prepares to put in the ball

Keatley made a great break and when tackled popped the ball back to Duncan.  The backs spread it wide with another super long pass by Sweetnam putting Alex in for his 4th try of the evening and 5th of the season to date. Zebo, another international eager to get into the action replaced Alex on the wing while James Hart came on for Duncan Williams at the same time.

Another good break by Small-Smith was snuffed out by Zebo and while he had gotten his pass away Rory was there to tackle the recipient.  Zebo was back on his feet to gather the next pass and the danger was averted.  Kevin kicked off “Stand Up and Fight” and we all rowed in behind him.

Fineen Wycherley came on for the final ten minutes in place of Jean Kleyn while Robin Copeland replaced Jack O’Donoghue.

The 8th and final Munster try fell to Zebo in the 72nd minute. Hart put in a grubber kick off the back of a maul.  Zebo managed to get to it first after it crossed the line to get on the scoresheet.  While chants of Ze-bo, Ze-bo” rang out, the day belonged to Alex who was duly awarded Man of the Match to cap off his performance.

Francois Venter, the Cheetahs Captain led by example, as he made a break into the Munster 22 but a forward pass let Munster off the hook. However, the Cheetahs were not done.  They won a scrum just inside their own half in the final minute.  They drove Munster back over half way before going wide.  Munster scrambled well to stop their initial forays but despite the best efforts of Andrew Conway and Niall Scannell they could not stop #7 Henco Venter stretching out to touch down.  The successful conversion was the final kick of the game.

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Munster wait for the final conversion attempt to bring the game to an end – in front of the new MRSC logo

Munster: Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell, Jaco Taute (R Scannell), Alex Wootton (S Zebo 61); Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams (J Hart 61); Liam O’Connor (D Kilcoyne 57), Rhys Marshall (N Scannell 57), Stephen Archer (J Ryan 57); Jean Kleyn (F Wycherley 70), Billy Holland – capt.; Sean O’Connor, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue (R Copeland 64).  Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Fineen Wycherley, Robin Copeland, James Hart, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo.

TOYOTA CHEETAHS: Clayton Blommetjies ( Ryno Benjamin 56′) (Ali Mgijima 76′),  Sergeal Petersen,  Francois Venter (captain),  William Small-Smith,. Makazole Mapimpi, Robbie Petzer, Shaun Venter (Tian Meyer 72′) Charles Marais, (Ox Nche, 59’),  Jacques du Toit (.Torsten van Jaarsveld 50′)  Johan Coetzee, (Tom Botha, 67’),  Rynier Bernardo (Justin Basson, 76’),  Reniel Hugo,  Paul Schoeman,  Henco Venter,  Niell Jordaan ( Armandt Koster 28′).

Job done, more players getting back up to speed after the summer, new players gaining experience and maximum points obtained. While tougher tests will lie ahead the rainbow spotted over the east stand in the latter stages of the game align to a sense of optimism despite the coaching uncertainty.

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A rainbow appeared over the East Stand towards the end of the game

While some people would prefer to see the old coaches gone already my own view is that the team and young coaches will benefit from their experience and guidance in the interim. Rassie alluded to what he has learnt after one season in the Northern Hemisphere and has done a good job in developing more depth in the squad so let’s trust him to leave us in a good place whenever he departs.

Match Stats from ESPN show a much better 2nd half performance by Munster compared to last week which was reflected on the scoreboard.  Sean O’Connor made the most tackles for Munster (9) while both Cheetahs’ flankers were in double figures reflecting their lower possession rate.

Articles from the papers include Rassie’s post match thoughts   in The42.ie and match reports from the Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Independent and The42.ie 

Match highlights (I wonder what the South African supporters will make of the Irish commentary courtesy of TG4!)

Rory Duncan and his coaching team certainly raised the sartorial stakes in the new Pro14 competition! Even their medic wore the team socks, maybe there was a laundry shortage at the end of their 2 match visit to Ireland

Ian Keatley was wearing a special jersey with the new MRSC logo on his sleeve which was won by a lucky MRSC member to celebrate the launch of their new log.

I enjoyed meeting so many of the old gang on the terrace and indeed queueing outside before the game! The Waterford contingent (John and Sinead) were first in the queue as is often the case closely followed by Joan and Kevin from Cork and Pascal from Limerick. I joined the queue just behind Diarmuid and John after a quick trip over to check out the Museum, quick as it was closed due to technical issues.  Maybe next time!

The new conference structure was discussed and there was concern that the Irish provinces have a tougher inter-pro fixture than those countries with two teams who play each other 3 times.  Still derby games can have a different energy to belie league positions.  Time will tell how it all works out.

