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Half time: Munster 5: Leicester 0 (or in the more standard format 33-10)

“Until you hear the bell, the final bell” indeed!  Munster were not content for the visitors to claim a consolation score at the death and defended their line as if the result was still in doubt.  Penalties were conceded but it was a statement of intent.  It was important not to let the momentum shift at half time in the double header.  The five points are banked and the good news received before kick-off from Castres of their win over Racing means Munster are now in pole position in the pool.  If they can bring the same intensity and clinical performance to Welford Road they will be able to cement their position further.  Lessons will have been learnt from last season when a long range penalty in the final minute deprived them of an valuable away win and their attitude at full time was very much that they see this as a job half-done and are focused on maximizing their return in these key back-to-back fixtures next Sunday.

Rhys looks at home under the high ball in the top left picture of these other action shots tweeted out by the Tigers

A striking image from the game was of the Leicester full back Telusa Veainu, going over to check on Andrew Conway after their collision before being applauded off the pitch himself.  I read he has a broken jaw after that incident so will be out of action for some time and it is a mark of the man that despite his own injury his thought was for Andrew who at the time was stretched out surrounded by the medical team.  The crowd showed their appreciation as he left and we were delighted some minutes later to see Andrew able to walk off the pitch himself.  He is always so brave and fearless especially chasing those high balls.  I wish both players all the best with their recovery.

One of Andrew’s highlights from the evening was this super break reacting quickest to counter-attack off a grubber kick which had our hearts pumping as he raced past us from deep in his own half to the other 10m line and presented the ball for the supporting players to put Munster on the front foot.  The resulting period of pressure resulted in the opening points for Munster when Leicester infringed and Keatley took the 3 points on offer.  We had noticed a boot lying on the pitch as play had moved on and it turned out to be Keatley’s so the clock had to be stopped while he got re-booted before lining up the shot at goal.  Gif courtesy of the ThreeRedKings:

From the previous restart Rhys showed great athleticism to keep the ball from going into touch.  Another garryowen was launched with Conway in pursuit and he did enough to force Leicester to conceding the scrum.

Ian Keatley raced over to make a tackle and stayed down injured.  Thankfully the medics got him up and running again.  Alex Wootton, making his European debut fielded a penalty kick to touch to rob Leicester of a good territorial advantage.  The lineout functioned well

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Peter claims the lineout – photo by Gayl

Another Euro debutant Sam Arnold combined well with Andrew Conway to force a penalty when Leicester did not release.  Rory’s left boot dispatched the penalty to the corner.  Munster were still just shy of their 4000th European points and it was last week’s Man of the Match who continuing in a rich vein of form had the honour of crossing that milestone.  From his lineout, Billy secured the ball and the maul tried to move forward.  Then Dave Kilcoyne carried, before Billy took it on to suck in the defence.  Rory charged forward to take the ball into contact before Rhys’s juggling skills bamboozled the defence as he scored his first try in the European Cup.  Keatley converted to make it 10-0 after 20 minutes.

You can enjoy the video of the score in this tweet:

Leading by example captain O’Mahony showed his infamous poaching skills to win the ball and Murray raced up the wing to set up another good position for the home team.  The team hunted in packs, harried the visitors, forcing them into mistakes and indiscipline.  An infringement at a ruck gave Munster another kickable penalty to make it 13-0 as Munster opted to take the points on offer.

Coming up to the half hour mark from a lineout Rhys threw long to Rory Scannell in midfield.  Conway probed up the west side before play moved quickly to the opposite wing where Cloete gave a super handoff to Ford before passing to O’Mahony.  Cloete kept the tempo up as twice he went in at scrumhalf in the build-up to the second try scored by Simon Zebo.  Listening to the post-game interview with Ian Keatley he gave Zeebs credit for spotting the space and calling the play.  The skill to execute it as the defence rushed to tackle him and the kind bounce of the ball helped.  The post try celebrations by Simon showed how much he was enjoying the moment.  The TMO seemed to call for a check as Ian lined up the conversion but the replay confirmed that Zebo had not been ahead of the kicker so the try was good and the conversion sailed over the bar to make it 20-0.

A penalty kick found touch to put Leicester into a good position.  Another penalty conceded close to the try line as the Munster defence was tested resulted in the first points for Leicester as George Ford kicked it between the posts to make it 20-3 after 35 minutes.  However Munster cancelled it out almost immediately when the TMO called on the referee to stop play while he showed him a neck-roll on Cloete.  The crowd expected a yellow card as had been the decision for a similar offence against the same player last week but it was deemed to be just a penalty which Keatley kicked to make it 23-3.  A shoulder barge by Tom Youngs on CJ resulted in another penalty but there were no more scores before the break.

