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A clean sheet, sweet! Munster: 17 – Zebre: 0

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John Madigan prepared to jump in the lineout. Photo by Gayl

A good way to start a new season – establishing a 100% win record and keeping a clean sheet!  Three tries scored by the wingers on a blustery wet evening in the sunny south-east made the trip worthwhile.  It was a pity that the weather was so miserable as when they had played a friendly in Waterford 2 years ago a larger crowd had gathered.  The crowd of over 2,300 who came along were glad of the shelter provided by the two stands.

Local hero Jack O’Donoghue got the loudest reception as the players were announced with young Stephen McMahon, another Deise man also being well received.  It had been a great week for the county and city of Waterford with Thomas Barr of Ferrybank AC – who like the Munster squad trains in UL – setting a new Irish record and coming an impressive – if agonisingly so close and yet so far from a medal – 4th place in the 400m hurdles final at the Olympics. Last week I wrote about the inspiration from the rowers of Lisheen, and it is great to see the next generation of Irish athletes coming of age on the world stage.  This pre-season friendly provided an opportunity for some of the next generation of Munster players to show what they have to offer also and despite the inclement conditions there were plenty of green shoots to give us hope for the coming seasons.

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Billy Holland secures the lineout in the driving rain. Photo by Gayl

Zebre had the wind advantage in the first half so any penalty conceded saw Munster pushed back deep into their own half. The driving rain lightened at times, or even stopped but it was never far away, making it a difficult night for handling and for kickers.  However, it was perfect for kicks and chips to turn the defence and test the handling skills and while it took a while to get the first score it was a beauty.

Darren Sweetnam whose workrate and speed had impressed last season was the man of the match and it was those two attributes which lead to the first score after 27 minutes. Keatley’s kick was gathered by centre Colm O’Shea who broke up field.  He made good ground but when he was tackled the ball was recycled quickly for Keatley to put through another kick.  That one was chased by Sweetnam and full back Stephen Fitzgerald. When the defender failed to secure the ball Sweetnam was over to score the first try of the new season.  The conversion attempt was unsuccessful and it remained 5-0 for the rest of the half.

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Dave and Stephen checking with the ref as Niall dries the ball. Photo by Gayl

Zebre had attempted a penalty kick shortly before the Munster score but had not managed to put it between the posts. They seemed to have the advantage in the scrum and forced a couple of penalties during the game but could not finish off their attacking moves thanks to the dogged Munster defence and some handling errors letting Munster off the hook.

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The referee had a word after a punch was thrown, no cards were shown. Photo by Gayl

In the second half Brian Scott made his debut at tighthead and put in a good shift in the scrum.  He also displayed some nice handling skills when he made a break and gave a super offload to the supporting O’Donoghue.

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Brian Scott makes way for John Andress in the second half. Photo by Gayl

While that attack petered out, another of Keatley’s grubbers after a solid Munster scrum was eagerly chased and secured by Ronan O’Mahony to put Munster 12-0 ahead when Keatley added the conversion after 54 minutes.

The third score was again finished off by Darren Sweetnam after a good break this time by Dan Goggin.  Dan was a regular in the Ireland 7s team in their efforts to qualify for Rio and it will be good to see how that experience aids his progression through the ranks at Munster.  There was a lot of speculation about the centres with the news of Francis Saili requiring surgery and therefore not being available for the next few months.  Cian Bohane who suffered a bad injury at the same ground 2 years ago was in good form as was O’Shea and Goggin.  Hopefully the conditions in the coming weeks will give them further opportunities to stake a claim for that position.

Another to put his hand up was Conor Oliver in the #7 shirt who also put in a good shift, running good support lines and making his tackles.  That is a position we needed more depth in last season with Jack O’Donoghue being moved across the backrow where needed so it was good to look at the options for depth there.

Twelve players made their debuts including the afore-mentioned Brian Scott and Dan Goggin.  Another set of brothers have now appeared for Munster in recent seasons with Conor Fitzgerald making his debut at 10 as he and Stephen join the Scannells, Johnstons and O’Mahonys lining out for Munster.

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The young guns wait to be launched into the action – #10 is Conor Fitzgerald, #9 is John Poland and #23 is Steven McMahon. Photo by Gayl

After the 7 changes above Zebre enjoyed a period of possession deep in the Munster half where they laid seige to the line.  It looked like it would be just a matter of time before they breached the line, especially when they won a penalty and opted for a scrum but fair dues to the youngsters they dug deep and kept their shape, eventually winning the turnover to relieve the pressure.  Then they went on the attack themselves, often the best form of defense!  Unfortunately they could not find the elusive score but they can take a lot of credit from their time on the pitch. Maybe that was what Erasmus was referring to when he is quoted in the Examiner saying: Overall, I was happy, particularly (happy) with the defence when called upon”

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Munster pushing hard for a fourth try at the end as Poland looks to set up the next attack. Photo by Gayl

MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald (Calvin Nash ’72); Darren Sweetnam (Steven McMahon ’72, Cian Bohane (Shane Daly ’72), Colm O’Shea (Dan Goggin ’51), Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley (Conor Fitzgerald ’72), Duncan Williams (John Poland ’72); John Ryan (Peter McCabe ’65), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne ’65), Stephen Archer (Brian Scott ‘HT (John Andress ’65 (Brian Scott ’80))); John Madigan (Dave Foley ‘HT (Dave O’Callaghan ’76)), Billy Holland (captain); Dave O’Callaghan (Darren O’Shea ’51), Conor Oliver (Ollie Lyons ’72), Jack O’Donoghue (Gavin Coombes ’72).

ZEBRE: Carlo Canna (Carlo Engelbrecht ’53); Giovanbattista Venditti (Tommasso Boni ’68), Tommasso Boni (Giulio Bisegni ’53), Tommasso Castello, Gabriele di Giulio; Edoardo Padovani, Gugliemo Palazzani; Andrea Lovotti (Andrea de Marchi ’65), Oliviero Fabiani (Tommaso D’Apice ’57), Pietro Ceccarelli (Dario Chistolini, ’53); Gideon Koegelenberg, Federico Ruzza (Quintin Geldenhuys HIA ’43 to ’50 (Guillermo Roan ’63)); Jacopo Sarto (captain) (Giovanni Pettinelli ’57), Maxime Mbanda, Derick Minnie.

There was no big screen at the game to help see what was happening so I have included link to  match report from The42.ie (plus the Examiner link above) and the highlights video shared by Munster rugby:

There are some excellent photos from Sportsfile here.  Hopefully Dave Foley who had to go off due to a back spasm will be fit for action again soon.

The management were sitting a few rows behind me in the stand along with some of the reserves as there was not enough room for all of them in the shelters by the pitch given the use of the extended squad for the friendly. I wish Felix Jones all the best in his new role, the blog I wrote when he was forced to retire last October was one of my most read and it is great that he is still involved with the team.

After the summer break it was great to see some familiar faces again, I sat beside Paul, also from Tipperary, first met on the trip to Glasgow for the Pro12 semi-final May, 2014, so after congratulating him on becoming a Dad during the summer we had a few words about Tipp’s chances in the football semi-final on Sunday.  At the end I enjoyed a few words with the brothers from Waterford, first met traveling home from the Sale game in October 2014.  Like myself, they are amongst the regular early arrivals on the west terrace so I am sure they appreciated the shorter commute to this game.  I also met Patrick who had travelled from Clare – one of my first twitter supporters (thanks for the countless RTs) – with Jennifer.  I expect to see a few more familiar faces in Cork next Friday, not least our own legend, Donncha lining out with his team Worchester!  Hopefully we’ll have better weather and a great crowd in the Red Shed to welcome him home!

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Inspiration from Lisheen

RioLisheen, a small village in west Cork provides inspiration as the O’Donovan brothers – students and rowers – entertained and thrilled the nation over the past week.  Their interviews – free from the usual cliches – delighted us.  Some turns of phrase captured the imagination and even became tee-shirt slogans.  The instant classic “Pull like a dog” epitomised their grit as they dug deep and gave it their all in the final 500m.  “I kept thinking if we keep rowing well and pulling hard we can win a medal,” Gary remembered. “And even if we don’t, we did everything we could to give ourselves the best opportunity.”   Read the full article in the Irish Times

Former Olympian Neville Maxwell in the RTE studio was very emotional post-race about the significance of their success for sailing.  Pre-race he had spoken about the build-up of lactic acid and it’s impact on the rowers.  We saw how they pulled through the pain barrier to win silver as they had learnt from their coach in Skibbereen (from the Irish Times):

Paul tells a story of how, when they were learning to row, Dominic told them nothing of lactate build-up. The pain in your legs and arms is because you’re not doing it right, he would say. So they drove through the agony – and when they discovered it was a physical thing they were already used to it.

However it is only when viewing this footage of their post race recovery as Gary struggled to get over to Paul that you see the full impact of that build-up and how they had nothing left in the tank.

While we were enthralled by their personalities in the build up to and after their final heroics, it was also clear from their words how much they love their sport and their pride and delight in being part of the Olympics team and representing Lisheen, Skibbereen and Ireland on the world stage.  It is also clear that their success was built on hard work, determination and that never say die attitude that drove them to this medal and will continue to drive them on to further success.

It is their type of attitude, dedication and winning mentality that I hope to see replicated in Munster for the new season.

