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D-Day: Munster: 23 – Ospreys: 3

One more day out secured, a date with destiny in this most remarkable, emotional rollercoaster ride of a season.  A certain symmetry to end the Pro12 season as it began, facing the Scarlets.  That opening game and the manner of victory gave us plenty of hope.  Thirty two games later one of the few defeats since was to the Scarlets in Thomond which will focus the minds as they prepare to meet again, this time at the “neutral” venue of the Aviva.  It also provides a chance to show how much has been learnt from the pain of defeat there just last month, some of which was evident in their approach to this semi-final.  To secure something tangible as a measure of the progress made by this group of players and their management this season would be wonderful!

However, it was Donnacha Ryan who deservedly earned the most attention before and after the game.  After thirteen seasons of dedication, driving on Munster mauls, destructing those of the opposition, dominating lineouts, defending the line, choke tackling or with his death stare trying to cause the opposition kicker to choke, we wanted to acknowledge his contribution for his final home appearance.  The cheer he got as he came over to the west terrace to start his warm up was heart warming, as you can see and hear in John’s video link below.  The chants of “Donnacha, Donnacha” after the game as the TV interviewers wanted a word, the attempted hoisting to shoulder height as his team mates wanted to give him an even better view of the pitch were no more than he deserved.  The IRFU let him and Munster down but we wish him well in Paris.

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Several of the A team were on the pitch in Thomond, supporting the senior team with their warm-up, Conor Oliver, Dan Goggin, Darren O’Shea, Kevin O’Byrne plus Angus Lloyd and Darren Sweetnam, ready to step up should there be any late injuries as was the case for Brian Scott who took James Cronin’s place on the bench.  Ospreys had their own late injury problems also with one of their four Lions – Rhys Webb – a late withdrawal.  Rhys was on the pitch for the warm-up in his tracksuit.  Brendan Leonard started while winger Tom Habberfield took over as scrum half when Leonard was substituted in the second half.

There was great heat from the flames to welcome back the team and as the smoke cleared the countdown on the big screen signalled the approach of kick-off.  The first half was notable for the strong defensive effort with a great piece of play resulting in the only try of the half.  It may be more memorable for the eviction of an attendee from the East Stand!  We assumed it was the idiot who had yelled out as Dan Biggar had attempted his second penalty kick at goal and later read that the eviction was due to being “drunk and disorderly.”  It is good to see that action will be taken as such idiots ruin the enjoyment for everyone and take from the family friendly atmosphere at games.

A long kick to Dan Evans got a big cheer when he knocked the ball back and then slipped on the wet surface as the rain which had been threatening started to fall early in the game.  However, Ospreys got their first and as it turned out last points of the game after Munster accidently played a knocked-on ball from an offside position in the 7th minute.

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We will miss the “death stare” as Donnacha tries to psyche out the opposition kicker!

Munster had an attacking lineout shortly afterwards and Peter O’Mahony jumped well to secure the ball only to be penalised for obstruction when the maul formed which confused players and supporters alike!

Saili and Biggar collided when the former had tried to tackle the ball carrier only for Biggar to come between him and that player.  Some of us thought the visitors should be penalised for crossing but instead Saili was penalised.

A turnover was pounced on by John Ryan.  Play went out to the backs and Rory Scannell put in a great grubber kick to pin Ospreys back.  Biggar kicked it back to just inside the 10m line and Munster deployed their maul to great effect with Niall Scannell at the back, bringing play up to the 22m line before Murray released the backs.

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Great momentum as the pack maul into the 22

Stander carried, then O’Mahony.  Earls found a way into the 22.  Kilcoyne carried hard. Saili made progress before Kilcoyne offered himself as carrier again.  When he was tackled play went back out to the east wing through Niall Scannell and Saili onto Rory Scannell.  Rory was tackled but managed to avoid going into touch. As he had done in Cardiff, Saili picked and went, showing great strength and determination to stretch out and score the try despite the best efforts of the defence.  The conversion came back off the post.

Ospreys went wide and when Conway tried to drag Habberfield into touch he was penalised for a high tackle, giving Biggar his second penalty kick opportunity.  He tried to make it an easier angle, but the referee made him move the kicking tee back to the correct place.  As he lined up the kick the idiot shouted from the east stand and the kick went wide.

I think I heard chants of “out, out, out” as the attention of the stewards was brought to the perpetrator.  We could see stewards and a guard approach someone and after some discussion he was escorted away, to chants apparently of “cheerio”.

The Munster front row’s dominance in the scrum won a penalty.  While there was a knock-on at the subsequent lineout they were in the right part of the pitch.  As the clock ticked down to half-time another strong Munster scrum on the Ospreys put-in yielded a penalty on half-way which Rory Scannell kicked to find a great touch.  Donnacha secured the ball and maul drove for the line again.

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Donnacha Ryan at the heart of another maul

Ospreys disrupted and Munster had to go wide.  Phase after phase of carries by forward and backs, thirteen in total, nearly resulted in a second try until unfortunately there was a knock-on.  A penalty was awarded instead for an earlier advantage.  With no time to kick for touch Tyler Bleyendaal took the kick at goal to extend the lead to 8-3.

It was not a “comfortable” lead but for all their possession Ospreys had not shown any great threat.  There was no significant change in strategy in the third quarter as the sun shone on the east side.  The red defensive line held firm, the scrum continued to dominate and the maul came into it’s own.  From such a platform Niall Scannell burst forward and the support arrived to keep Munster driving onwards.  Keith Earls nearly scored but was driven into touch just short of the line.  Munster pinned Ospreys inside their 22.  Surely they would score from this period of pressure?  Another lineout secured by Tommy, another maul drove through the Ospreys defence but a missed pass allowed Ospreys to kick clear and bring play back into the Munster half.

Ospreys indeed made a great break down the wing only for their player to be hauled down by Peter O’Mahony.  A few minutes later they had a lineout on the Munster 5m line but their attempted maul was penalised for the same offside offence for which Munster had been penalised in the first half, allowing Munster to clear the danger.