The resumption of play  brought no let up in intensity and Jean Kleyn nearly got on the score-sheet except he lost control of the ball over the try line.  The incident involving Conway and Veainu happened shortly afterwards and both were replaced after the stoppage by Sweetnam and Malouf respectively.

A break by Keatley on the halfway line released Wootton with an inside pass.  Kleyn in support took it up to the 22.  Killer almost got to the 5m line before getting isolated and Leicester cleared their lines with a penalty kick to touch but we felt that the pressure would pay off sooner than later.

However it was Leicester who were on the attack next, winning a scrum against the head and breaking up-field.  Cloete got back first and held him up with help from O’Mahony to win back possession.

An excellent push on a Leicester scrum with Brian Scott on at loose head in place of Killer put Leicester under pressure.  Rhys ripped the ball off Leicester and the ball went wide one way and then the other before Sweetnam took out the last defender as his offload found O’Mahony in the right place at the right time to score the 3rd try with the simplest finish.  His fist pump in delight matched our own feelings.  The touch line conversion was missed but the 28 – 3 scoreline after 55 minutes gave us hope that there was time for a bonus point.

A super tackle by Marshall dragged Malouf into touch as he was falling (with Wootton in support) when Leicester were on the attack epitomized the workrate of the whole team.

Thacker replaced Tom Youngs and from a 5m lineout it looked like Barrow was set to score off a maul only for Rhys Marshall to come away with the ball!  However from the next play, another 5m lineout to Leicester they got the maul working again and scored a try through Thacker.  Ford converted to make it 28-10 after 65 minutes.  As often happens one score is quickly cancelled out by another as two minutes later, Munster with a penalty of their own kicked to touch got their maul motoring.  Chris Cloete was credited with the try to seal the bonus point and put the game out of reach for the visitors.

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Murray gets the ball away from a solid Munster scrum late in the 2nd half. Photo by Gayl

Credit to the Tigers they kept fighting till the end but Munster dug deep.  A kick over the top did not bounce as kindly for Joe Ford as it had earlier for Simon and JJ touched the ball down to avert the danger.  A penalty had been conceded in the build-up so Leicester kicked for touch.  Harrison was almost through off the back of a maul.  A further infringement in defence gave Leicester another penalty as the clock entered the final minute and they opted for a scrum.  After battering Munster in the trenches they went wide and knocked on to bring proceedings to a close.

Brian O’Driscoll selected Sam Arnold on his European debut at 21 years of age for the official Man of the Match, noting his defensive contribution but there were so many who would have been worthy recipients in a great team performance and they will be keen to back that up next week,

MUNSTER:  Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway (Darren Sweetnam 46’),  Sam Arnold,  Rory Scannell,  Alex Wootton,  Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan, 73′),  Conor Murray (Duncan Williams 73’); 1. Dave Kilcoyne (Brian Scott 55′),  Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne 69’),  Stephen Archer (John Ryan 61’),  Jean Kleyn (Darren O’Shea 69’),  Billy Holland,  Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Jack O’Donoghue 72’),  Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.

LEICESTER TIGERS:. Telusa Veainu (Malouf 46′), Adam Thompstone, Matt Smith, Mathew Tait,  Jonny May,  George Ford,  Ben Youngs (Sam Harrison, 69′);  Kyle Traynor (Logovi’i Mulipola 51’),  Tom Youngs (captain) (Harry Thacker 63’),  Dan Cole (Chris Baumann 69′),  Mike Fitzgerald (Dom Barrow 51’),  Graham Kitchener,  Valentino Mapapalangi (Mike Williams 63’),  Luke Hamilton,  Sione Kalamafoni.

Match stats from ESPN show how clinical the team were without dominating possession or territory, being content to let Leicester have the ball and trusting their defense.

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Coverage from The42.ie, Irish Independent, Irish Times, Irish Examiner and from LeicesterTigers.com

A great selection of photos are on MunsterRugby.ie

If you missed it on Saturday morning, this interview with Rhys from The42.ie is well worth a read.  What an addition he has been to the team.  Indeed all the additions last season and this have made an impression (I am sure GG will also when he is fit!) while the academy is also producing talent such as Liam O’Connor, Sean O’Connor and Calvin Nash who have all featured this season.  Great to see such strength in depth!