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Anticipation is building and I am looking forward to my trip to Waterford next Friday night for the pre-season game against Zebre before the trip to Cork the following weekend to see Donncha and Worchester.  The new season brings the opportunity to wipe the slate clean, park last season’s disappointments and to look forward to seeing Peter O’Mahony back on the pitch, the visit of the Maoris in November and the return of Ronan O’Gara albeit in the visitors changing room when we welcome Racing Metro to Thomond. A return of the fortress Munster mentaltity on and off the pitch will also be welcome as the home defeats proved costly in the past two European Cup seasons.  The lads at ThreeRedKings have some great initiatives to help with the contribution from the terraces. You can see details here

While there is a lot of attention on the new Director of rugby (worth listening to his interview from Newstalk) the new defence coach Jacques Nienaber intereviewed in the Irish Examiner spoke about the attitiude of the players and “their refusal to be defeated

Equally encouraging was the interview with Conor Murrary who spoke in the Irish Times about the “new philosophy, a new voice. There’s a lot of emphasis on physicality and dominating your opposition, which is very South African.”

Time will tell, and we will remember that new systems take time to settle in and that Joe Schmidt was not an instant success at Leinster but it was encouraging to read from a recent interview with Rassie:

I think I would be naive to think that if we don’t show massive, massive improvements from last year, I don’t think people will accept us saying that, ‘We are trying hard, we’re improving slowly and we’ll get there’,” he insists….

“I don’t want to have the standard answer of saying, ‘Here, we are inheriting a squad’. I don’t want to say that.”

Some final thoughts about the inspiration from Lisheen.  I  hope that we will see the brothers at a Munster game to give them the reception they deserve as we had the opportunity to applaud David Rodisha after the 2012 Olympics and boxer Andy Lee with his World Champioship belt (Dec 2014)  And maybe instead of yelling “heave” when the maul is formed we could shout at the lads to “pull like a dog”!

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An instant catchphrase, immortalised on a tee shirt by the Hairy Baby company

In the below video where the O’Donovan brothers met the Kearneys Paul also shows his ruthless competitive nature – that brotherly bonds will not be a consideration if an alternative rowing partner would give him a better chance of success.  That strive for excellence will drive both rowers onwards and I look forward to following their progress and seeing the impact of their success on funding for and participation in the sport they love.  Kudos also to the ladies pair of Sinead Lynch / Claire Lambe and single skulls Sanita Puspure whose efforts contributed to an excellent return for the Irish rowing team in Rio.

I enjoyed these articles from the Huffington Post who wrote that the brothers deserve gold for this hilarious interview while the Southern Star listed 10 of their favourite quotes (to date!)  

In the coming week another excellent athlete whose dedication and hard work deserves medal success is Annalise Murphy who is well placed heading into the medal race on Monday when she hopes to improve on her 4th place finish from London 2012.  (Congrats on the silver medal!)

Similarly hopes are high for Rob Heffernan while I am sure some other Irish Olympians will delight us in the coming week and we will become couch experts in badminton, sailing, diving, etc!  It is so disappointing for the boxers who also put in great efforts only to fall foul of the judges. 

Finally the rugby 7s seemed to be a great success in the Olympics and hopefully both Irish 7s teams will build on their development this season to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

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Champions! Biarritz: 19 – Munster: 23: 2006 European Cup Final

Tuned into radio, rushing home from Communion lunch. Disaster struck, a dodgy try conceded!  Raced indoors, glued to the TV. Halstead scores. Yes!  Fists pumped, fingers crossed.

Stringer you beauty!  Fooled them all!

Penalties conceded, margin reduced. Limerick on big screen re-energises all. Can we prevail? Yes we did!

My unsuccessful entry for the fifty word competition run by Munster Rugby.

Fifty words was never going to be my medium, but it was worth entering as winning would have been cool and it got me thinking of writing my third retrospective blog!  Hence, as the anniversary approached I sat down to watch the match through.  Plenty of nostalgia and moments of confusion due to some rule changes in the interim, but also a tinge of sadness to watch players like Ian Dowling, Denis Leamy, David Wallace and Jerry Flannery who had to retire before their time, as indeed had Paul O’Connell.  At least on the other end of the spectrum Peter Stringer and Donncha O’Callaghan are still going strong – both picking up end of season awards for Sale and Worchester respectively, ten years later!  It is also strange to see Paulie with a head of hair and great to see Jim Williams – part of the coaching team by then – who had contributed to much to the club, arriving on the pitch as waterboy or with the kicking tee throughout the game.

It was fast, it was frantic at times but boy was it exciting in a nerve-wrecking kind of way. Not sure if I can say I enjoyed it live… it was much easier to review  after the event!

They referred to it as our Holy Grail after all the near misses:

  • 2000: Defeated finalists versus Northampton by a single point.
  • 2001: Defeated semi-finalists away to Stade Francais by a single point – a John O’Neill try disallowed controversially.
  • 2002: Defeated finalists versus Leicester. They said you had to win one to lose one but that did not work out for Munster.  I was there for the infamous “hand of Back” incident.
  • 2003: Defeated semi-finalists away to Toulouse by a single point
  • 2004: Defeated semi-finalists versus Wasps at Lansdowne Road by 5 points – I was there in the sea of red – ROG forced off early through injury, costly sinbinnings..more heartbreak
  • 2005: Defeated quarter-finalists away to Biarritz

Would 2006 be our year?  Could we finally put those defeats and disappointments behind us?

I have the souvenir DVD (with the wonderful bonus DVD of the semi-final) but my player is broken so I was glad to find the full game on YouTube in 2 halves.  The first half includes all 3 tries:

The second half features Limerick on the big screen and the all important final whistle!  As Ronan wrote in the Examiner on the 10th anniversary: “That snapshot of the scene back in Limerick during the game on the big screen. The memory still shocks me. Even thinking about it now again. That was the moment you just couldn’t come home if you didn’t have the medal.”

I did not go to the game as my niece and god-daughter Sinead was making her first Holy Communion so I decided to put family first.  However, that did not mean I had time to linger after the meal as I rushed back to the house and took over their living room to see the final which had a 3pm kick-off.  We listened to the opening minutes on the car radio as we drove back to the house and as I wrote above it was 7-0 to Biarritz by the time we took our seats in front of the TV.  The guests who returned later were happy enough in the dining room while the kids were delighted to be out on the bouncy castle on a sunny afternoon so Dad and I were undisturbed as we nervously watched events unfold in Cardiff.

The sea of red proved that once again the 16th man had managed to secure tickets way in excess of their allocation.  With the roof closed the noise levels throughout the game were incredible.  I have been there for the final in 2002 and 2008 and experiencing the sound in person is an incredible experience – shivers down the back of your neck stuff – but it comes across clearly on the TV also.  Trying to hear the lineout calls and other communications on the pitch over the cheering, chanting and singing must have been difficult.

Munster stole the first Biarritz lineout but they made no mistake with their second and several phases later with barely two minutes on the clock Brusque set up Sireli Bobo for the opening try.  Watching the replay there is a hint of suspicion that he may have just touched the whitewash but the score counted and Yachvili’s excellent touchline conversion put them in an early 7-0 lead.

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Bobo’s try as his foot just appeared to touch the whitewash but it was allowed.

Pulling down the maul provided the first kickable penalty opportunity for Munster after 7 minutes and a successful kick by Ronan O’Gara got Munster onto the scoreboard.

A quick lineout thrown in by Stringer put Munster on the front foot shortly afterwards.  Great continuity brought them into the opposition half before a forward pass resulted in a scrum for Biarritz.  From it Brusque’s clearance kick gave Munster a lineout and an opportunity to maul.  When it was pulled down by Betsen they were awarded a penalty after 11”.  However, they spurned the 3 points on offer, opting to find touch on the 5m line.  After 10 phases Biarritz conceded another penalty which again was kicked to touch, this time on the opposite side of the pitch.  I remember George Hook going mad about Munster not taking the points and keeping the scoreboard ticking over but Anthony Foley wanted to keep the pressure on Biarritz.  Taking the 3 points on offer would have handed them back possession and given them entry back into Munster territory. However, O’Gara’s chip over the try line was dealt with by Biarritz and that opportunity was lost.

The 22 dropout went deep but Payne kicked it back and chased up hard to tackle the receiver.  His pack piled in looking to force the turnover.  Biarritz kicked the ball deep again.  This time it was O’Gara who was covering back.  He countered and with Anthony Horgan in support chipped ahead.  Horgan batted it back and Flannery was there to charge forward.  Neat offloading to O’Connell, supported by Foley as they looked to form a maul.  When that was collapsed they got the ball wide quickly, Leamy then Horan carried, sucking in the defence before Stringer whipped it out to O’Gara whose pass to Halstead was taken at pace.  He forced his way between Gobelet and Bidabe and twisted to touch down, giving Munster an 8-7 lead after 16 minute before O’Gara’s conversion moved it out to 10-7 despite the lack of silence.  Their shouts to put him off were quickly drowned out by the cheers of the Red Army as his kick sailed between the posts.  The scenes from Limerick were equally jubilant.  We had seen such scenes before from France but I don’t recall seeing them from Limerick before and it was an amazing sight.  Apparently 30,000 turned up on the day!

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Photo of the crowds in O’Connell St Limerick taken from Emerald Rugby magazine from 2006

The restart was knocked on as Biarritz tried to respond immediately and O’Gara’s clearance kick from the resultant scrum ensured they got out of Munster territory as the “Fields of Athenry” rang out again around the ground.