Once inside we had to shelter for a while against the back wall when a heavy shower blew in onto the terrace before moving back into position. Conor, Patrick and Eilish were early arrivals while I waved across the walkway to my companions from last week  – Brian, Anne and Eoghan (I was delighted to discover I had chosen the correct spelling for the latter as there are so many possibilities!).  I also had a word with Joe before he proudly took to the pitch carrying a flag in the guard of honour.

There was a gap in our midst when Imelda and Tony failed to appear. We thought they were delayed watching the Limerick U21s win the All Ireland but when word filtered back they had indeed moved to the sunny side and the elevated aspect of the East Stand there was talk of sanctions before they would be allowed to re-enter our beloved West Terrace!  Maybe we should have asked for that to be added to the MRSC constitution at the AGM which I had attended earlier in the afternoon.

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Caption this! Imelda and Tony bob-nobbing with amongst others Doug Howlett (amazing what a 20x zoom can pick up!)

There was good discussion at the AGM on various topics which supporters feel strongly about including a second big screen, jersey availability, seating at Cork (late arrivals / reserved seating) and merchandise for women! My suggestion re recording the pitchside interviews and sharing on YouTube seemed to go down well.  It is a pity that more people did not take the opportunity to attend!  There were 4 of the MRSC Dublin regulars there, Michelle, Teresa, Paul and myself.  We sat with Eddie and Bernie and I met James and Sinead there also.  Previously the AGM was held on a Wednesday evening in Cork which did not suit me.  Hopefully more people will attend in future to help shape our club!

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Old friends and new faces: Munster: 34 – Benetton: 3

Finally!  I was delighted when Friday came, bringing with it the opening game of the season.  Unlike recent years, there had been no home pre-season friendly to ease us in and give us supporters an opportunity to warm up and fine tune our role as the 16th man.  As I arrived in Cork I noticed that some people had already invested in the new jersey with the gold print but as usual there was a great variety of jerseys and jackets visible from recent and not so recent seasons, including my own favourite Toyota Canterbury jersey which will hopefully last another season, or two!  While this has not transformed into a fashion blog over the summer I have to say the clash of colours of the orange tops worn during the warm-up was hard on the eyes!

Orange

Orange may be the new black but it looks terrible with a maroon shade of red! The back three of Conway, Sweetnam and Wootton all got on the scoreboard!

While the departure dates of Jacques and Rassie are unclear it was very apparent that the vocal presence of Jacques on the side-line had lost none of its impact as he prowled up and down before us on the east terrace.  The talk in the build up had been about how well pre-season was going despite the uncertainty about the coaching ticket and while Benetton were not the toughest test the team will face it was important to lay down a marker and demonstrate that the talk was not just a good soundbite.

Jacques

Jacques keeps a close eye on proceedings as James Hart feeds a scrum in the second half

Andrew Conway was the deserving man of the match as he continued to impress at full back.  His fearlessness under the high ball and speed as he accelerated through gaps was breath-taking!  Nice pop passes out of the tackle kept the pace up and made for a lively encounter.  Handling skill levels seemed to be better than last season and we even enjoyed a delicious grubber kick through by Billy Holland in the first half.

Jean Kleyn celebrated his return from injury with the first try of the new season after 8 minutes arising after good build up by the pack and the backs.

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Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland and Sean O’Connor line out in their matching headbands along with Stephen Archer and Liam O’Connor as scrum-capped Rhys Marshall looks on

A great attacking position was set up after Conway kicked ahead and chased hard before forcing McKinley over the touch line.  From that lineout Munster kept the pressure on Benetton and went through the phases before a lovely pass from Duncan Williams to Tyler Bleyendaal put him through the gap and  over the line to bring the score to 12-0.  His conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

Benetton won a penalty a few minutes later and kicked it between the posts to get onto the scoreboard.

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Jack pops the ball out at the base for Duncan

Conway won another penalty for Munster when he was tackled in the air.  It was kicked deep into the Benetton half.  The Italians infringed at the lineout and Munster kicked again to touch.  The maul was brought down but Munster went wide and Darren Sweetnam finished off the move in the 27th minute.

Conway again lit up the evening on the half hour mark when he claimed a high ball and accelerated through a gap to bring play up to the opposition 22m.  Quick hands kept the attack going and it was Alex Wootton who finished off the move and secured the bonus point try.  Special mention to Darren whose pass as he was falling kept the move alive.

There was still time for another and after all his contributions to the previous scores it was fitting that Andrew Conway got onto the scoresheet after lovely handling by Taute and Sweetnam sent him on his way to the line with Chris Farrell in support.  At half time it was 27-3 and we were looking forward to more of the same in the second half.

Changes were made, match fitness probably was a factor also.  Mike Sherry got a big cheer on his introduction shortly after the break.