There was no break in the deadlock as the hour mark approached.  From a scrum on halfway for Ospreys a grubber kick ricocheted off Bleyendaal.  The ball bounced kindly for Murray and the backs raced forward.  After a few pick and goes CJ Stander thought he had scored but the TMO review decided that there was no clear evidence that the ball had been grounded so they had to settle for a 5m scrum.

The next few minutes are surely up there for try of the season as attack turned into defense from which a sumptuous attack was launched.  CJ picked and went from the back of the scrum.  After a few phases Taute had the ball ripped and Tipuric kicked the ball downfield.  Keith Earls had to race back to his own half to beat Keelen Giles to the ball.  He managed to get up after securing the ball but could not get away from the tackler.  He managed to turn, finding Saili in support.  Super interplay between Saili, Murray, Earls, and Conway put Munster on the front foot.  Conway’s pass found Zebo who demonstrated excellent ball handling and juggling skills to finish off a super backline score and Munster finally had daylight between the sides when Tyler converted to make it 15-3.  That try was worth the admission price alone!

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Peter O’Mahony attempted to steal the Ospreys lineout

Tommy O’Donnell joined John Ryan and Rory Scannell on the bench as the impact subs were launched – Jean Deysel following Stephen Archer and Jaco Taute into action.

Deysel won a penalty when the Ospreys player did not release.  Donnacha secured possession at the resultant lineout on the 10m line.  When Munster won another penalty Tyler Bleyendaal put it between the posts to ensure Ospreys would need to score twice to take the lead after 66 minutes.  Rhys Marshall replaced Niall Scannell and Sam Davies came on for Dan Biggar.  Andrew Conway chased another box kick and won back possession.  Unfortunately, the kick by Tyler bounced the wrong way and went dead. There was no let up in the intensity levels or defensive duties despite the scoreline.

Jack O’Donoghue replaced Billy Holland while Ian Keatley moved to full back with Zebo switching to the wing when Earls was withdrawn.

Scott Otten, the replacement hooker for the Ospreys must have seen Rhys Marshall’s cheeky chip from a few weeks ago as he replicated it, chipping Conway and beating Jack to the line to touch down.  However there had been a knock on in the build-up and the try was disallowed.

“The Fields of Athenry” rang out as Munster kicked a penalty to touch from halfway to the Ospreys 22.  Deysel secured the ball and the maul formed around him.

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Murray blocked down a clearance kick from Davies who was behind the try line, giving Munster a 5m scrum.  It was Conor’s last action as Duncan Williams replaced him for the final 7 minutes.

From that scrum Williams fed Conway who powered over in the corner, with three defenders hanging out of him.  He hurt his shoulder in the process and was replaced by the only remaining player on the bench prop Brian Scott.  The conversion was unsuccessful but with the score at 23-3 Ospreys were limited to a consolation score. Credit to them they went for it, first on one wing and then spreading the ball to the other but the defence held firm.  Applause and cheers range out as the clock went past 80 but the Ospreys kept coming.  Credit to man of the match Francis Saili whose last gasp tap tackle in the corner on Keelan Giles kept the visitors tryless.  Great commitment from a player who will be moving on to a new team at the end of the season.  His energy, enthusiasm and infectious smiles will be missed.  It is a pity he had some injury challenges during his two years at Munster but he has left a mark and some wonderful memories including his try at the Glasgow European game which has been nominated for European Cup try of the season!

Everyone wanted a piece of Donnacha Ryan after the final whistle!  Marcus Horan interviewed him for TG4 as the crowd chanted his name.  He was in great form and offered to conduct the interview in Irish or French!  He paid tribute to the new generation of Munster players and looks forward to supporting them in the years to come.  He then went back to his teammates and there were smiles and playful moments as they tried to lift him up shoulder high.  Peter was there with his daughter in his arms, Daddy on the back of her jersey, while Keith Earls carried his on his shoulders.  Simon’s son also made an appearance to soak up the atmosphere.  A large crowd waited as the players saluted the crowd and we smiled to see Donnacha and Simon go over to the Sky cameras – Simon paying his own tribute to Donnacha.

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The crowd were in no rush to leave and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to give Donnacha a proper Thomond farewell.  It is a regret of mine that we did not have that opportunity with other long term servants of Munster like Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer or Donncha O’Callaghan.  There was no fairy tale ending for Paulie’s career at Munster either with a heavy defeat in that Pro12 final but hopefully there will be a better conclusion this season.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway (Brian Scott ’77), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell (Jaco Taute ’55), Keith Earls (Ian Keatley ’71); Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’74); Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’67), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’55); Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland (Jack O’Donoghue ’71); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell (Jean Deysel ’63), CJ Stander.

OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Keelan Giles, Kieran Fonotia, Ashley Beck (Josh Matavesi ’72), Tom Habberfield; Dan Biggar (Sam Davies ’67), Brendon Leonard (Jay Baker ’66); Nicky Smith (Paul James ’69), Scott Baldwin (Scott Otten ’53), Rhodri Jones (Dan Suter ’63); Bradley Davies (Lloyd Ashley ’69), Alun Wyn Jones (captain); Sam Underhill, Justin Tipuric, James King (Olly Cracknell ’37).

Match Stats are on ESPN here and show how much possession Ospreys “enjoyed” and the huge defensive effort entailing 197 tackles.

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Sky have highlights on their website here and on the Pro12 YouTube channel.

Sky also had the player microphone on CJ whose energy tank seems bottomless.

Newspaper coverage from The42.ie is  here with post match thoughts here and here.  The Irish Independent report is herePeter’s post game thoughts are in this article while Rassie’s reaction is included in this semi final report from the Examiner

More of my photos are available on the blog facebook page.

Conor Murray’s interview shown before the game on TG4 is moving as he reflects on the season and the Glasgow game in particular.

Some of the “regulars” were away but there was a good crowd on the terrace, with a queue to enter already formed by the time I arrived about 4.40.  Before the game Dave O’Callaghan was interviewed pitch side. Jean Kleyn and John Madigan had been meeting supporters in the MRSC bar before the game and came down from there through the tunnel beside us. Mark introduced them to some of the west terrace early arrivals.  Given they were down in the lower seated section in front of us we did not get the full sense of their height!  Jean would have been happy watching the game from there but was sent on his way after a few minutes.