A super kick from Yachvili got them back to the Munster 5m line.  Harinordoquy knocked the ball out of O’Callaghan’s hands but the referee saw and Munster had the put in to the scrum.  However, Census Johnson put the pressure on Marcus Horan to win a penalty which Yachvili kicked to tie the scores at 10 all.

It was end to end stuff – some excellent counter mauling when Biarritz had another 5m lineout as the pack showed their hunger and determination to hold their line intact.  A turnover led to a Munster counter-attack which won them a penalty when Biarritz went offside.  O’Gara kicked the ball to touch on the 22m and Flannery prepared to take the throw as the clock went past the half hour mark.  Another three point opportunity spurned, would it pay off as well as the last time?  O’Connell soared to claim the ball and passed to O’Callaghan who offloaded to Wallace on the charge.  The pack piled in behind and drove for the line – Leamy, then O’Callaghan, then Foley picked and went as they edged closer to the Biarritz line before Chris White awarded them a scrum.

The rest as they say is history, Stringer eyed up his options and backed himself, and the video analysis and his reputation of not being one to break as he scampered past Betsen taking a wide arc and dived over the line in one of the most iconic images of the European Cup!

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Stringer’s try – from the Irish Examiner coverage

Ronan O’Gara nailed the conversion to extend the lead to 7 points (10-17) with 33 minutes gone as the gamble paid off.  The roar that greeted Brusque’s fumble as Payne returned his kick from deep a few minutes later added to the frustration of the French team.

It was far from perfect, the restarts were not all dealt with perfectly, there were some loose kicks, but the intensity, the passion, the hunger were there in bucket loads as they chased down their quarry, never giving up.  All the values that had earned Munster so many fans over the years of their quest were on display on the highest stage in European Club rugby.

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Some stats from the Irish Examiner from 2006

The second half started perfectly, Shaun Payne chased up his own garryowen, there was some confusion between 2 French players and their moment of hesitation gave him the extra second he needed to put in the tackle and win a penalty when Biarritz did not release.  Maybe the noise in the stadium made it difficult for them to hear each other call.  O’Gara put in between the posts to extend the lead to 10 points in the 42nd minute.

Harinordoquy attacked the Munster lineout and won a penalty when John Hayes went offside trying to secure possession five minutes later.  Yachvili made no mistake to make it 13-20.  Biarritz were enjoying a purple patch as they came forward again.  This time Denis Leamy was penalised for a high tackle on Harinordoquy which Yachvili kicked between the posts to make it 16-20 in the 51st minute.

Nerves were showing as mistakes were made on both sides – a lost lineout by Munster only for Peyrelongue to kick it out on the full – but it was nothing compared to the nerves of those watching as time seemed to slow down.

Dowling was busy, clearing out a ruck at one side of the pitch before carrying the ball shortly afterwards in the other and it took several players to take him down as the pack formed a maul behind him.  A few phases later O’Gara put in one of his infamous kicks in behind the defence from the halfway line to find a great touch midway in their 22 and pin Biarritz back which the supporters, his team mates and pundits alike appreciated.

There was a break in play before the lineout was taken and a wonderful version of the “Fields of Athenry” rang out around the stadium.  Give me that over a Mexican wave any day of the week!  It would send shivers down your spine as the noise levels increased yet again.   It seemed to drive on the players too as Donncha got up high to steal their throw in and Munster were on the attack again.

However, Biarritz turned them over and then when O’Gara got the ball he kicked it dead only for Biarritz to concede a penalty when Betsen did not roll away.  However, instead of relieving the pressure uncharacteristically O’Gara missed touch only for Peyrelongue to kick it out on the full… whose nerve was going to crack first?  Probably mine!

Another stoppage and this time the cameras returned to show the crowds anxiously watching in Limerick.  When they realised they were on the big screen you could hear them cheer and see them wave.  Those images beamed into the Millennium Stadium also galvanised those lucky enough to be there.

While Stringer’s try is the iconic image check him out at 61’55” – Biarritz are on the attack deep in the Munster half but the pass is dropped and Stringer hacks it through. While Brusque gathered the ball he was forced into touch by the smallest man on the pitch.  Not quite David and Goliath but Stringer was like a man possessed that day and nothing was going to stand in his way.

Marcus Horan was first to be replaced with Federico Pucciariello coming into the front row. As Harinordoquy was contesting the lineout so well Munster changed their tactics and went for the quick throw to ensure they retained possession.  Meanwhile the clock slowly edged forward.  Approaching 70 minutes Yachvili had his third kick at goal of the second half and was yet again successful to reduce the gap to a single point.  Surely fate could not be so unkind as to be third time unlucky?  The Biarritz supporters found their voices as they celebrated their team’s comeback.

Mick O’Driscoll came into action in place of the captain Anthony Foley who left the pitch to great applause.  Micko was straight into the action, gathering a kick and charging forward, eager to make his contribution to the team effort.  He was the target for the next lineout also and when the ball went wide to Halstead the whistle sounded as Census Johnson (back on after an injury to # 1) was penalised for going in at the side.  Was this it?  Thirty minutes since the last Munster score with Biarritz eating away at the margin, would it all came down to this?  Ronan O’Gara lined it up, kept his nerve and put it over the bar to ensure Biarritz would need more than a penalty or a drop goal in the remaining 6 minutes to win the game.

O’Connell received the restart and as the ball went back to O’Gara to kick the leather off the ball and get it as far up the field as possible, Biarritz went offside trying to block it down.  Noise levels ratcheted up.  It was the edge of your seat stuff and as O’Connell was replaced by Alan Quinlan, another who had overcome injuries to make the matchday squad, you could hardly hear yourself think. Our “dreams and songs to sing” looked like they would be realised but it was not over yet. Four and a half more minutes of ecstasy and agony to survive.  The wide-eyed stare of O’Connell sitting helplessly on the bench summed up how many of us were feeling.

Two and a half minutes left – a forced pass led to a knock-on and a scrum to Biarritz.  More stoppages as players needed treatment – not surprising the huge effort of the physical encounter was taking its toll.  Flags flying, voices raised the brave and faithful urged the team on for one final effort.  Biarritz had to go all out to score a try and they threw everything at Munster.  Eagle-eyed Stringer reacted first when the ball popped out and he hacked it downfield forcing Biarritz to come again from deep.

Two minutes left and from that lineout Biarritz made no ground but held onto possession, albeit via a scrum. This time it was Freddie who needed treatment and while play was stopped again the anthem rang out as the infamous 16th man made it’s presence felt, knowing that energy levels must be waning after such a tough physical encounter.

One minute left – Biarritz had gone wide and as Brusque burst into the Munster 22m Halstead was there to drag him down.  Biarritz retained possession but with 24s left there was a massive cheer of joy and relief as Bobo’s pass drifted forward and Chris White blew his whistle!!!  Justice was done – the man who foot may have gone into touch in the opening minutes was the one to concede possession in the vital final minute.  Still the game was not over but belief was peeping out from behind the couch.

Last play – hold onto possession on our own scrum.  Could we do it?  Yes we can but as whistles rang out in the stadium as the clock went past the 80 the scrum had to be reset.  Oh our collective nerves.  Blow it up ref!!!

Leamy had the ball under control at the base of a solid scrum but before he or Stringer could play it Yachvili, desperate to have one last chance of a score went offside and conceded a penalty.  Stringer blasted the ball high into the stand and the sweet sound of the final whistle was the prelude to celebrations on and off the pitch.   I can still picture the guys jumping up and down for delight on top of the telephone box in Limerick.

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Souvenir poster from the Independent

There were plenty more iconic images of the celebrations on the pitch also, before the after the trophy presentation.

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From Emerald Rugby magazine

I had a ticket for the final game of the season – the league match against Cardiff as there were no play-offs then – and decided that if Munster won the final those tickets would be like gold dust so I bought a second ticket for my Dad.  So there we were, the following Saturday. queueing up to get our photo taken with the Cup.  To this day it remains one of my favourite photos of the 2 of us.  We barely got through that queue in time to take our places on the terrace by kickoff.  The game itself was remarkably high scoring and lively, given the celebrations that had taken place in the intervening week.  Afterwards there was a great singsong and the squad players not in the match day 23 in Cardiff but who had been part of the qualification for the final were presented with their medals.  Several players were leaving and / or retiring including Rob Henderson.  I remember Mike Mullins singing “Creep” by Radiohead and that track is now included in my rugby playlist as a result.  It would have been great to be at the final, or in Limerick for the home-coming but this was the next best thing.

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A great occasion and wonderful memories being shared across social media for the 10th anniversary, including @MunsterRugby’s live tweeting of the game as if was live today https://twitter.com/hashtag/Cardiff06?src=hash

Check out also the Munster Rugby podcast remembering 2006:

Munster: S Payne; A Horgan, J Kelly, T Halstead, I Dowling; R O’Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; D Leamy, D Wallace, A Foley (capt). Replacements: D Fogarty, F Pucciariello, M O’Driscoll, A Quinlan, T O’Leary, J Manning, R Henderson.

Biarritz: N Brusque; J-B Gobelet, P Bidabe, D Traille, S Bobo; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan, B August, C Johnson, J Thion, D Couzinet, S Betsen, I Harinordoquy, T Lievremont (capt). Replacements: B Noirot, B Lecouls, O Olibeau, T Dusautoir, M Carizza, J Dupuy, F Martin Arramburu

Referee: Chris White (Rugby Football Union)

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Souvenirs of a great occasion (and confirmation of my hoarding tendencies)

23 Comments

Diehards: Munster: 31 – Scarlets: 15

So now I know what a relegation playoff feels like!  The last few weeks/months have been tense and it has not been a vintage season but to finish up with two bonus point wins at home and secure the required Top 6 finish is a relief and there are positives to build on for next season.  The single training base and new Director of Rugby plus the return of injured players such as Peter O’Mahony and the emergence of the next generation of talent certainly give grounds for optimism.  Being the lowest placed Irish province means the only way is up, right?