Here is the link to the official highlights video

Beyond Baltic

The forecast was ominous but the brave and faithful were not deterred from turning out in numbers to support their team.  Some people seemed to have put on their Christmas pounds early but it was probably just the number of layers worn in an effort to avoid hyperthermia!  Pascal reckoned he had more layers on him than an onion while others felt they were like the character from Wanderly Wagon known as Fortycoats or resembled the Michelin man.  Chris Farrell was interviewed before the game and the choir and Hit Machine entertained us.  When the flames lit up the west terrace during the choirs rendition of “Stand up and fight” and again to welcome the team those in range all welcomed the blasts of heat!

We protested that the winger was constantly ahead of the kicker at each restart but the officials did not pick up on it.  We were also not impressed that Mr Garces did not deem the neck roll on Cloete to be worthy of a card but the penalty awarded was duly dispatched between the posts.  In fairness he did allow a good contest at the breakdown which according to Donncha on the BT Sport term is not the case in the Premiership (which might explain the “cynical” verdict of Matt O’Connor in the post match interview.)

The east side let us all know when a Leicester throw was crooked while at another stage they got the singing going.  George commented later on that it should be noted that the south terrace started another round of song.  When handbags broke out late in the game of course we had to break into “Stand up and fight” 

Even though the game was well won and the conditions so cold I did not note any early exodus from the terrace.  I didn’t go the bar post game as I deemed it prudent to high tail it to Dublin to beat the orange weather alert due to spread across the midlands.  Walking briskly back to my car got the blood circulating again after the numbness and tingling sensation endured on the terrace from 5.45 – 9.45!  There should be a support group for us :-).

Thanks to all who read, like and comment on my blog.  It is a labour of love and while I need a strong finish to December in order to maintain the number of views year on year it is lovely to see such comments as “excellent” and “brilliant” which last weeks edition received.  Hope to see some folks on the day trip next week, at the airport or Welford Road itself.  Safe travels to all.  Let’s be red, loud and proud there and hopefully finish the job.  As the Irish proverb says a good start is half the work (Tús maith, leath na hoibre) and that was definitely achieved in round 3. 

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Photo by George – headwear was an essential fashion item given the conditions – with Sinead, Niamh and Imelda

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Boot to Ball: Munster: 36 – Ospreys: 10

A well-executed tactical kick is always appreciated by the Munster faithful, with the biggest compliment being to describe it as “Rog-esque”  While putting boot to ball entails kicking away possession it is also a key weapon in managing field position and making it more difficult for the other team to score.  It puts them under pressure, and provides the opportunity to take advantage of any mistakes.  The game in Cork provided many examples of that tactic including one by man of the match Rhys Marshall!  Ian Keatley, Rory Scannell, James Hart and Darren Sweetnam all made valuable contributions to the strong kicking game on which the scores were built.

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Preparing for a scrum in the 2nd half

As the new coach begins to put his stamp on the team and the players seek to put their best foot forward to be considered for the crunch European games there was plenty to play for when Ospreys came to Cork.  From the first lineout, after an initial maul Cloete peeled off and went up the blind side, before getting the pass away to Rhys Marshall as he was bundled into touch to put Munster onto the front foot early.

A deep kick by Ian Keatley minutes later put Munster into a good position.  There was a further bonus when Hassler attempted to catch the ball as it sailed over his head.  His touch gave Munster the throw-in. While possession was lost it was a good start full of intent which boded well for the evening.

James Hart kicked up the line with Jack in pursuit to again pin the visitors back.  A block-down by Rory Scannell provided a kickable penalty opportunity when Ospreys did not release under that pressure.  It was put between the posts in the fourth minute by Ian Keatley.

Hart seemed to be everywhere, making both tackles and passes in a high tempo first half. From the base of a scrum he sniped before offloading to Darren Sweetnam setting him free down the wing.  Darren carried well before kicking ahead.  The ball just beat him to the line but it got the crowd into the game yelling encouragement and applauding his efforts.

Ospreys then had a period of possession and were looking to stretch the Munster defence probing from one side to the other.  Alex Wootton put in a tackle and when Cloete arriving in support went looking for the ball his opposite number cleaned him out with his arm around Chris’s neck earning him a yellow card.  The retaliatory wrestling did not warrant any sanction according to the referee Ben Whitehouse.

A kick by Hart bounced beautifully into touch.  While it was the Ospreys throw into the lineout, it slipped from the grasp of the Ospreys player to be picked up by Rhys Marshall who popped it up to Copeland who drove forward.  When he went to ground Hart got the pass to Keatley.  Arnold was running a good line off him and took the ball at pace to cross the line and score the opening try.

A few minutes later Ian Keatley shaped up to kick the ball just inside the Ospreys half but looking up he realised there was space.  He attacked it before offloading to Darren Sweetnam who found Cloete in support.  The latter’s basketball style pass as he ran out of space bounced infield, but Darren who was running a good support line reacted well and managed to collect the ball as he rolled to ground it over the line.  Ian was again successful with his conversion.