After the game it was fun to hear from Hilary and Rob that I had made an appearance on TV during our rendition of The Fields of Athenry!   Thoughts turned to securing tickets for the final.  I had taken the risk of buying one a few weeks ago so will not need to enter the MRSC lottery.  I told Kevin I can help with distributing flags if required along with my friends in MRSC Dublin.  Lots of tickets were sold in advance, some of those may come available during the week now that the finalists are known.  I am sure there will be a good number there from the Red Army to be red, loud and proud, giving the team the lift they need to go once more into the breach, to dig deep and find the energy to put in another massive performance and finish the season on a high.  They will put their bodies on the line again and leave nothing behind on the pitch.  Playing with pride in the jersey, team spirit and belief we can ask no more of them as they “carpe diem”.  Munster won the toss for the home dressing room but Scarlets won the right to wear their home jersey so Munster will be in blue, as indeed they were when they won in Llanelli in September.  A good omen perhaps!

Check out the post match interview with Saili and the dressing room scenes:

John’s video of the atmosphere captured from the East terrace:

Thanks Donnacha, your warrior spirit has graced many a special occasion at Thomond and around the rugby world.  Best wishes for the future.

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A photo Dee took from the West Stand of Quinny with the Sky team interviewing Donnacha and Simon

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Munster A claim series win over Ulster Ravens with plenty of fresh faces on show at Naas (April 2015)

It’s just over 2 years since Tyler made his debut on a Munster A team also featuring Niall, Darren, Jack, Conor Oliver, Alex, Peter and Dan who have all contributed to the senior team this season. No Munster action to blog about this week so hope you enjoy re-visiting this one.

WTView: Observations of a Munster Rugby Supporter

Update: May 2017: It’s just over 2 years since Tyler made his debut on a Munster A team also featuring Niall, Darren, Jack, Conor Oliver, Alex, Peter and Dan who have all contributed to the senior team this season.  It is worth checking out the video highlights from the game below. I enjoyed re-reading and updating it and hope you do also. 

Hopefully we will also be victorious in Belfast in 10 days! Final score

Naas RFC hosted the third and final leg in the series of inter-pro’s between Munster A and Ulster Ravens. After winning the opening (home) fixture at Nenagh 30 – 24 on March 19 a more experienced team lost narrowly at Banbridge 15 – 13 on April 16.  So it was all to play for in Naas on April 29th and there was the added incentive of witnessing the debut of Tyler Bleyendaal after his serious injury plus two of the Academy Player of the Year nominees, captain…

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Hunger: Munster: 50 – Connacht: 14

With such intense competition for places there was no danger that this “dead rubber” would be a damp squib or a banana skin. Players looking to cement places in the semi-final 23 or to show that they would be ready to step up if opportunity arose brought great hunger and intensity to their performances. Winning 19/22 games and finishing top of the table will not satisfy the appetite of this team. Silverware is their objective and after the disappointment of the European semi and their Pro12 final loss two seasons ago it is great to see the strength in depth in the squad as they prepare for the business end of the competition. Conor Murray was a welcome returnee from injury, taking his place on an awesome bench while four members of the victorious A team fitted seamlessly into the senior team.

Marking his 150th appearance for Munster Ian Keatley took the reins at outhalf and put in a man of the match performance as he had for the reverse fixture on New Year’s Eve in Galway.

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Ian Keatley with his MOTM medal – photo by Daryl Feehely

There were moments of barbarian style free-flowing rugby with turnovers by both teams but there were crunching tackles also as Munster kept the pressure on the Connacht attack.

In the opening minutes Dan Goggin lost his boot and played on without it till there was a break in play after Rhys Marshall had charged into the Connacht 22.

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Dan Goggin reclaims his boot during a break in play

A well-executed choke tackle by Angus Lloyd and Ian Keatley on the ball carrier won a turnover for Munster.  From that scrum in a central position in the Connacht half, Ian’s pass put Dan Goggin through a gap to race forward before offloading to Keith Earls in support who scored the opening try. Ian Keatley converted to make it 7-0 after 8 minutes.

A great pass by Stephen Archer was unfortunately undone by a forward pass from the recipient James Cronin to Keith Earls who would otherwise have been in for a second score.

Another choke tackle, this time by Jean Deysel and Conor Oliver won Munster a scrum on halfway to keep Connacht pinned in their own half.  Jaco Taute tried to pin them back behind their own line, he certainly held nothing back in the tackle but was penalised when it went higher than intended!  However, a tackle by James Cronin won a penalty for Munster which Keatley kicked to make it 10-0 after 24 minutes, keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

A box-kick from his own half bounced beautifully for Angus Lloyd bringing Munster up to the 5m line, albeit for a Connacht throw.  Earls and then Conway ran their clearance kick back at them.  Ian Keatley, Keith Earls and Dan Goggin all kept the ball alive and the team moving forward.  Keatley carried again, taking play over the 22m line before being hauled down but possession was retained.  Quick hands moved the ball from Conway to Cronin and onto Jack O’Donoghue who charged forward to score in the corner.  Ian Keatley was successful with the conversion from the east side.

Alex Wootton competed well for the high ball with Danie Poolman to reclaim possession. A few phases later Conor Oliver made great ground but a penalty conceded for coming in from the side handed possession back to Connacht.  However, the red line of defence held firm to keep the visitors pinned back as the clock approached thirty minutes played.

The third try came soon after.  From a Connacht scrum Tom Farrell’s offload out of the tackle found Tiernan O’Halloran running a great support line.  However, as he was hauled down the ball came loose and Munster counter-attacked through Jaco and Conor Oliver who passed to Keith Earls.  He was tackled but then James Cronin popped the ball up to Ian Keatley whose long pass found Andrew Conway on the wing.  Alex Wootton in support took it on before being tackled.  As Alex hit the ground he offloaded to Ian Keatley.  The defence was closing in so Ian passed to Conway on the wing.  He juggled superbly before diving to ground the ball over the line.  The TMO review confirmed he had kept his feet out of touch and the try was awarded.  From the opposite (west) touchline Ian Keatley nailed his third successful conversion with a little help from the upright.