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After 22 games of the league season Munster are 6th and qualify for the champions cup along with the other 3 Irish provinces, Glasgow, Scarlets and Zebre.

It was not a day for fair weather fans with heavy rain on Saturday making the pitch quite sodden.  While it was not too wet during the game (feel free to correct me if you experienced otherwise on the uncovered north or south terraces) it did not really stop for long and it would not encourage the casual punter to walk up to the ticket office, unlike the lovely weather from the previous or the following day.  However the diehards as CJ referred to them during the week did come along to Thomond to encourage the team to end the season in a positive manner, securing Champions Cup qualification and ensuring we went home not just relieved but with seeds of hope for next season to take us through till August. 

Many of the people I spoke to who had renewed their season tickets did so to show their solidarity with the team and with the province.  They know they can generally get tickets to any game on the day but signing up for the season ticket shows a level of commitment.  As Patrick who also lives in Dublin said, “sure who else would we support?”   If I add up the distances travelled to 5 games in Cork, 12 in Limerick (including August friendlies) and the trip to Galway this season I have driven 7,130 km to support Munster this season.  That doesn’t include the trips to Leicester and Treviso or my trip to Paris for the original cancelled game.  I missed one home game as it clashed with a wedding and I am lucky that I can get out of Dublin early on a Friday afternoon so I got to the Friday night games.  I guess diehard is one way to put it and I am not alone!  Twitter buddies Sean and Marsha both travelled from Kildare while Carmel came via public transport from Wicklow and too many to mention came from Dublin.   After the game in the MRSC bar I met Andy who travelled from Antrim while Kathleen and friends (met in Leicester and Treviso) were over from London.  Kathleen was delighted with the new option of an overseas members season ticket for 5 games.  Not everyone can get to every game, I am sure there were family events like First Holy Communions on around the country on Saturday which impacted some folks so the new option to transfer tickets for games you can’t attend to another game and therefore bring a friend is another good innovation for next season.   

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BJ Botha interviewed pitchside (photo of big screen) pre game – it was great to have an opportunity to thank him for his contribution to Munster.

The S4C recording failed so I just had the TG4 highlights to refresh my memory for this weeks edition. Scarlets were keen to secure a semi-final place and came out of the blocks, putting Munster under pressure in the opening exchanges.  Scarlets took the lead after 8 minutes courtesy of Steve Shingler when Munster were penalised for not releasing.  Munster barely got their hands on the ball and when they did they kicked possession straight back to the Scarlets – who had 66% possession and 74% territory in the first half according to the folks over at ThreeRedKings (no stats on my usual source ESPN this week).  On a positive note though the defence was up to the task.  The tackles took their toll with first Niall Scannell and then Tommy O’Donnell being withdrawn for Head Impact Assessments – Mike Sherry and Jack O’Donoghue being introduced earlier than planned to the action.

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An early lineout (before Tommy went off for a HIA)

It was Jack O’Donoghue who made the key tackle to kickstart the try-scoring.  His tackle knocked the ball loose, Dave O’Callaghan dived in to secure the turnover and Conor Murray was there to whisk the ball away to the back line. Saili took the pass practically standing on the Munster try line.  He threaded a grubber through 3 oncoming Scarlets players and it bounced up perfectly for Keith Earls to collect at full pace.  He raced past us towards half way as we yelled him on, showing his nifty footwork as he found an angle between 2 more Scarlets players before committing their fullback as he timed his pass back to Saili perfectly, just before he reached the half way line.  Saili turned on the gas and touched down without anyone getting a finger to him.  His celebrations were exuberant as he showed his appreciation to the supporters and pride in the jersey.  Johnny Holland converted to make it 7-3 after 14 minutes.

It looked like Steff Evans was in for a try on 18 minutes.  Nigel Owens had awarded it but before the conversion was kicked the protests from the crowd and the TMO in his ear advised him that the final pass from Hadleigh Parkes had been forward so he reversed his decision.  Munster did not manage to clear their lines from the subsequent scrum and were penalised for not releasing so Shingler stepped up again to reduce the gap to just a point (7-6 on 22 minutes)

Dave O’Callaghan’s line break got Munster onto the front foot and when they won a penalty they kicked to touch.  When Scarlets closed the gap in the lineout Owens awarded a free kick.  CJ Stander charged forward and the noise levels rose again as they attacked the Scarlets line – Killer on his 100th cap for the province, followed by his front row team-mate Mike Sherry before Killer took it on again.  Archer got in on the front row action with Billy Holland driving him on, then CJ before Killer had a third attempt (Holland also driving him on.)  Murray passed to Rory Scannell who managed to duck and swerve his way from a few metres out between the defenders to score his third try of the season.  Johnny Holland again converted on 26 minutes.

Shingler converted another 2 penalty kicks after 29 and 38 minutes to keep the scoreboard ticking over for Scarlets; 14-9; 14-12. 

At half time there was a lively adapted rugby display with Mallow Barbarians playing Garryowen Lions and all seemed to have a ball judging by the waves and big smiles as they ran off the pitch past us at the end.  We were also busy checking half time scores from the other games to see that Ospreys were behind but Edinburgh were ahead in their games as all 6 kicked off at the same time for the final weekend of the season so qualification was still up in the air.

A great chase of the restart by Earls gave Munster the perfect start to the 2nd half when he won a penalty for Munster but unfortunately the resultant kick went wide.  The next major incident was when Shingler chipped ahead in the Munster 22.  There were chants of “TMO, TMO” from the visiting supporters when he appeared to be tripped.  The TMO reviewed the incident to see whether he had been taken out but there was nothing conclusive.

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Murray gets the ball away to the backs

Approaching the hour mark the score was still 14-12 but when Barclay failed to gather a pass, Evans flicked the ball up to Parkes.  When he could not secure it Scannell was there to take advantage.  Rory scooped the ball up and set off with Ronan O’Mahony (on for the injured Andrew Conway) in support.  As Parkes tackled him Rory got the pass away to Ronan who raced clear from the half way line to score the 2nd long distance try of the day and the third for Munster.   

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Three try scorers and both outhalves (Ian on for Simon) as a set piece is organising itself upfield.

Shingler converted another penalty opportunity just minutes later to keep Scarlets in touch (19-15) when Munster were penalised for not driving straight in a scrum.  However, a super maul on 68 minutes – Duncan and Ronan even joined in – earned the bonus point try scored by CJ Stander when the maul was taken down and he surged forward again, driven over by Copeland and O’Callaghan.  The TMO had to check it but was happy with the grounding. 

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CJ drives for the line with reinforcements en route from Dave and Robin

Bonus point secured and the good news kept coming as Edinburgh were beaten at home by Cardiff and Ulster romped to victory in Swansea while Connacht took the lead in Galway.  There was still time for more in Thomond Park though.  CJ broke from the ball of a scrum and passed to Scannell who again managed to score despite the efforts of three Scarlets players to stop him getting through.  Johnny Holland converted it to bring the season to an end. 

CJ Stander was named Man of the Match again:-).  What a great end to a great week for him personally as he was recognised by the Irish supporters and his Irish team mates alike scooping both the IRUPA players player of the year award and the supporters player of the year award!  That try also brought him to 7 for Munster this season confirming his position as joint top try scorer with Mike Sherry and Simon Zebo.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Ian Keatley ’64); Andrew Conway (Ronan O’Mahony ’24 to ’31, permanent ’38), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’58); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’56), Niall Scannell (Mike Sherry ’3), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’71); Dave Foley (Robin Copeland ’62), Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue ’8), CJ Stander (captain).

SCARLETS: Liam Williams; Gareth Owen, Steff Hughes, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans (Aled Thomas ’72); Steve Shingler, Aled Davies (Gareth Davies ’53); Rob Evans (Dylan Evans ’75), Ken Owens (captain), Peter Edwards (Rhodri Jones ’68); Jake Ball, David Bulbring (Morgan Allen ’55); Lewis Rawlins (Tom Price ’64), James Davies, John Barclay.  Replacements not used: Ryan Elias, Jordan Williams.

After the formalities were over the players showed their appreciation for the diehards and we said farewell to each other until next season!

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Is that Billy acting as photographer when the actual photographer wants a photo with CJ?

How cute does Keith’s daughter Ella May look?

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Keith Earls thanks the supporters with his daughter enjoying the occasion

Up the Deise – the Munster Monster Quiz Final

On Friday I got a text from Dee to ask if I was available to join her Waterford team for the final of the MRSC 6 counties quiz as 2 of the original members could not travel to Thomond.  As there was a team of players taking part – Duncan Casey, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley and Dave Kilcoyne – it took a while to get underway.  When they arrived they were besieged for photos and autographs but eventually we were down to business.  It was great to have the electronic voting for instant results and feedback after each round.  There were prizes on offer for the top 4 teams of the 20 competing, including the MRSC London team who had qualified from the heats around the province (and London).  The players had an advantage in the question as to which player was youngest and I suspect it may have been they who choose Duncan Casey as MOTM from the previous game v Edinburgh as one team had selected him  even though he was not on the team!