A tackle on Wootton as he was in the air on the Munster 22 drew our protests, but the referee was happy it was just a penalty offence.  Luckily he was not injured.

Another great kick from halfway by Keatley gave the Ospreys a lineout deep in their own 22.  A knock-on under pressure resulted in a scrum for Munster in a great position about the 5m line just as the sinbin period ended.  Copeland picked and went from the base of the scrum.  When tackled play went the other side with Arnold carrying the ball. He presented it well when tackled.  Cloete was next to carry and the TMO was called again to check what happened next.  We were all glad to see it again as it had taken us unawares also.  Cloete had been tackled but when released showed tremendous leg drive to get to his feet and drive over the line catching the pillar defence unawares as they had not formed a ruck.  The try was awarded and converted to make it 24-0.

Coming up to half time the Ospreys had a scrum in a central position.  A skip pass tested the defence and Darren’s tackle did not stop #13 Fonotia.  Zebo and Scannell came into tackle him but he got the pass away to Jess Hassler on the wing to score for the visitors.  Alex Wootton chased down the conversion attempt by Sam Davies which may have helped put him off.

The sight of Zebo walking off gingerly at half-time after having needed attention a few times for a rib injury was a concern.  The victorious Under 18s club team were presented during the break while the minis enjoyed their pitch-time.

We were not surprised to see JJ Hanrahan replace Zebo at half-time.  A kick by Keats from inside his own half just bounced the wrong way and rolled over the try line giving Ospreys a 22 drop-out.  However Arnold claimed their restart and Munster were back on the attack in the Ospreys half.  Captain Billy Holland took it up before Keatley’s pass found Scannell whose pass in turn set Wootton through a gap.  He then found Scannell in support when he needed it.  Rory put in a good dummy to distract the defence before sliding over the line to secure the bonus point in the 42nd minute.

Marshall and Wootton almost combined shortly after as Rhys had put in a great kick ahead for Alex to chase but it just went dead before he could get to it.

There was a long stoppage when Liam O’Connor went down injured before he was stretchered off.  The young Academy player has been having a great season and with the injury to James Cronin was in line to gain more European experience this month.  It didn’t look good and apparently is a knee injury.  I wish him a full recovery to continue his excellent development once he is over this setback.

Sweetnam’ s offload behind his back to JJ did not get what it deserved as the pass was deemed forward but it would have been fantastic skill if it had come off!  An exciting player who in case you didn’t know also excelled at another sport! (see last week’s edition)

Shortly afterwards Rory’s great kick pinned the Ospreys back deep on the east side before he repeated the tactic on the opposite side of the pitch just minutes later. It was from the latter that the 5th try resulted.  While the Ospreys secured their line out ball when they tried to play their way out of their own 5m line Robin Copeland won a super turnover.  Rhys Marshall reacted quickly getting the pass away to Billy Holland whose skip pass found Jack O’Donoghue in space to score after 55 minutes.  The conversion was missed but it was another example of using position and pressure to force the mistakes and then to capitalize on those.

Special mention also to Jack for his superb lineout jumping all evening.

The changes made may have impacted the flow, but we certainly saw less action down our end than we were hoping for in the second half, a fact borne out by the stats from ESPN.

Penalty after penalty were conceded as the Ospreys stretched the defence.  A warning was issued by the referee before a quick tap penalty caught Jack offside and he was sent to the bin.  Ospreys went for the lineout and maul, but it was defended albeit another penalty conceded for offside by Rory as Ospreys put in a cross-field kick.  From a scrum they had another advantage.  Hassler nearly got in, but the defence worked hard to keep him out.  Back for another penalty before Will Jones got in at the corner despite Nash and Copeland’s tackles.

Calvin Nash put in a good tackle near us to force the winger Dirksen into touch a few minutes later.  Jack got back on for the final minutes but there were to be no more scores and with the rain falling for the last 10 minutes and the temperatures dropping we were glad to hear the final whistle.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (JJ Hanrahan 40’); Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley (Calvin Nash 57’), James Hart (Duncan Williams 51’); Liam O’Connor (Brian Scott 48’), Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne 63’), John Ryan (Stephen Archer 74’); Jean Kleyn (Darren O’Shea 51’), Billy Holland; Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete, Robin Copeland (Sean O’Connor 76’).  Tyler was waterboy 🙂

OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Hanno Dirksen, Kieron Fonotia, James Hook, Jeff Hassler (Joe Thomas 72’); Sam Davies (Luke Price 77’), Tom Habberfield; Gareth Thomas (Ma’afu Fia 40’), Sam Parry (Scott Baldwin 26-33 HIA & 36’), Dmitri Arhip (Rob McCusker 40’); Lloyd Ashley (Rowan Jenkins 54’ HIA), Bradley Davies; Olly Cracknell (Guy Mercer 73’), Will Jones, James King. Replacements not used: Reuben Morgan-Williams

Another welcome bonus point win for Munster which was needed as Glasgow continue to set the pace at the top of Conference A while the Cheetahs also won to remain in the top 3.  I would never have predicted that Ospreys would be propping up the table at this or indeed any stage of the season but that is where they find themselves.