From 24-0 down it looked like a long way back for Connacht but they finished the half camped in the Munster territory.  Resolute defence held them out and Munster got a great cheer when they won a turnover to bring the half to an end after Jack O’Donoghue came through the middle of a Connacht maul.

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Lining up to start the second half this shot features 5 of the 6 try-scorers on the night

The “bonus point” try came just minutes into the second half.  Off a Munster lineout inside the Connacht 22, Jack took possession.  The ball went wide to Alex Wootton on the wing.  Showing great side-stepping skills he brought play infield before being dragged down just metres from the line.  Stephen Archer again showed good hands in moving the ball quickly out to James Cronin who charged for the line, dragging three defenders with him as he stretched to ground the ball.   Ian Keatley kicked the conversion to make it 31-0.

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Daryl Feehely took this shot of the try from the east terrace.

Andrew Conway showed his pace to burst through midfield.  As the defence centred in on him his pass to the wing took the momentum away but a few phases later he was again in action.  He chipped the ball ahead and then dived into the Connacht player who stood his ground as he was entitled to do.

Alex Wootton seemed to be injured in that phase of play and was replaced by Tyler Bleyendaal with Ian Keatley moving to full back although he retained kicking duties. Conor Murray was warming up on the sideline.

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Final Preparations before returning to action for Conor Murray

Danie Poolman gave chase to a kick ahead and won a 5m scrum for Connacht when Keith Earls had to carry the ball over the line.  From that attacking position a cross-field kick by Jack Carty found Cian Kelleher who beat Ian Keatley to the ball to score a try. Craig Ronaldson converted to make it 31-7 with 52 minutes played as Conor Murray returned to action.

From the restart Munster were back on the front foot when Connacht let the ball bounce and failed to secure possession.  After a few phases of probing, James Cronin gave a pass to Darren O’Shea who took it up the middle before it went wide to Andrew Conway via Tyler and Jaco.  Conway raced through to score behind the posts, nearly running over the deadball line!  Keatley converted to bring the score to 38-7.

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Angus Lloyd at the back of the scrum looks to get the pass away to the backline

It was high intensity stuff, sometimes lacking in accuracy as possession changed hands. Impact subs were launched – a new front row of Kilcoyne, Scannell and John Ryan plus Saili and Peter O’Mahony – before the hour mark to give them game-time and ensure no let-up in intensity.

A 5m lineout gave Connacht a good platform and while Munster defended the maul Dawai broke from the side and powered over Tyler to score the second try for the visitors.  Ronaldson again converted to make it 38-12 after 63 minutes and to give the travelling support something to cheer.  Maybe Kevin had been right when he was reluctant to sing “The Fields of Athenry” for the visit of the Westerners as we had been singing it just prior to their score!

John Ryan was tackled by Finlay Bealham who injured himself in the process and had to go off for a HIA.  Munster kept pressure on Connacht and continued to play most of the game in the opposition half.

Bodies were strewn in the 5m zone when Dan Goggin collided heavily with Marnitz Boshoff, catching him on the chin.  The ball was knocked loose and Francis Saili reacted to pick it up and score a try.  Ian Keatley converted to make it 45-14.  (Great photo by Linda Molloy capturing the scene here on the MRSC facebook page)

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Love this photo from Daryl’s archive of Saili

From a Connacht lineout in front of us Tom Farrell made a super break bringing play past the Munster 5m line.  The defence scrambled well and won back possession.  That was as close as Connacht got to scoring again with Munster playing out the remainder of the game in the opposition half.

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Billy and Jack compete on the Connacht throw

A penalty was kicked to touch and Andrew Conway was close to getting a hat trick.  Taute was next to probe the line (he had returned when Goggin had to go off for a HIA or blood bin).  Connacht knocked on when almost turning over possession on their try line. It was the Academy player of the year Conor Oliver who finished off proceedings with a try on the wing.  Paul pointed out that indeed four of the try-scorers on the night had been recipients of that award – the others being Jack, James and Keith.  Conor looks like he is enjoying the moment in the photo captured by SportsFile below:

Munster: Andrew Conway, Alex Wootton (Bleyendaal 46), Jaco Taute (Saili 58), Dan Goggin (Taute 70), Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Angus Lloyd (Murray 52); James Cronin (Kilcoyne 58), Rhys Marshall (Scannell 58), Stephen Archer (Ryan 58); Darren O’Shea (O’Mahony 58), Billy Holland – capt.; Jean Deysel (O’Donnell 65), Conor Oliver, Jack O’Donoghue.  Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, Conor Murray, Tyler Bleyendaal, Francis Saili.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran (Darragh Leader ’70); Danie Poolman, Tom Farrell, Craig Ronaldson, Cian Kelleher, Jack Carty (Marnitz Boshoff ’66), Kieran Marmion (John Cooney ’70): Denis Buckley (JP Cooney ’59), Shane Delahunt (Dave Heffernan ’62), Conor Carey (Finlay Bealham ’44),; Quinn Roux (Naulia Dawai ’52), Andrew Browne; Eoin McKeon, James Connolly (Sean O’Brien ’52), John Muldoon.

Ian was disappointed to miss the conversion but was a worthy recipient of man of the match.  He gave credit to the dominance of the forwards for giving the backs such a good platform.

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Thanking the supporters post game

This was a good opportunity to try out new combinations and to build the depth which is so necessary to be competitive at the business end of the season.  A confidence building performance with good backline moves and excellent interplay between forwards and backs.  Finishing top of the table is another boost, along with having six Munster players included in the Pro12 team of the season (only those who had played at least ten league games were eligible so many of the Internationals could not be included). The benefit of the single training base is also being seen in the performances and the young coaching team have shown that they are learning and adapting as they go along.  This interview with Jacques from the Examiner is very insightful to his coaching philosophy.