It was good craic, I made some valuable contributions to our team effort, including knowing Paulie’s middle name and recognising the Lotus temple from Delhi which I had visited in 1993.  We moved up the leaderboard and with one round to go there were 4 teams tied in 3rd place so it was all to play for in the final round.  We ended up joint 3rd and in the play-off the man representing Clare was very quick on the buzzer and edged out Bruce but we were delighted to get a One4All voucher each presented by Ian Keatley.  See Linda Molloy’s photos from the evening here    Thanks to the organisers for the quiz and to MRSC for their efforts throughout the season.  As I know from the time I spend on the MRSC Dublin committee lots of volunteers give their time willingly and it is nice to be appreciated.

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Dee, Bruce, Gayl & Kevin with Ian Keatley who presented us with our prize. Photo courtesy of Linda Molloy

One of the Limerick teams won the top prize.  That team included James who teasingly calls me the Blog Queen as that was how we met, when a mutual friend Eddie suggested I write a blog about James and his wheelchair rugby 7s team (see here).  His fiance Sinead was on another Limerick team on the night so there was plenty of banter between them during the quiz but all remains on track for their August wedding.

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Selfie taken by James of the 2 of us after the quiz final when I called over to congratulate him on being on the winning team and to wish him and Sinead all the best for the nuptials.

A reminder to subscribe to get future editions by email and to check out https://www.facebook.com/wtview/ for links to interesting news articles, podcasts, this blog etc over the summer.

Finally I wanted to pay tribute to Joanne Brennan who sadly passed away on May 1st.  I enjoyed her company at the 7s event last August and her tweets over the past few years from her own account and the @RugbyIre account.  May she rest in peace.

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Joanne and I at the Limerick 7s, 2015

 

 

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Answering the call: Munster 27: Edinburgh: 19

Punters are looking for unequivocal confirmation from the players what it means for Munster to be in the European Cup… The support is waiting. It’s frustrated but it’s there.” So wrote Ronan O’Gara in his column in the Irish Examiner and so it proved to be.  I haven’t experienced such a brilliant, pulsating, noisy, positive, encouraging atmosphere at any other Pro12 Munster game in Cork previously.  Maybe the stakes have never been so high for the Pro12 games played there to date!

Cara O’Sullivan led us in a rousing rendition of “Stand up and fight” and the crowd and team were certainly up for the battle from the off.  From the cheers welcoming the team, the chanting and singing throughout, to the noisy banging of the war beat on the metal hoardings around the edges of the pitch, sharply contrasting with the hushed almost silence for the kickers, the crowd proved that the 16th man, woman and child is alive and kicking and willing to play their part and of course provide helpful input to the referee and his assistants as required!
Given the game was scheduled for a Friday night kick-off – on a bank holiday weekend to boot – the fact that it was sold out proves that there is plenty of goodwill towards the team.  There were some empty seats as presumably some season ticket holders could not get to Cork in time for the game.  I met someone from Limerick who only arrived at half-time due to traffic on that route while I had been queuing for 20 minutes on the approach to the Dunkettle roadabout coming off the Dublin road and for another 15 minutes on the exit for the Kinsale Road roundabout so only arrived about 20/25 minutes before kick-off myself.
It has been far from a great season and this win does not paper over those cracks but the regulars I spoke to have also renewed their season tickets.  Hopefully the changes announced this week with the appointment of Johan Erasmus as the new Director of Rugby, along with the move (finally) to one training base from next season will lead to improvements on and off the pitch.  For now, the focus remains on a strong finish to this season to secure qualification for the Champions Cup.

The game certainly tested our nerves as after scoring three great tries in the first half we watched anxiously as their lead was whittled down to a single point. CJ Stander was immense throughout, his surging runs from the base of the scrum and in open play putting Munster on front foot time and again (top of the metres run stat for Munster with 18 runs covering 79m) and he was talking and encouraging his team mates throughout. Special mention for Tommy O’Donnell also with 15 tackles made, none missed while Andrew Conway who was the official Man of the Match was superb under the high ball and scored one try plus set up two others.

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The red shed was bathed in sunshine and I felt over dressed in my thermal layers but glad I had brought my shades. We spent the first twenty minutes or so shielding our eyes from the setting sun directly opposite and another ten minutes practically shivering in the sleet showers when the temperature dropped but at least the second half was dry.  Four seasons in one day weather for sure!
A highlight of the early exchanges was a lovely break by Rory Scannell after CJ Stander had made the initial burst from a lineout but unfortunately there was no one on his shoulder to take the pass.  From that turnover, Edinburgh then enjoyed a period of possession. When Munster managed to turnover the ball in turn they immediately handed it back by kicking the ball directly to an Edinburgh player.

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Edinburgh putting Munster under pressure in the opening minutes, photo by Gayl

However, the defence held firm and kept fighting for the ball, forcing another turnover. Niall Scannell dived on the loose ball.  A few phases later, Murray’s hanging box kick was chased and secured by Conway to put Munster on the front foot.

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Super action shot of Andrew Conway soaring to claim the box kixk – photo by Daryl Feehely

Tommy O’Donnell took it on before passing to CJ Stander.  Holland kicked it deep and Earls gave chase to put Edinburgh under pressure.  Dave O’Callaghan was there to win the loose ball which was taken forward again by Dave Foley before Tommy O’Donnell was driven forward by Niall Scannell in support as the noise levels and excitement levels rose.  When they were halted Murray got the ball to Johnny Holland who in turn passed to Andrew Conway. His deft offload to Rory Scannell resulted in the opening score.

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Rory Scannell scores the first try – photo by Daryl Feehely

Johnny Holland converted to make it 7-0 after 8 minutes.  A great team try and just what we needed to settle into the game.

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Johnny Holland lines up the conversion, photo by Gayl

Max Scott made a super break and while the defence got back Saili was penalised for being offside.  Jason Tovey made no mistake to take the points on offer.  Then the restart went out on the full giving Edinburgh a scrum on half way.  Edinburgh moved their way up the pitch before Tovey dummied and accelerated through a gap between 2 defenders, rounding Zebo to score and convert his own try and take the lead 7-10 on 18’.
Stander led the charge from the restart as Munster worked their way back into the Edinburgh half.  A penalty was conceded by the visitors and Holland kicked it between the posts to tie the scores at 10-10.   However, Niall Scannell was penalised almost immediately but Tovey missed that kick. The PA reminded us of the tradition of silence as Musgrave Park and got an extra cheer when he had to correct himself to call it Irish Independent Park at which point he conceded “at both parks.” As a side-note I have noticed that other newspaper journalists tend to call it Musgrave Park also, not wanting to plug their competitor.

A knock on gave Munster a scrum just outside their own 22, from which they again quickly got the ball out.  Murray passed to Holland who put in a long pass to Saili.  From him the ball was taken on by Conway, who after shrugging off the defender raced over the halfway line before kicking ahead.  The bounce suited the chasing Zebo who gathered it and touched down in the corner.  The conversion was missed but the chants of “Ze-bo, Ze-bo” added to the party atmosphere approaching the half-hour mark.

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Zebo and Conway chase the latters kick through. Photo by Daryl Feehely

Shortly afterwards, from another scrum in their own half but on the other side of the pitch, this time it was Johnny Holland who made the break over the half way line before passing to Earls. Saili carried it on and then Archer and Killer were roared on in turn before CJ got over the line but was held up.  During a break in play to treat Dave Foley for an injury, “Stand Up And Fight” rang out around the grounds.

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Francis Saili looks over at the singers on the east terrace during the break in, photo by Gayl

When play resumed, from the resultant 5m scrum Conor Murray was forced backwards but Munster retained possession – both Scannell brothers and both (unrelated) Hollands plus CJ were involved before Billy’s pass to the supporting Andrew Conway allowed him to jink through to score the third try as the sleet began to fall.  With 34 minutes on the clock the score was 20-10 as the conversion did not have the distance to reach the posts.  I was thinking optimistically of a bonus point by half-time but it took an awful lot longer than that… in fact it looked like it may not come at all as the weather deteriorated leading to poor handling and underfoot conditions.

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The sleet pours down in the final minutes of the first half, photo by Gayl

A penalty awarded from a scrum infringement gave Edinburgh the final score of the half. Thankfully the sleet stopped as the teams departed for their break at 20-13 and the big screen showed the image of a beautiful rainbow behind the east terrace which I hoped was a metaphor for the financial boost, estimated at half a million euro which participation in the Champions Cup would provide.
There was a lively game of mini’s at half time and one person was selected to present the man of the match award from those who had tweeted a stadium selfie while the drummers also entertained us.

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Great photo of the rainbow shared by regular reader Ciaran, taken by his niece Shauna

Just minutes after the restart Jason Tovey converted a penalty opportunity to reduce the margin to 4 points.  Tommy O’Donnell won a great turnover to relieve pressure when Edinburgh came on the attack again.  Earls chased a garryowen and put Edinburgh under pressure with some great counter-rucking by the arriving support players before Archer was pinged for knocking on to give Edinburgh a scrum.
When it collapsed the referee called in all 6 front row players for a chat.  A penalty against Munster made it 6-1 on the penalty conceded stats with 50 minutes played (it ended up at 9-9).  From the lineout Edinburgh knocked on and Munster had a scrum.  CJ broke from the back and was tackled high in midfield, protests rang out around the ground and when the TMO reviewed it at each replay we protested again wondering if it was worthy of a yellow card.  It was adjudged to be just a penalty offence which Holland kicked to touch.  However, the lineout was knocked away just as Dave O’Callaghan was set to claim it and the forwards poured forward to put Edinburgh under pressure.  James Cronin – freshly arrived off the bench – stormed through the middle and won the turnover and penalty which Holland again kicked to touch.