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The Pro14 table after 10 rounds

Stats from ESPN are here and show 13 penalties were conceded in total, with many of them conceded before their second score..

Reports from SkySports, The42.ie and Irish Times , Irish Examiner  and LimerickLeader

The Baltic conditions had improved from the previous weekend.  It was another sell out night in Cork to welcome the start of Johann van Graan’s tenure and there was plenty to enjoy especially in the first half.

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Santa and Oscar brought seasons greetings to the terrace before the game

Before the game, talk invariably turned to contracts with the recent news of Peter O’Mahony’ s negotiations with the IRFU.  It is hard to imagine Peter playing for another club but unless there is a sugar daddy or we win the lottery or set up a crowd-fund to top up players wages it will be difficult for the provinces to compete with the money available in France and the UK.  Maybe the French will review their foreign player quotas due to the impact it is having on the national team results, but I doubt their sugar daddies care as much about national pride as they do about their own ambitions for Top 14 and European success.

It felt like forever since I had been at a live rugby game as I had missed the home game against the Dragons.  It was nice to spot Kevin and Joan as I arrived so I stopped to chat and ended up staying beside them for the game.  Michelle joined us before Tony and Imelda came by and also stayed.

Paul Mc and Paul P called over to say hello before the game while the Graces and O’Regans did so afterwards as they were leaving.  Paul was looking forward to taking his daughter to the Munster Rugby Christmas party the following day for her second Christmas, a family tradition started last year.  I have seen some photos on social media today and it looks like a great time was had by all.  Well done to the hard-working committee who put so much effort into the annual event.  Hope to see some of you in Thomond next weekend including Rob who enjoyed our company on the WT so much for the Leicester last year he is returning next weekend.  I don’t suppose we can expect a similar scoreline this year but hopefully the lads will give a good account of themselves and play with belief, pride and passion.  They will do their best on the pitch and we must reciprocate on the terraces and in the stands as they face Leicester once more.  Safe travels to all.  Come early to be red, loud and proud as we stand up and fight once more!

 

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Commentator’s Curse: Zebre: 19 – Munster: 36

A valuable away bonus point win marked the start of the tenure of Johann van Graan albeit he took a backseat this week since he only arrived to take up his new position on Monday.  The game also provided an opportunity for some of the Academy lads during the international window.  It was great to see two of them, Jack Stafford and Calvin Nash combine well to score the final try of the game – a memorable game for them.

The excellent lineout performance on their own and on the opposition throw was another highlight but the team will rue their discipline which led to two yellow cards and three tries conceded. Some inaccuracies also cost them some more scores, Alex Wootton could have added to his try count for this season if he had managed to finish off more of the opportunities which came his way but he did take his brace superbly.

How many times how we heard the commentator’s curse as they anticipate a penalty being converted or a clear round in the showjumping?  Even in the video highlights below Mark Robson can be heard complimenting the Zebre defence just before Nash scores.  Earlier in the game he had been praising JJ Hanrahan who had scored 7 from 7 in the last game but he missed one kick while a second came off the post this week.  In fairness it must be hard to be a commentator and have to keep talking especially through times when there is a stoppage but there are some old chestnuts they like to keep rolling out including Darren Sweetnam’s hurling prowess or Alex Wootton hailing from Macclesfield.

A strong scrum won Munster a penalty in the 8th minute which was successfully kicked to put Munster onto the scoreboard 0-3.
Sam Arnold followed up his super-sub performance from the Dragons game to take advantage of Chris Farrell’s call-up to Ireland.  He did catch the eye including this big tackle captured by Inpho photography.

A stolen lineout and pass to Alex set him free down the wing.  His kick ahead was carried into touch by the Zebre player yielding Munster a 5m scrum.  The pack took it up before they released the backline, JJ finding Rory who raced in to score the first try.

Stephen Archer had to go off temporarily for a blood injury and was replaced by Brian Scott.  He was the grateful beneficiary of a mis-thrown lineout in the Zebre 22.  He passed to Rhys Marshall who charged forward getting to within a few metres of the line.  The pack piled in before James Hart on his first start for Munster darted to the line.  It looked like the defence would keep him out but he was driven over by Kleyn and others to score the second try and put Munster into a healthy 0-17 lead.