Stats from ESPN  Match reports from the Irish Times and The42.ie

Daryl Feehely’s photos from the game are here while the MRSC photo album is on their FB page here

I looked up John McCarthy to confirm that Paul was correct about the previous recipients.  I could not find a list of all winners but I trust Paul knows his facts!

The full game is currently on the TG4 player and highlights from the Pro12 YouTube channel are below.

Here is a recording of the full game with no commentary currently on YouTube

I enjoyed TG4’s interview with the Young Player of the Year Darren Sweetnam during the week.

It was a cold, windy evening in Limerick, catching some people out as the weather had been much milder earlier in the week.  Babs wore her Munster dress but with her Ireland jacket on over it she could have been supporting Connacht also!  I arrived before the turnstiles opened, the fifth person to arrive at entrance 7, behind Sinead and John from Waterford plus Joan and Kevin who had travelled from Cork.  The actual attendance was a lot less than the official 17K tickets sold but there was a good atmosphere on the terrace.

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A cold night for the camera man up on the platform

Captain of the Munster A team Cian Bohane was interviewed pitchside pre-game with the B&I Cup trophy. On the terrace we also enjoyed watching the video of Fiona (Cork and Munster’s “Lady in Red”) performing at a local Strictly Come Dancing fundraiser a few weeks earlier.  We suggested she reprieve her performance sometime as the pre-game entertainment 🙂 Her husband Ger got a slagging for his interview in the “NoClubWithoutU” promo and returned the banter when the other MRSC ad aired featuring Tony, Imelda and myself from the WT.  It was great to hear how the membership numbers have increased. The performances on the pitch and regularly sold-out games plus availability of tickets for the knock-out games for members no doubt drove that but it was fun to take a little credit also!

It’s been an emotional journey this season and fantastic that it is not over yet.  Ospreys will be hoping that Munster will underestimate them after beating them home and away earlier this season but in cup rugby anything can happen.  I am confident that this team and management will not underestimate the challenge ahead but will apply all they have learnt this season and come up with a plan to satisfy their hunger for success.

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Andrew and Keith congratulate fellow try scorer Conor Oliver. Photo by Daryl Feehely

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Eye on the Prize: Benetton Treviso: 14 – Munster: 34

Twenty one league games later, Munster’s consistency and ability to close out tight games has been rewarded with a home semi-final.  With just three losses – away to Leinster plus at home to Cardiff and Scarlets – to have secured a home semi-final before the final round of the league shows the progress made as the team built on their strong finish (after a disappointing campaign) this time last year.  The stats in the table below make for much happier reading and great credit is due to the team and management for their achievement.

PenultimateTable

After a run of very physical games against Toulouse, Glasgow, Ulster and Saracens, Munster freshened up the team with some players who had impressed for the A team. Before kick-off that number increased to seven after Billy Holland fell ill, with Donnacha Ryan taking his place and Fineen Wycherley being promoted to the bench.

Treviso had won their last two home games against Ospreys and Edinburgh so could not be under-estimated.  The prize of a home semi-final was at stake and it was important to bounce back from the disappointment of losing the European semi-final.

The Treviso full-back David Odiete made a super break, counter-attacking from his own half before offloading to Barbieri who was then bundled into touch by Simon Zebo.  Munster were able to clear their lines from the subsequent lineout.

Dave O’Callaghan has been in a great form, playing in both the second or back row so it was a real shame to see him limping off after only eleven minutes of action, with CJ Stander taking his place.

After fifteen minutes, an excellent kick by Ronan O’Mahony helped set up a Munster lineout after Tyler Bleyendaal assisted by Francis Saili dragged the Treviso player into touch.  Darren O’Shea claimed the ball and a strong maul was established with Rhys Marshall at the back.  Side entry by the loose head gave Munster a penalty in the Treviso half which was kicked to touch.  However, the opportunity was wasted when the ball failed to find the jumper and Treviso cleared the danger back to the Munster half.

From a lineout Treviso then launched an attack.  A kick ahead from half-way was chased by their centre Benvenuti who collided with Ronan O’Mahony as they both went for the ball.  After treatment Ronan had to be stretchered off with what looked like a serious leg injury.  Alex Wootton took his place on the wing and continued the good form he had shown in the British and Irish Cup final.

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An action shot of Conor Oliver and Alex Wootton taken by Daryl Feehely at the B&I Cup final

From a Munster lineout the ball went over the top and Tyler swooped in to claim it. When he was wrapped up by two defenders Duncan spotted a gap and made a break before offloading to Jack O’Donoghue in support.  Jack seemed to bat the ball back to Rhys Marshall who sprinted forward before chipping over the defender from the 22.  Unfortunately, the bounce of the ball just beat him to what would have been a super try for any player, never mind a front row!  Donnacha Ryan was in support but could not turn to get over the line past the defence.  Jaco was next to have a go before Duncan Williams got the ball out to Saili whose long pass found Darren in a bit of space on the wing to score.  The conversion attempt was unsuccessful but Munster were on the board, 0-5 after 25 minutes.

A series of kicks back and forth ensued for the following 4 minutes before the second try.  Munster went through multiple phases around the Treviso 22m line, looking for gaps to exploit and showing patience in the build up, probing one way and then another through forwards and backs.  A lovely pass from Tyler to Zebo – running a great line between two defenders – gave him a clear run through to the line.  Darren O’Shea had played a significant role in the build-up to that try as he executed a lovely exchange with Tyler on the loop before the final pass to Zebo.

Tyler converted to make it 0-12 after 32 minutes.   He also kicked a penalty just before half time to bring the score to 0-15 at the break.  There was no half-time analysis as the game was not on the main TG4 site but it was great that they streamed it on their website and showed the full game on their Saorview channel red button option.

Munster started the second half brightly and were threatening the Treviso line when the referee Ian Davies penalised Munster.  The TMO called his attention to some potential foul play by a Treviso player.  Davies seemed to loose patience, waiting for it to be brought up on the big screen after several mis-cued attempts.  He decided to stick with his decision to penalise Munster and play on.  I guess if the foul play warrants punishment the citing commissioner will pick it up but it seemed a strange approach to take.