 

Edinburgh disrupted the maul and forced a knock-on.  From that scrum Archer was penalised and the visitors cleared the danger.  They enjoyed a spell of possession but eventually one of them came in from the side to allow Munster escape out of their own half.  “Stand Up And Fight” rang out again as the crowd urged the team on to make a breakthrough as we entered the final quarter.

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Holland kicks the penalty to touch, photo by Gayl

Another Munster knock-on meant another scrum as “The Fields of Athenry” was sung with gusto.  The scrum collapsed, a penalty conceded and a warning was issued to the Munster captain as Sam Hidalgo-Clyne stepped up to make it a one point game with 15 minutes remaining.
It was a worrying sight to see CJ requiring attention as Munster won the next penalty but he shrugged it off and carried on as the warrior we know him to be.  A superb maul from that lineout got our pulses racing as we yelled them on towards the line.  However it was followed by groans of frustration and disappointment as the referee saw nothing wrong with Edinburgh’s defence and instead adjudged Munster had knocked on with the line almost at their mercy.  From that scrum he penalised Munster again.  John Ryan replaced Stephen Archer while John Andress who will join Munster next season replaced their tight-head, Scottish international WP Nel.

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A maul, photo by Gayl

Our nerves were strained further when Conor Murray misjudged a penalty kick, allowing Edinburgh to clear their half, followed by Zebo kicking the ball out on the full as the clock continued to tick down.  Edinburgh looked to be making progress but Munster, with Conor Murray prominent held them up to win the turnover. “Munster, Munster” we urged them on.
Cronin chased a garryowen to put Edinburgh under pressure.

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James Cronin determined to get his man! Photo by Daryl Feehely

They kicked the ball away, only as far as the waiting Holland who chipped and chased after it to tackle the receiver.  Cronin arrived in support and again he was immense, driving through to force another turnover.  John Ryan picked up the ball and charged forward.  Munster won another penalty when Scott went off his feet in the resultant maul.
James Cronin proved the benefit of a strong bench and the importance of impact subs.  His fresh legs raised the energy levels as he generally made a nuisance of himself, fighting to turnover the ball and make it difficult for Edinburgh at the breakdown, giving us plenty to cheer.

Johnny Holland found an excellent touch from that penalty with 6’ left.  Time for one huge effort. Copeland took the lineout cleanly. “Heave” we urged as the maul motored forward. Edinburgh desperate to stop the momentum came in from the side conceding another penalty, again kicked to touch.
“I spoke to them and said we’re going to the corner, this is the game and this is the season” CJ Stander is quoted as saying post match here
The “Fields of Athenry” rang out during an injury stoppage as we sensed that this was the last stand opportunity to go for the 4th try and deny Edinburgh a losing bonus point. From that lineout it was Billy Holland who secured possession and the maul was set again.  More roars of encouragement from the crowd as even Earls joined the maul, taking a leaf out of his father’s book. Murray indicated they had scored but the TMO could not confirm if a try had indeed been scored.  However, Munster were given a 5m scrum, a huge moment in the game with 4 minutes left.
CJ picked and drove from the back of the scrum, Jack O’Donoghue was next to take it on. Murray got the pass to Saili running a great angle.  He was driven over the line by Cronin, Rory and Billy under the posts.  Johnny Holland converted to make it 27-19.   Munster secured the kick off and held onto possession, winning a penalty when an Edinburgh player infringed.  The cheer that greeted the final whistle when Billy Holland had thought about charging at Edinburgh before swivelling and kicking the ball out to bring proceedings to an end nearly raised the roof of the Red Shed!

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Dave Foley, Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (capt).
Replacements: James Cronin for Cronin (55 mins), Mike Sherry for N Scannell (58 mins), Robin Copeland for Foley (63 mins), John Ryan for Archer (69 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for O’Callaghan (75 mins). Not used: Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Ronan O’Mahony.

EDINBURGH: Blair Kinghorn; Damien Hoyland, Matt Scott, Andries Strauss, Tom Brown; Jason Tovey, Sean Kennedy; Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford (capt), WP Nel; Anton Bresler, Ben Toolis; Jamie Ritchie, John Hardie, Cornell du Preez.
Replacements: Dougie Fife for Kinghorn (10 mins), Stuart McInally for Ford, Chris Dean for Brown (both half-time), Magnus Bradbury for Ritchie (53 mins), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne for Kennedy (55 mins), Rory Sutherland for Dickonson (58 mins), John Andress for Nel, Alex Toolis for Bresler (69 mins).

Post match interview with Billy Holland about the importance of the crowd:

People were not rushing away after the game and it was great to see some of the players coming out to midfield to thank the crowds still standing on the north, east and south terraces for their contribution to the cracking atmosphere. It was nice to meet the Waterford and Cork based regulars from the west terrace as we were leaving and also Ian whose encouraging words about my writing were appreciated as always. Getting an email from Munster Rugby thanking me for my support and encouraging me to go along next weekend immediately after the game was a nice touch.

MunsterEmailHopefully there will be a good crowd in Limerick for our final game of the season as Scarlets will come at us with all guns blazing as they seek a play-off spot. As the league table shows we are still at risk of being overtaken by Ospreys or Edinburgh for Champions Cup qualification. They play Ulster and Cardiff respectively next weekend with all games kicking off at 3pm so it will be a tense afternoon. They both also have home advantage. Hopefully Munster will not be depending on favours from others but will secure Champions Cup qualification in Thomond. Hope to see some of you there.

Note: even if Munster beat Scarlets they cannot overtake them in the league standings due to their inferior number of games won (see the rules in my blog https://westterraceview.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/meritocracy/)

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Daryl Feehely has 62 photos available from the game available  here .

PS if you like my blog please share it and help me grow my readership :-)

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Low Lie: Connacht: 35 – Munster: 14

Lying in 7th place in the table, fighting it out with Edinburgh, Cardiff and maybe a late run from Ospreys is not where we want to be at any stage of the season.  “We” is not the royal we but includes players, management and supporters alike.  By the end of the game the players seemed out of ideas and confidence but not of effort.  They tackled themselves into the ground and a few of them on both sides into the medical treatment room.

Table_Rd20Talk of transition is not appropriate anymore.  Rebuilding is required and I expect there will be a tough pre-season ahead to raise the skill levels and sort out the scrum and defense but first we have two more cup finals to play to try to salvage Champions Cup qualification.

The fact that we are the 4th best or the worst placed province in Ireland (only beating Ulster in the inter-pros) is so disappointing after our 2nd place finish in the league last season.  Would it be so bad to be in the Challenge Cup for a season?  There are good teams in that competition – this season included familiar rivals Harlequins and Gloucester and some very unfamiliar ones from Eastern Euope.  Liverpool were delighted to qualify for the semi-final of the UEFA Cup as they crave silverware.

The lyrics to Florence + the Machine’s “Shake it out” were in my head walking back to my B&B.  “It’s always darkest before the dawn”  Maybe it was also triggered by the Connacht mascot wearing a “Darkness into Light” tee-shirt and the promotion for that fantastic cause during half-time.

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The Eagle mascot sporting a Darkness into Light tee-shirt was in good form

Reading through my twitter timeline was fairly depressing so I sent a few positive tweets and APY replied “I normally admire your optimism, at this point you’ve got to be seriously disappointed”  Of course I am disappointed!  I travelled in hope to Galway but in honesty I was hoping that their run of tough games against Leinster, Ulster and Grenoble would have softened them up a bit for us as their form this season has been fantastic.  They are not tied at the top of the league after 20 games as a fluke!  I also thought our hunger would ensure a positive result but Connacht were hungry also; hungry for a home semi, hungry to secure back to back wins over their neighbours and hungry to bounce back after two defeats on the road in front of their home crowd.

Munster had plenty of possession in the opening minutes.  Zebo almost got away only to be hauled down but there was good ball retention and they were gaining territory.  A penalty conceded at the scrum gave Connacht possession in Munster’s half and a penalty for handling in the ruck in front of the posts gave Shane O’Leary the first kickable opportunity of the game which he took to make it 3-0.  A blockdown by Conor Murray resulted in a 22 dropout for Connacht which CJ Stander collected and charged back into their half.  From the ruck Johnny Holland gave a lovely offload to Jack O’Donoghue who in turn got the pass away to Simon Zebo who shrugged off the defenders as he swerved his way to the line to put Munster in front.  Johnny Holland converted to make it 3-7 after 11 minutes.

A lovely offload from Saili to Earls as he was tackled resulted in a penalty as Earls kicked ahead and then tackled John Muldoon who had batted the ball down – wearing my rose-tinted glasses I would have said Earls was committed to the tackle so when O’Leary’s kick failed to find touch it felt like justice had been served.  Another scrum penalty this time kicked to touch successfully.  A super tackle by Rory Scannell drove Bundee Aki backwards. However at the next ruck Munster were penalised for handling the ball and O’Leary made it 6-7.

Both front rows were warned about the consistent scrum collapses and cards were threatened after twenty minutes.  Jack broke from the back of the next scrum and nearly made the line but Munster retained possession and playing with advantage Zebo sent a cross field kick towards Earls.  It was knocked forward but they went back for the original penalty.  Munster kicked to touch and deployed their maul.  Mike Sherry touched down when he broke from the initial drive and Johnny Holland retained his 100% record, landing the more difficult conversion from 5m in from the touchline to make it 13/13 this season.