Sherry

Great to see Mike Sherry back in action after his injury problems slotting into the front row between Liam O’Connor and Stephen Archer

Andrew Conway was nearly in for a second try after a great break down the wing but there had been a knock on by Sean O’Connor.  However Munster had a lineout in the Benetton 22 and from that platform launched attack after attack.  Benetton under pressure went offside and #6 Minto was sent to the sinbin.   Jack O’Donoghue broke from the base of the scrum and Jean Kleyn was next to attack.  Driven on by Archer, Holland and O’Donnell he scored his second try of the night.

With the departure of Donnacha Ryan to France there are big boots to be filled in the second row so it was great to see Jean Kleyn back from injury and featuring on the scoreboard.  It will be interesting to see how Jean and new signing Gerbrandt Grobler (currently injured) fight it out with Billy Holland and Darren O’Shea.  Debutant at 6 Sean O’Connor looked like a good lineout option also while Academy prospect Fineen Wycherley also impressed last season.

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Driving for the line early in the second half

There was  plenty of opportunity for Munster to test their defensive linespeed and  alignment as Benetton enjoyed 62% possession in the second half.  It was also a chance to see some of the new signings as James Hart and Ciaran Parker made their debuts as did Chris Farrell.  It was great to see three Academy lads test themselves against the physical Italian team – Liam and Sean O’Connor who started and Fineen Wycherley who came on in the second half.  Also returning was Robin Copeland who had picked up an injury in the B&I Cup final along with his first piece of silverware as a professional rugby player.

With just six minutes to go the shrill blast from the referee’s whistle summoned the medics team to aid Dan Goggin.  At the time we could not tell what injury he had sustained but I read later it was a serious knee injury.  Hopefully it will not keep him out of action for too long as he will be keen to push on after his senior and A team appearances last season.

Ian Keatley nearly got in for the final score but was hauled down just short of the line and Benetton also had time for one last attack which was snuffed out before the final whistle.

Munster: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell (Dan Goggin ’67), Jaco Taute (Ian Keatley ’50), Alex Wootton; Tyler Bleyendaal (capt), Duncan Williams (James Hart ’56); Liam O’Connor (Brian Scott ’70), Rhys Marshall (Mike Sherry ’41), Stephen Archer (Ciaran Parker ’64); Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley ’61), Billy Holland (Robin Copeland ’60); Sean O’Connor, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue.

Benetton Rugby: Ian McKinley; Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Benvenuti, Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori; Marty Banks, Tito Tebaldi (Giorgio Bronzini ’50); Federico Zani (Alberto De Marchi ’50), Luca Bigi (Engjel Makelara ’50), Simone Ferrari (Marco Riccioni ’55); Dean Budd (capt) (Federico Ruzza ’60), Marco Lazzaroni (Alberto Sgarbi ’67); Francesco Minto, Sebastian Negri (Braam Steyn ’64), Whetu Douglas.

The full game is currently available from the TG4 player here and I enjoyed listening back and hearing Rassie’s definition of a fan and a supporter (9 minutes in).

I was delighted to see a new Tipperary man step up after the departure of Donnacha Ryan.  Reading the interview with Rassie in the Examiner on Monday he had plenty of praise for the Academy players and singled out Sean: “playing blindside for 50 minutes and then going to five, lock, and organising the line-outs.”

Here is Sean’s first post game interview:

At the end of the 2012/13 season I wrote:  I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms.  I miss the anticipation, the speculation on the team before it is picked, the anxious viewing of the weather forecast and injury updates before match day dawns, the pre-match catch-up with my friends on the terrace, the match itself and the post match post-mortem, watching the game again which of course I had recorded from the TV, reading the analysis on the papers, on twitter and on the fans forum, writing my blog,…before the cycle begins again for the next game… No wonder people think I am a bit obsessed about Munster rugby!  I expect some of you can relate to those feelings.

As I walked down in front of the Red Shed looking for a space by the hoardings it was nice to be greeted by David so I stopped for a quick chat before slipping into a gap beside Anne and her son Eoghan close to half-way.  I spotted Paul P as he arrived shortly later while another WT regular Paul Mc came to greet me at half time.  Across the pitch in the stands Tony and Imelda were watching the game alongside Ed and Bernie.  Other familiar faces will meet up next weekend in Limerick and renew friendships developed over the years on the terrace.  The season is up and running and we will watch with interest to see how the team takes shape as the internationals are re-introduced.  Which of the Academy players or new signings or those returning from injury will make their mark in the coming weeks and months?  This time last year I blogged about “a new dawn, a new day” and I love the optimism with which we start the new season. It’s great to be back!

Match reports:

The Irish Examiner is here, Irish Independent is here, The42.ie account is here while Sky sports is here

ESPN match report and stats are here

Stats

Stats from ESPN