Donnacha Ryan was taken off just minutes into the 2nd half for a HIA so Fineen Wycherley took his place in the second row.  Ian Keatley replaced Jaco Taute.

Momentum turned in favour of Treviso who nearly scored in the 44th minute through their winger Sperandio but Zebo got back to tackle him.  Gori tried to pick and go next but CJ Stander won a penalty when the scrum-half did not release to allow Munster clear their lines.  However, minutes later a Treviso lineout set up a super try by David Odiete when after a few phases they got the ball wide to him on the wing.  Showing great pace he sprinted through a gap between Sweetnam and Zebo.  Alex Wootton covering across could not get to him either. Ian McKinley kicked the conversion to bring the score to 7-15.

It was an attritional game for both sides, the Treviso try-scorer was injured and had to leave after 58 minutes and they later lost both their 9 and 10 to leg injuries.

Wootton leaped high to claim a box-kick and took off on a scintillating break, side stepping a few defenders before being taken down.  He managed to pop the pass to Keatley after being tackled.  Quick passes from Ian to Tyler and out to Saili on the wing gave Munster momentum. Saili kicked ahead and pressured the defender into carrying the ball into touch to give Munster a 5m lineout.  Jack claimed the ball but the maul was collapsed so the pack had to take it on through a series of pick and goes.

Fineen carried the ball, driven on by Conor and Rhys.  Then his second row partner Darren O’Shea took it on.  CJ, Stephen Archer and Tyler kept the pressure on the Treviso line.  Fineen had another go, as did CJ who was driven back a few metres but Munster retained possession.  Changing direction, Tyler got the ball to Saili who put in another long pass, this time finding Alex Wootton on the wing who scored after 64 minutes to make it 7-20.  Tyler missed the conversion.

Kevin O’Byrne came on for man of the match Rhys Marshall.   Jack O’Donoghue made a tackle and as he got up, the offload from the player he had tackled fell into his arms.  He showed a nice turn of pace to score the bonus point try under the posts.  Tyler converted to make it 7-27.

More replacements were sprung from the bench with Angus Lloyd on for Duncan and Rory Burke replacing Stephen.

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Rory Burke – photo by Daryl Feehely from the B&I Cup final – made his Pro12 debut from the bench.

With ten minutes to go, Darren Sweetnam was in for his 2nd try.  Receiving the ball in his own half from a Treviso kick, he then chipped the defender to bring play up to half-way.  After competing to reclaim the ball with some Treviso players it fell for him to kick ahead.  He then won the race to the line.  The TMO was asked to confirm whether the ball had come off his knee (OK) or his hand (knock-on) when he was competing to reclaim his chip ahead.  The TMO agreed with the referee that it had been his knee.  The locals did not agree and were whistling in protest as Tyler lined up the successful conversion attempt.

Brian Scott showed his versatility as he replaced James Cronin on the loose head side even though he had played tight head for the A team.  Indeed, as the clock ticked down the front 5 was entirely comprised of players from the victorious A team from the B&I Cup, along with Conor at #7 and Alex on the wing.

Treviso did not give in though and their perseverance was rewarded at the death when a lineout gave them a good launch pad for a final attack in the closing minutes.  The clock went red before #19 Jean-Francois Montauriol dived over a ruck to score.  The TMO indicated to the referee that the player was on his knee as he picked up the ball but the referee was happy that he had gotten back to his feet first. “OK, Fine” was the response of the TMO. The successful conversion left the final score 14-34.

Munster:  Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Francis Saili, Jaco Taute (Keatley 43), Ronan O’Mahony (Wootton 18); Tyler Bleyendaal – capt., Duncan Williams (Lloyd 67); James Cronin (Scott 71), Rhys Marshall (O’Byrne 66), Stephen Archer (Burke 67); Darren O’Shea, Donnacha Ryan (Wycherley 42); Dave O’Callaghan (Stander 11), Conor Oliver, Jack O’Donoghue.  Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Brian Scott, Rory Burke, Fineen Wycherley, CJ Stander, Angus Lloyd, Ian Keatley, Alex Wootton.

Treviso: D Odiete (A Pratichetti 59); A Esposito, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L Sperandio; I McKinley (T Tebaldi 63), E Gori (G Bronzini 70); F Zani (A Porolli 68), L Bigi (D Giazzon 50), S Ferrari (T Pasquali 58); M Fuser (JF Montauriol 48), D Budd; F Minto (M Lazzaroni 48), B Steyn, R Barbieri.

So maximum points were secured and with it the valuable home semi-final.  The cost in terms of injuries won’t be known for sure till early next week but it did not look good for Dave or Ronan.  (Update May 1: Ronan fractured his fibula and Dave has a knee injury)  For the knock-out stages teams will need strength in depth so it was good to see the A team players get an opportunity while also giving a rest to some of the front-line players.  Scarlets and Ospreys showed good form in their wins at the weekend and will be hoping to prove that an away team can win a semi-final in three weeks time. There are no fairy tale endings guaranteed but Munster have their eye on the prize and hopefully they will achieve their goal.  I’ll be there to cheer them on every tackle, turnover, try, maul and score on the way.  The Red Army will mobilise again in Thomond on Saturday May 20th to support Munster in their efforts to overcome their semi-final opponents and if they are successful, the demand for tickets for the final in the Aviva on May 27th will be huge.

Match Reports from Munster Rugby, The42.ie and the Irish Independent

I love these video highlights with the excited Italian commentary on the Pro12 YouTube channel.

TG4 showed half an hour of highlights and you can find them on their website here

The unsocial side this week

Best laid plans don’t always work out.  Looking at the schedule of Munster games and the rota for spending the weekend in Tipperary with Dad I had hoped to watch this game with the MRSC Dublin gang.  However, Dad ended up in Clonmel hospital with a chest infection, so I headed home on Friday.  He is coming on well, thankfully and should be back in Thurles next week.  As a result I ended up watching the game on my own.