Aki made a great break but his offload to Marmion did not go to hand and Munster survived. Connacht came on the attack again but Munster repelled wave after wave, finally winning a turnover. Matt Healy collected Murray’s box kick but the tacklers did their job and won a penalty which Holland kicked to touch.

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Jack O’Donoghue claims the lineout

At 6-14 up I was delighted with the great defence to keep Connacht away from the try line although concerned that we were struggling in the scrum.  A forward pass changed the game!  It resulted in a yellow card for James Cronin which seemed harsh given that the ref was on the other side of the scrum and it seemed to me that Bealham had dropped but the Assistant Ref probably had a better view and called it.

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CJ Stander protests the yellow card to Ben Whitehouse to no avail

Connacht turned the screw, but had to go through 18 phases before some quick offloads by Aki and Bealham stretched the Munster defence and Niyi Adeolokun accelerated through a gap to score.  O’Leary converted to make it 13-14 with 3 minutes remaining in the first half.  From the restart Aki made a glorious break from deep in his own half to the Munster 22.  Zebo had him covered so he passed to the supporting Robb but Johnny Holland had chased him down and tackled him almost immediately.  However Zebo went offside to give away a penalty in a dangerous position.  Sensing their opportunity Connacht opted for the scrum.  Jack O’Donoghue was sacrificed to let Dave Kilcoyne on for the sinbinned Cronin.

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John Muldoon in midfield as Bundee Aki takes his place in the scrum

It was surprising to see Muldoon and Aki swap places and they combined well to set up the next attack. Bealham nearly scored in the opposite corner but Billy Holland and Conor Murray got there.  However when Holland did not roll away he was also sent to the sinbin as the clock went past 40′.

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Keith Earls in the scrum

Keith Earls tried to shore pup the defensive scrum as Connacht sensed blood but there was little he could do as Connacht were awarded a penalty try to take a 20-14 lead.

When Munster survived the first 10 minutes after the restart – indeed they spent most of that time in the Connacht half – until they got back to 15 on the pitch I thought with the wind they would pin Connacht back but the game seemed to loosen up and it was Connacht who scored all the points in the second half.

The referee was not popular with the home crowd when a kick by Scannell rolled dead but they only got a 22 dropout as Henshaw had been adjudged to carry it over the deadball line.  The penalty count was 4-10 against Munster by the 53rd minute.  A lineout from the latest penalty was quickly passed wide before Henshaw put in a grubber kick.  Sweetnam lost his footing and suddenly Munster were scrambling as Adeolokun chased the kick to score.  It looked on the replay that he had knocked on but it was awarded (I think it came off a red foot) and the mountain to climb got higher at 25-14.

Saili burst through under the posts but lost control of the ball to knock it on giving Connacht a chance to clear their lines.  Aki made a miraculous recovery from a serious looking leg injury just minutes earlier to race to the half-way line.  Connacht thought they were in again, a great surge by Ultan Dillane nearly got all the way but they recycled quickly and it was Finlay Bealham who scored.  He was injured in the process as was Johnny Holland in the buildup after a collision with Aki.

The Fields of Athenry rang out around the ground to celebrate the bonus point score which moved them back to the same league points as Leinster.  Another stoppage as Donnacha Ryan tackled Matt Healy and injured his neck in the process.  A stretcher was called but he was able to walk off after some treatment.  It looked like he got an elbow in the jaw as he made the tackle but after a concussion in the Leinster game it wasn’t good to see him with another head area injury.  Aki limped off at that time to rapturous applause after another powerful man of the match performance.

Later there were ironic cheers of Ze-bo, Ze-bo as his forward pass gave Connacht a scrum deep in the Munster 22 in the 70th minute.  The final minutes were as exciting as the end of the first half in this highly attritional and end-to-end encounter.  Robin Copeland made a super break into the Connacht 22 only for Jack Carty – in his first appearance since having his spleen removed – to intercept the pass.  Zebo scrambled back to force him into touch but that move brought Connacht back into the Munster half  As Munster tried to run the ball for a final attempt to breach the defence they conceded another penalty which Shane O’Leary kicked to make it 35-14.

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Munster had several scoring opportunities in the 2nd half but the Connacht defence held firm

Injury stoppages  did not help build momentum in the 2nd half.  In total the second half took 57 minutes to complete!

Match Stats – worth checking out the tackle count of Rory Scannell (17 made none missed) and Donnacha Ryan (22 made 3 missed in 69′.)

CONNACHTRobbie Henshaw; Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki (Fionn Carr ’68), Peter Robb (Jack Carty ’74), Matt Healy; Shane O’Leary, Kieran Marmion (John Cooney ’67); Denis Buckley (Ronan Loughney ’74), Tom McCartney (Jason Harris-Wright ’74), Finlay Bealham (JP Cooney ’68); Ultan Dillane, Aly Muldowney (Andrew Browne ’64); Sean O’Brien (James Connolly ’72), Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon (captain)

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam (Andrew Conway ’55), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland (Ian Keatley ’65), Conor Murray; James Cronin (YC ’33 to ’43) (Dave Kilcoyne ’55), Mike Sherry (Niall Scannell ’55), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’69); Donnacha Ryan (Jordan Coghlan ’69), Billy Holland (YC ’40 to ’50); CJ Stander (captain), Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue (Dave Kilcoyne ’39 to ’43) (Robin Copeland ’56).  Replacements not used: Tomás O’Leary.

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Some of our green shoots this season – Rory and Darren along with Francis and Simon who was making his 100th appearance for Munster

I have seen green shoots or maybe even corner stones for the rebuilding process this season as some of the next generation of players have put their hands up.  Peter O’Mahony will be like a new signing also, as indeed will Tyler Bleyendaal, hopefully both will have an injury-free run next season.  So does my glass remain half-full?  You tell me!

I hope the team shake off all the negativity and a good crowd can get to Cork despite the bank holiday Friday kick-off to help them get the needed result against Edinburgh.

“And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off “

Motto

The team motto- With pride in our hearts, the strenght of our limbs and Commitment to the Promise, we will fight

It was my first trip to the Sports ground in Galway, about a 15 minute walk from the city centre.  I went along early – the gates opened 90 minutes before the game but by then there was a queue outside as people wanted to get a good spot on the terraces.  It was sold out and the biggest crowd of the season as extra capacity had been added.  The sun was shining on the Clan side but it was much colder on the Main stand side with a strong breeze blowing across to us.  Due to the greyhound track along the side of the pitch the early arrivals went up the steps of the terrace to have the best view.  The mascot was interviewed pitch side and the interviewer was good craic.  The young fellow was very confident he could kick the ball over the roof but it only went a few feet high!  He also enjoyed some banter pre-match with injured players Tiernan O’Halloran and Jake Heenan.

The home crowd were vocal throughout – a big cheer greeted every hit which pushed the Munster player back and I am sure the players fed off the energy they generated.  It was fun singing one of our anthems, “The fields of Athenry” with them.  There was a drummer in the dog track beating out the chant and some of the kids plus the Eagle enjoyed having a turn with the drum stick.  I hope Connacht secure a home semi-final – they have a tough home game against the in-form Glasgow Warrios in the final round – and go on to win the Pro12 this season.  The west is indeed awake, alive and kicking and it can only be good for Irish rugby and the Pro12.

One of the highlights of the day was meeting up with Joe and Dee and seeing her new ring.  Congratulations to the happy couple.

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The players and supporters celebrate

A snip of “The West’s Awake” sung by a duo of tenors before kick-off.

16 Comments

La maglia rossa: Leinster: 16 – Munster: 13

Coulda, shoulda, woulda..and throw in a few “if only’s” … if only Simon Zebo had managed to score one or both of his early opportunities, if Francis Saili or Stephen Archer had not given away kickable penalties.  (Or Donnacha Ryan but since he was concussed in that incident Olive has an interesting suggestion below that the penalty should not have stood.)  There were 11 penalties conceded in total which gave momentum back to Leinster throughout the game.  Or if only Donnacha had not been injured or Robin sin-binned..  Or if only Ian Keatley had been successful with his one kick at goal, or if Dave Kilcoyne had not taken the quick tap and go penalty..  Or if only the referee had insisted on the time limit for Sexton’s penalty and not awarded it…

No one player is to blame for the loss – they all put their bodies on their line for the red jersey and played to the final whistle.  Now it is time to regroup, recover from the physical and mental toll of the game and prepare to take on Connacht in Galway.  The western province have a European quarter-final next weekend so the extra rest week may stand to Munster but Connacht have been in great form.  I am sure the Clan there will have a warm welcome for the Red Army.  Would it be too much to hope for an appearance by Peter O’Mahony on the bench by then, which would give us all a lift?  If not then maybe he will be ready by the key Edinburgh game on April 29th.  In the meantime Leinster can do us a favour when Edinburgh come to the RDS in 2 weeks.

This game was there for the taking and what a difference 4 points would have made to our end of season aspirations.  Would a draw have been enough if Killer had not taken the quick tap in the dying minutes?  Time will tell but there were other points left behind during the season which all add up and have us in this precarious position in the league table.

StatsApr3

The ESPN match stats show that Munster had 67% possession and 76% of territory in the 2nd half, hence coulda/shoulda…

Munster got off to an ideal start.  Rory Scannell’s great kick allowed the chasers to put Kirchner under pressure.  Munster won possession and probed for chinks in the defense until James Cronin got isolated and driven backwards by Toner and Sexton.  Leinster were awarded the scrum from which Reddan cleared the danger up almost to the halfway line.