However a few minutes later Robin Copeland was sinbinned as he played a ball at the feet of the Zebre scrumhalf.  They opted for the scrum when they had the man advantage and after stretching Munster through the phases their centre Bisegni burst through to score which was converted.

Munster’s indiscipline was to result in a second binning before half time, on this occasion against Sam Arnold (deemed to be offside) after the referee had issued a formal warning to captain Billy Holland.  Zebre went for the jugular and a change in direction caught Munster short as Sarto scored and Palazzani converted successfully again despite the difficult angle.  What a turnaround from  0-17 to 14-17 giving the home side a pep in their step as they left the pitch for half time.

Munster dominated after the break and as they got back to full strength they turned the screw.  Alex Wootton had a few opportunities before he popped up on the opposite wing to gather the ball and power through to score.  Just minutes later a superb pass by Zebo put him into space at full pace to score his second.  Good to have Alex in such form.  He may be called upon for the crucial Leicester games as Keith Earls is expected to miss those through injury.

At 14-29 I expected Munster to push on but they got on the wrong side of the referee again and allowed Zebre back into the game.  The home side took advantage of the penalties to get into the Munster half and score their third try after 68 minutes through Venditti.

An injury to Simon Zebo saw Bill Johnson come on at 10 for the final minutes with JJ moving to full back.  Calvin Nash had replaced Wootton earlier and it was he who got on the end of a pass from fellow Academy player Jack Stafford to score the fifth try for Munster after good pressure by Munster.  A successful conversion by JJ was the final action of the game.

The match highlights are on YouTube but do not include the superb break by Rhys Marshall early in the game when he pounced on a mis-throw and charged upfield.  He almost got to the line before the defence got to him.  Rhys also put in some delicate offloads which helped keep the tempo up and the game free flowing.

Zebre: Ciaran Gaffney; Pierre Bruno, Giulio Bisegni, Faialaga Afamasaga, Gio D’Onofrio; Maicol Azzolini, Guglielmo Palazzani; Cruze Ah-Nau, Luhandre Luus (Oliviero Fabiaini ’41), Eduardo Bello; James Tucker, Leonard Krumov; Jacopo Sarto, Johan Meyer, Derick Minnie (Maxime Mbanda ’43).

Munster: Simon Zebo (Bill Johnston ’76); Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton (Calvin Nash ’67); JJ Hanrahan, James Hart (Jack Stafford ’76); Liam O’Connor (Brian Scott ’67), Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne ’63), Stephen Archer (Brian Scott ’21-’27, Ciaran Parker ‘78); Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland (Darren O’Shea ’63’; Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete (Sean O’Connor ’75), Robin Copeland.

Congrats to man of the match Chris Cloete on his second appearance for Munster.  It was the first time those of us who did not make it to the untelevised Dragons game got to see him in action and it was good to see what he adds to the competitive backrow options for Munster.

Match reports from the Irish Independent, Irish Times Sky Sports Irish Examiner and The42.ie

Stats from ESPN are available here.

It was nice to catch up with my MRSC Dublin friends to watch the game.  Our youngest member Leia made an appearance and the 16 month old was very quiet and was a positive influence on the expletives uttered from time to time when a great opportunity went abegging.  As I will be attending the next 4 games in person in Cork, Limerick, Leicester and Limerick I won’t be back in again until the game on New Years Day.

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Through the Lens: Munster: 49 – Dragons: 6

Sounds like I missed a cracker as I tuned into the 2 Lens on Limericks Live95FM for coverage of the game from my hotel room in Iceland. The northern lights may not have made an appearance but the southern stars sure left everyone with a smile on their face heading into the break for the Autumn Internationals.
Seven tries tells of a dominant display with a mean defence, paying tribute to the work done by Jacques Nienaber. We will miss seeing him prowl the sidelines in front of us on the terrace, shouting warnings, instructions and encouragement to the players in addition to tending to their injuries. Maybe he will still be in there for the next home game in early December, in a support role for new coach Johann van Graan but in case not I want to pay tribute to Jacques and Rassie for their contribution to Munster over the past 17 months. The benefits will continue to be felt long after their departure, be that in November or December. I wish them well in their future careers as they are part of the extended Munster family.

The other lens available is from the super photographs of Daryl Feehely.  The full collection can be viewed on https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfeehely/albums/72157687964900961

In the first half Daryl captured JJ Hanrahan making this break to set up the first try, finished off by Rory Scannell who continues his excellent form.