The previous Friday on my way to Cork to support Munster A in the British and Irish Cup final I had stopped off for a few hours with Dad – he had been fine then!  He was busy entertaining the Chairman of Thurles RFC who was interested in a copy of an old team photo which Dad had from the 1940s.  Dad was telling him who was who in it and how only 13 players were included as the other 2 also liked to line out for their local GAA team and at that time there was a ban to prevent players lining out in both codes!  Those two gentlemen did not want any evidence of them being involved in rugby to disrupt their GAA involvement!  Many of that team have passed away since then but Dad has happy memories of playing despite the basic facilities at that time.

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

I see CJ Stander has won another accolade – best cake decorator at the Alzheimer fund raiser during the week – to show that there is nothing at which he cannot excel!  Will Greenwood also had these words of praise for him recently in a Lions preview from The Telegraph: ““[Stander is] a force of nature. Incredible willingness to carry the ball, to run himself into the ground. CJ Stander would empty the tank in a five-a-side pub football matchHe gives total commitment, energy and desire to win games for his team.”  Good luck to CJ in the poll for European player of the year and Irish player of the year.

I was delighted last week to see that he had chosen my photo from the semi-final defeat to post on Instagram along with his heartfelt message of appreciation for the tremendous support in the Aviva – thanks for adding the credit CJ / JM:

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We have Dreams and Songs to sing: Munster: 10 – Saracens: 26

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Banner at the North End of the Aviva

While the head expected a Saracens win, my heart and dreams were hoping for another heroic Munster victory.  The Red Army were there in great numbers to do what they could to swing the game in Munster’s favour but Saracens proved why they are champions of Europe and of England.

Traffic nightmares on the M7 made it a stressful journey for many of the buses and cars heading to Dublin from the southern province.  Thankfully, by the time the team were ready to leave the pitch after their warm-up most seats had been filled and the noise levels as we cheered the players off would give you goose bumps as would the reception they got on their return, a standing ovation with red flags being waved all over the stadium.  It felt special to be part of that expression of the bond between team and supporters.

The singing, cheering, clapping, howls of protests at perceived high tackles / penalty offences, the perceivable rise in energy levels to urge on the team as the scrum or maul sought to drive forward, gasps of admiration and applause at some spectacular aerial combat under the high ball or stolen lineouts all added to the atmosphere along with the dominant red colour and flags around the arena.

Dreams and songs to sing are not enough but they do give a lift to the team and none more so that at the end of a tough defeat so it was great to see so many wait to show their support, waving flags, cheering and singing after Munster had clapped the Saracens from the pitch.

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Thousands remained long after the final whistle to show their appreciation and support. Photo by Gayl from South Stand

You can’t fault the endeavour of the team – things did not always work out the way they intended, be it a mis-kick, a knock-on or turnover but they worked hard for each other, for the team, for the jersey they are proud to wear and for their fans.  Time and again Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo hurled themselves into the air with no thought for their own safety to secure possession.  The two teams with the best defensive records in the competition again ensured no tries were conceded in the first half.  Munster had plenty of possession and the territory advantage in the first half in particular but couldn’t find a way through.  Forty eight times CJ Stander, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell and Dave Kilcoyne carried the ball to the Saracens.  If you look at the stats on ESPN you will see how many tackles each of the Saracens pack had to make to ensure no way through for the men in red until the very end.  It was scant consolation for the efforts of the team but it does make the scoreline a little more respectable.   Even after CJ Stander scored the try for Munster at the death, Ian Keatley drop kicked the conversion to save time and give them a chance for another score before the final whistle as the team refused to go quietly into the night.

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CJ carries the ball again in the dying minutes of the game. Photo by Gayl

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’56), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls (Darren Sweetnam ’64); Tyler Bleyendaal (Ian Keatley ’72), Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’53), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’61), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’64); Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Dave O’Callaghan ’53), Tommy O’Donnell (Jean Deysel ’51), CJ Stander.

SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch (Alex Lozowski ’75), Brad Barritt (captain), Sean Maitland (Chris Wyles ’63); Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth (Ben Spencer ’72); Mako Vunipola (Titi Lamositele ’72), Jamie George (Schalk Brits ’51), Vincent Koch (Petrus Du Plessis ’72); Maro Itoje (Jim Hamilton ’75), George Kruis; Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray (yellow card ’23 to ’33) (Schalk Burger ’56), Billy Vunipola.

In the post match comments of Rassie Erasmus I see that Jean Deysel sustained fractured ribs while Peter O’Mahony had to go off for a head injury assessment so I hope they will make a good recovery.  Both teams put their bodies on the line and while Munster will be bitterly disappointed I don’t think this is the end of the road but rather a new work in progress.  Lessons will be learnt from defeat including how to deal with the suffocating pressure exerted by the champions.  While the bar has already been raised this season Saracens have shown how high the bar of European success is set.

To have secured top 4 placings in all 3 competitions in which Munster participates is a huge achievement.  While the European dream is over for this season we got a lot further than recent years, despite looking like the weakest team in our pool initially, with some terrific performances while the team have had to deal with the sudden death of Anthony Foley.  Another competition came to a conclusion this weekend when the B&I Cup was secured by the A team – full credit to them for the way they came back from 0-18 down to win 29-28 against Jersey Reds – see my short blog of that game here.  Some of those players will continue to develop and push for places in the senior team.  In the third competition, the Pro12 league only Scarlets could overtake Munster in 2nd place (with the valuable home semi-final) in the unlikely event that Munster slip up in their 2 remaining rounds so plenty left to play for yet this season.

So thanks to the team for giving us so many heroic performances, for inspiring our dreams and for occasions like today, rekindling the bonds between team and supporters.  I will be back on the terraces at Thomond for the visit of Connacht and hopefully for the Pro12 semi-final this season and am signed up for 2016/17 also.  A new journey started under the stewardship of Rassie Erasmus last summer and it is great to read that he will remain to oversee more progress next season after all the recent speculation.

Match reports: The42.ie and Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner

Highlights from the BTSport site:

The post match thoughts of defence coach Jacques Nienaber:

Fellow Supporter John captured the welcome for the team bus, the warmup, the fantastic support for the team as they finished their warm up and their final lap of the arena to thank the support.  It was a fantastic show of support.