When Rory Scannell was turned over he won possession back almost immediately after a great wrestle on the ball with Reddan.  He also put in a big tackle on Kirchner which lead to a knock-on giving Munster the put in to the scrum.  His technique is very impressive and it is a good thing he likes the physical side of the game (according to the article in The42.ie this week) as he made the most ( 17) tackles according to the ESPN match stats.

Shortly afterwards when Munster were awarded a penalty Johnny Holland put in a great kick down the line.  The pack took it on through the maul before it went wide to Zebo who unfortunately could not take the pass and knocked it on but it was positive play.  Zebo had another chance shortly afterwards but when it came to naught (Sexton got a hand to it I think) the referee brought it back for a penalty which Johnny Holland converted to make it 0-3 after a lively opening 13 minutes.

Leinster had a period of possession also and when Munster collapsed the maul the referee awarded a penalty to Leinster and a warning to Munster.

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Sexton was not happy that the medics were treating James Cronin when he went to kick the penalty to touch. Photo by Gayl

Munster put the Leinster lineout under pressure, an overthrow on the 5m line was gratefully collected by Tommy O’Donnell and the danger was averted.

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Tommy takes the Leinster lineout ball

The intensity we had hoped to see was there, another example was the turnover when Holland’s clearance kick to touch was taken quickly by Nacewa only for the chasing trio of Murray, Cronin and Archer to get to Kirchner and hold him up to win the turnover.

Donnacha Ryan was penalised for not rolling away after tackling Sexton but watching the game back I was impressed by how quickly the referee reacted when he realised that Donnacha was in trouble.  He had a cut on his face which was bleeding but he also seemed to be concussed.  After receiving treatment he was able to walk off and Robin Copeland replaced him.  Sexton kicked the penalty to tie the scores approaching 28 minutes.  However from the restart Munster won a scrum, Scannell made a good break to put them on the front foot and from the next phase Munster won a penalty which Holland converted to make it 3-6 on 31 minutes.

Murray was penalised for a high tackle which was kicked to touch.  From the lineout Toner collected and they set up their maul.  An illegal side entry by Copeland led to a yellow card for him and another penalty for Leinster which again was kicked to touch.

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Devin Toner claims the lineout close to the Munster line

After an athletic take by Ruddock, Cronin nearly made the line but the next phase got the ball to Sexton in space – Saili got across the test the elasticity of his jersey but could not haul him down and Sexton managed to score the try despite colliding with the posts.  He converted it to move Leinster into a 10-6 lead.

Holland’s restart went out on the full and from the scrum in midfield Leinster went searching for another score before half time.  A clever kick through was being chased by Nacewa and Zebo who pushed the ball out over the line.  The Leinster players protested that it was a deliberate knock-on but the referee had blown for half-time and did not opt for a TMO review as requested to the displeasure of the blue army.

An early Munster lineout throw in the second half was secured and mauled before Murray put in another high box kick.  Earls chased and caught it – despite the efforts of Nacewa – to put Munster back on the front foot.  From the next Murray kick Earls danced through a few defenders before going to ground.

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Archer lays the ball back as Conway and O’Callaghan protect the ball

Copeland was just back on the pitch and secured a lineout.  The defense by both sides was impressive and opportunities were few and far between.  Munster went through phase after phase and eventually Johnny Holland spotted a gap and slipped through it to score.  His conversion was also good, maintaining his 100% kicking record in the league and Munster were back in the lead 10-13.

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Johnny Holland converts his own try. Photo by Gayl

However shortly after the restart, from an offside position Saili kicked the ball giving Sexton a straight-forward opportunity to level the game again.

The main talking point after the game in the media was the decision to substitute Johnny Holland after 56 minutes.  When asked about it in the post match interview Foley’s response did not make that much sense given he had taken the decision to start the less experienced player.  Holland’s performance was not perfect but it was very good and I was delighted to see him score his first senior try while his goal-kicking was flawless.  Unfortunately for Keatley by comparison he had just the one kick at goal shortly after his introduction from around the 10m line which went to the left of the posts and wide.

From the restart Munster were back on the attack and I felt Tommy was harshly penalised for crawling forward when tackled.  However, following on from that penalty, Copeland ripped the ball back from Leinster and Dave O’Callaghan charged forward.

Stephen Archer who had a great game was caught holding on in possession when Rhys Ruddock was on his feet challenging for the ball, giving Leinster a kickable penalty to regain the lead and Sexton made no mistake.  However watching the game back the referee had told him to hurry up and that he had 10s left to take the penalty.  He took 20 or 21s – if the referee had followed through on his warning then that penalty would not have stood!

Wave after wave of red players hurled themselves at the blue wall but it held firm and Leinster kept their discipline, eventually winning a penalty when they isolated a player.  From the resultant lineout, Conway and Keatley combined to halt a flowing Leinster attack down the west side.  Conway subsequently had an aerial duel with Nacewa chasing a box kick and limped away from that encounter before being replaced by Darren Sweetnam.

The sinbinning of Cian Healy for his tackle on Dave Kilcoyne with just 4 minutes remaining gave fresh impetus to the team.  In slow motion the tackle looked bad as Kilcoyne practically flipped over when Healy tackled him with no arms.  Keatley kicked to touch inside the Leinster 22m.  Lineout was secured and the maul was set and got close before being pulled down conceding penalty advantage.

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Tommy O’Donnell,  John Ryan and the pack try to get the maul over the line

As the ball spun wide Zebo was injured as he landed heavily on his back.  Tomas O’Leary was readied to come on in his place but Zebo was able to continue after some medical assistance.   The penalty was again kicked to touch and the noise levels rose as both sets of supporters urged their team on for the final minutes of attack and defense.  O’Donnell secured the ball and the maul was set but so was the defence.  Sherry almost got there but Munster instead won another penalty when Heaslip was adjudged to be trapped and unable to roll away.  The clock was stopped again as the scrum required bringing back on Jack McGrath so Zane Kirchner was sacrified rather than a forward with just 1 minute and 12s remaining on the clock.

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The scrum is set with Jack at 8 and CJ at 6. Photo by Gayl

Darren Sweetnam took the pass from Murray and made a few metres.  It was frantic stuff as player after player launched themselves at the line.  Another penalty conceded, this time much closer to the posts and rather than taking the kick to get a draw Kilcoyne went for a quick tap only to be pushed backwards immediately.  Sherry was next to charge forward but when he knocked on it was all over bar Leinster setting the scrum and kicking the ball out to end the game…. Small margins, with a huge impact on the league standings.

Table

LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner (Jack McGrath ’79); Isa Nacewa (c), Garry Ringrose, Ben Te’o, Dave Kearney (Fergus McFadden ’69); Johnny Sexton (Ian Madigan ’77), Eoin Reddan (Luke McGrath ’69); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’69 – YC ’77), Sean Cronin (Richardt Strauss ’51), Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross ’64); Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs (Ross Molony ’64); Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy (Josh van der Flier ’51), Jamie Heaslip.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway (Darren Sweetnam ’76), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland (Ian Keatley ’57), Conor Murray; James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’47), Niall Scannell (Mike Sherry ’47), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’74); Donnacha Ryan (Robin Copeland ’27 (YC – ’36 to ’46)), Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan (Jack O’Donoghue ’65), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (c).  Not used: Tomás O’Leary.

Thankfully the forecasted rain held off.  The flame throwers gave a great burst of heat as Leinster were welcomed to the pitch.  There was a live band entertaining the crowd before and during breaks in the game.  Leo the lion walked around the side of the pitch throughout, banging his drum to encourage the Leinster supporters to cheer for their team.  When some lads near me started chanting “Munster, Munster” back at him he wagged a finger at them before moving away.

The photos used here are mine but there are over 200 professionally taken photos from Sportfile of the game here while there is a smaller number on the Munster site including a good one showing how Zebo was injured at the end here

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The band played before and during the game


 La maglia rossa – the red jersey

Earlier in the week – through the MRSC Dublin Facebook page – I was put in touch with Enrico Bianchini who was in Dublin for the Easter holidays with his wife and three children.  His son Edoardo is a big Munster fan so all of them were going to the game to support the men in red.  Gareth who had sent the initial request had asked if MRSC could make their visit special so I had gathered some Munster items for them – flags, keyring, car sticker, program, poster, gloves, baseball cap and a black and white photo of the Maka – and called over to see them on the Friday.  I was curious to find out how a boy in Florence knew about Munster.  

As you can see from the photo below Edoardo has a Munster jersey which he received as a birthday present from his friend and team-mate.  As a result he wanted to find out more about the team. 

Edoardo plays scrumhalf for Firenze U14s, the local club which he joined at the age of 5.  His team wear red also.  They presented me with a Firenze tee-shirt as a souvenir.  Younger brother Andrea plays with the U8s while sister Caterina plays 7s.  They were delighted to meet another Munster supporter and had plenty of questions for me about the team including why Munster play in both Cork and Limerick, and why New Zealand played a game against a provincial side.  After reading about the All Blacks game in my blog – Enrico had to do a lot of translation for Edoardo – he enjoyed watching the game on YouTube.  Hopefully they will get to Thomond or Cork for a home game some time when we can try to arrange for them to be in the guard of honour to welcome the team onto the pitch.

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The Bianchini family in the Aviva after the game

On Saturday morning Enrico send me the piece below from the Florence Rugby website:

AprilFool_Florence

It looked genuine at first glance..happy April Fools Day…

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