Man of the match JJ Harahan makes a break to set up the first try. Photo by Daryl

JJ converted 7/7 on the night, an impressive stat given that most were from out wide.  Below Daryl captures Rory finishing off the move.  

First try scored by Rory. photo by Daryl

Another superfluous to Irish team duty this week, did the chants of Ze-bo ring out around the ground as he continues to add to his record number of tries for Munster? 

Zebo continues to add to his Munster record to set a high bar. Photo by Daryl

I had read of a super pass putting Jack O’Donoghue in for his try and this wonderful photo captures that pass from Darren Sweetnam in the second half. Nice one Daryl and Darren! Great to see Jack on the scoreboard while Darren also got on the scoreboard later in the second half.

Sam Arnold had an injury disrupted début season at Munster but had finished the year strongly, featuring for the A team in their successful British and Irish Cup campaign.  On Friday he came off the bench to score a brace in his 21 minutes. 

Replacement hooker Kevin O’Byrne also got onto the scoresheet with this try captured again by Daryl.

Kevin scores a try. Photo by Daryl

Teams:

Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell (Sam Arnold ’59), Alex Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams (James Hart ’52); Liam O’Connor (James Cronin ’49), Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne ’60), Stephen Archer (Brian Scott ’65); Jean Kleyn (Darren O’Shea ’49), Billy Holland; Jack O’Donoghue (Ian Keatley ’71), Chris Cloete (Mark Flanagan ’64), Robin Copeland.

Dragons: Will Talbot-Davies; Ashton Hewitt, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon (Pat Howard ’59), Jared Rosser; Angus O’Brien (Arwel Robson ’65), Charlie Davies (Sarel Pretorius ’51); Thomas Davies (Luke Garrett ’50), Gerard Ellis (Liam Belcher ’45), Lloyd Fairbrother (Brok Harris ’50); Joe Davies (Scott Andrews ’65), Rynard Landman; Aaron Wainwright, James Benjamin, James Sheekey (Ben Roach ’50).

Highlights don’t seem to be on the Pro14 YouTube channel yet but are embedded in their tweet.  I believe TG4 also showed highlights on Saturday but I am stuck in Iceland due to a storm and can’t find them via my phone.

The crowd sounded in good voice, no wonder given the try-scoring exploits they were enjoying. I could hear “The Fields of Athenry” ring out at one stage through the radio on my phone. God bless free wi-fi!

It was nice to hear from Anne and Mark after the game with their first hand feedback 

Were you there?  Any highlights or anecdotes to share? 

I look forward to finding some highlights on line when I return home to enjoy the action. I am also keen to view the début of new flanker Chris Cloete who made a great first impression by all accounts. 

Official photos https://munsterrugby.ie/gallery/gallery-munster-49-6-dragons/

As the game was not televised live the stats on ESPN this week are a bit patchy: 

http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/matchstats?gameId=291914&league=270557

Coverage from the papers:

http://www.irishexaminer.com/sport/rugby/reds-give-rassie-rousing-send-off-462231.html

The 42.iematch report

The Irish Times match report

From the Irish Independent: thoughts of Rassie: thoughts and match report:  https://m.independent.ie/sport/rugby/munster-rugby/thirsty-munsters-sevenup-adds-fizz-to-the-erasmus-farewell-celebration-36288439.html 

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Fatigue? Connacht: 20 – Munster: 16

The great expectations for this game arising from the strong team announced the previous day seemed to be justified in the opening minutes as Munster started strongly on a dry night in Galway.  Connacht could not get out of their own 22.  Bundee Aki won a turnover but shortly after a knock-on handed the advantage back to Munster.  From a lineout CJ carried, then Marshall, CJ again before Keatley got the ball to Farrell who showed his strength to get over the gain line and get the pass to Scannell on his shoulder.  It was frenetic in the opening minutes!

A knock on as Connacht tried to intercept gave Munster a scrum in a central position.  Somehow Munster lost possession and it was Kieran Marmion who came away with the ball.  When he slipped and dropped the ball, Rory Scannell swooped down to take possession, accelerated between several Connacht players and then executed a superb pass to Simon Zebo who had the pace and power to get over the line despite the best efforts of three defenders.  Ian Keatley converted to make in 0-7 by the fifth minute

Connacht responded well with a good break from Kelleher but the defense scrambled well.  Munster were next to score through a penalty kicked successfully by Ian Keatley to make it 0-10 after 17 minutes.  From the restart a knock-on gave Connacht a scrum in a good position.  The Munster defense held well but a high tackle gave Connacht an opportunity to kick at goal.  Jack Carty’s kick went wide but from the restart Darragh Leader made a great break.  Connacht went through the phases.  Rory Scannell lined up Bundee Aki but he had just gotten the pass away to man of the match Jarrad Butler who had Tiernan O’Halloran in support.   The latter scored behind the posts and Carty converted to make it 7-10 after 23 minutes.

A good maul approaching the half hour mark yielded another penalty for Munster which Keatley again put between the posts to extend Munster’s lead to 7-13.  However, Connacht finished the first half stronger, O’Halloran and Kelleher almost added a second try but they had to settle a few minutes later for a penalty kicked by Carty to make it 10-13 at the break.

A scrum penalty in the 50th minute gave Carty the opportunity to level the scores which he duly took.  Munster changed the rest of their front row in response.  After a subsequent messy scrum Nigel Owens warned both front rows.  Munster seemed to do well to disrupt the next scrum but were adjudged to be “not square” and so Connacht were able to clear the danger from their 5m line.

The talking and turning point was the red card shown to Andrew Conway in the 62nd minute.  He and Peter O’Mahony had been trying to block down Jack Carty’s kick.  As Conway landed he caught Carty with an elbow to the head.  Watching the replays it reminded me of CJ’s card in South Africa so I was not shocked by the red card but I was disappointed for the player as it was accidental but the referee has to look out for the safety of the players.  Carty had to be replaced by Ronaldson, I hope he is not seriously injured.

Munster were next to score when JJ Hanrahan successfully converted a penalty kick in the 65th minute.  However Connacht had the final say on the scoreboard when Tom Farrell broke through to score in the 66th minute in a move off a lineout on the 10m line.  I was hoping he would be called back for a forward pass but the try was awarded and converted to put 4 points between the teams with twelve minutes left.  The Fields of Athenry rang out, presumably from the home supporters based on the volume!

Adeolokun posed a threat when he burst through down the wing but Munster dealt with it and won a penalty to get them deep into Connacht territory.  Another penalty kicked deep into touch got them to the 5m line.  The maul was repelled and the pack took it on but knocked on!  A valuable minute was used up resetting the scrum.  Connacht kicked possession away and Munster came back at them.  Despite going through phase after phase, (19!)  in the closing minutes Munster could not make the breakthrough and only had a losing bonus point to show for their efforts.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Cian Kelleher (Niyi Adeolokun ’52), Jack Carty (Craig Ronaldson ’61), Kieran Marmion: Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan ’68), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey ’70); Ultan Dillane (Quinn Roux ’68), James Cannon; Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Eoghan Masterson ’74).

Munster: Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’46), Conor Murray: Dave Kilcoyne (Liam O’Connor ’51), Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne ’51), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’46); Mark Flanagan (Sean McCarthy ’70), Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue ’63), CJ Stander.

Stats from ESPN are here and show that Billy, Peter and Tommy clocked up tackle counts in double figures.  Overall the 83% tackle execution rate was lower than the required standard but it was good to see that the penalty count was kept down to 6.

Match reports: The42.ieIrish Times, Irish Examiner and Irish Independent

Fatigue may have set in on me also this weekend, it was hard to dredge up the enthusiasm to watch the match back.  I don’t think things were as bad as the reaction of some twitter experts.  I think fatigue was a factor after the very physical game the previous week.   This tweet I saw from @Overthehillprop reminded me that sometimes the difference between success and failure is the narrowest of marginsFor whatever reason tonights game is one of the ones last season that the team were winning with last minute tries or manky drop goals

While Glasgow have opened a significant gap at the top of the table for Conference A it is the top 3 at the end of the season that is key. Munster and the Cheetahs have a good lead on the chasing pack.

TableOct28

Table after round 7

A lot of talk in the build up to the game included the Ireland squad announcement and the departure at the end of the season of Simon Zebo.  The try scored in this game brought his tally for Munster to 56 with opportunities to add to that during the remaining months.  When he moves on there will be good competition to take on his mantle with Sweetnam, Wootton and O’Mahony hungry for starting slots in the back three along with Conway and Earls.

I watched the game in the River Bar with MRSC Dublin but the noise from the music downstairs and the constant stream of folks heading down to it in Hallowe’en outfits and make up was a bit distracting!  Next weekend I will be chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland.  It looks like the game will not be televised so I will be looking out for updates via Twitter.   A good performance against Dragons before the break for the Autumn Internationals will be very welcome.  Maybe the break will be good for my creative juices also.

To leave you with a smile in case you missed it check out the ROG gift grub from during the week about his possible role in the transfer market between Munster and Racing 92!

11 Comments

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

happy

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.
stats
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!
choir.JPG
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.

huddle

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