 

PS: CJ liked my photo so much he put it on Instagram with these lovely words:   cjstanderA picture worth a thousand words.
80 minutes on the clock with a brutally honest scoreboard … what stands out to me, the @munster_rugby supporters! Without a doubt THE best rugby supporters in the world… Thank you to every one who came out to support us yesterday. This is not the end, but only a chapter in our story! #redwave #munsterrugby #SUAF 📸cred: @gayl_wtview blog!

It was featured in articles on SportsJoe and the Irish Examiner!

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Fighting Spirit of Champions: Munster A: 29 – Jersey Reds: 28

A win built on grit, fighting spirit and that “never give up” ethos we love to see in our team, despite facing an uphill battle with a scoreline of 0-18 after quarter of the game.  Maybe because the As had been focused on helping the senior team prepare for the European semi-final all week, simulating the Saracens instead of focusing on their own challenge, it took them a while to get into the game.  Jersey had travelled with good support and got off to a dream start.  Missed tackles and errors by Munster did not help the home team’s cause but they stuck at it and eventually turned a nightmare start on it’s head, showing the attitude and workrate of Champions.

While there were some experienced players on the Munster A team, notably Robin Copeland and Mark Chisholm (who started in place of John Madigan) many were from the next generation of players.  Billy Holland captained the last Munster A team to win this competition in 2012 and several more of his team mates from that victory have graduated to the senior team  –  Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Duncan Williams Dave O’Callaghan and Stephen Archer.  There are only three competitions which it is possible to win each season and Munster got to the play-off stages of all three.

The full game is on YouTube, see below as  ITV Channel Islands streamed the game.  There was no big screen in the stadium but most of the action took place down the Dolphin end where I stood.

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Captain Cian Bohane leads out the team past the trophy. Photo by Daryl Feehely

The Jersey Reds full back Adair and winger Scott combined well to score the opening try down the east wing after a poor box kick had handed possession back to the visitors.  The conversion was missed by Callum Sheedy – his only miss of the night but a crucial two points given the final scoreline.

A knock on from the first Munster lineout gave Jersey the put-in to a scrum.  The referee penalised Munster and from outside his own 10m line Sheedy put the ball between the posts to make it 0-8.  From the restart a strong maul brought the visitors quickly back into the Munster half from where they won another penalty at a ruck just outside the Munster 22 and before we knew where we were Munster were 0-11 down and it was looking like a long night could be in store.  Another scrum, another penalty, this time kicked for touch just inside the 22.  The maul was repelled but another penalty conceded, again kicked to touch, this time closer to the try line.  No maul this time, the visitors peeled back on the blind side and scored a second try through their hooker Joe Buckle, converted by Sheedy within 15 minutes to make it 0-18.

Munster dug deep and spent time in the Jersey half but some good opportunities were undone by mistakes.  However Jersey began to make errors too – a knock on at a lineout, an overthrown lineout was gratefully received by Kevin O’Byrne; a scrum penalty against them allowed Munster to build some phases and work their way back into the game.  However, it took until almost half time to reflect that pressure on the scoreboard.  A high tackle on Johnston in front of the posts was kicked to touch again.  Gavin Coombes just managed to get to the ball at the back of the lineout.

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Well held! Lineout secured by Gavin Coombes, photo by Daryl Feehely

Munster probed through Darren O’Shea, Kevin O’Byrne, Dan Goggin before passing back infield to Coombes who was driven back by three defenders.  Munster crucially kept possession and their nerve.  Cian Bohane tried to surge through before John Poland passed to Darren O’Shea who got to within a metre of the line.  Peter McCabe was next to carry before Poland found Gavin Coombes in a bit of space who this time crashed over to score.  David Johnston added the extra 2 to make it 7-18 on the stroke of half time.

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The referee raises his arm to award the try to Munster – photo by Gayl

A perfect start to the second half with an excellent break by Alex Wootton getting play into the Jersey half.  Stephen Fitzgerald was in support and carried it a few metres further.  When Sam Arnold took it on he was tackled high but Munster did not need to come back for the advantage.  Gavin Coombes was almost in again with another strong run but Kevin O’Byrne was there to take the pop pass from Poland close to the try line to score the 2nd Munster try, within minutes of the restart.

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Another good break by Coombes set up the try for Kevin O’Byrne after the break. Photo by Daryl Feehely

Johnston converted and the turnaround from 0-18 to 14-18 in those few minutes either side of half-time showed the shift in momentum.  They call them championship moments for a reason!

Unfortunately a Munster scrum yielded another try for the visitors as the ball seemed to ricochet off a Munster foot – Kieran Hardy reacted first and the scrum-half raced down the wing before cutting inside to score.  Sheedy added the conversion and Munster had to start building again.

Munster kept the pressure on, kicking penalty after penalty to touch.  Jersey were warned about a possible card.  From the next penalty kicked to touch the Munster maul was held up so Poland found Johnston who cut through to score in the corner.  The conversion was missed but the gap was back to 19-25.

A superb break put Munster into the lead for the first time.  From his own 22m a long pass from David Johnston found Cian Bohane out wide who cut infield to draw in the defenders before passing to Wootton on the wing on his own 10m line.  Showing his pace and side-stepping skills the international 7s player raced all the way to the line.  David Johnston added the extra 2 points to make it 26-25.  The first time Munster had been in the lead all game!

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Alex Wootton leaves the defender in his wake as he scores the fourth Munster A try. Photo by Daryl Feehely

The sides traded a penalty apiece and Munster showed great game management to pin Jersey deep in their own half for the closing minutes.  The final score was 29-28.  It was a shame to see Robin Copeland go off injured – he was wearing a sling for the trophy presentation.  I read since on Instagram that this was his first ever medal in his professional rugby career!

The celebrations and trophy presentation were fun.  Thanks to Daryl for the inclusion of his photos.  See his full set here.

Champions

Daryl’s photo of the celebrations

Muster A:  Stephen Fitzgerald; Dan Goggin, Sam Arnold, Cian Bohane – capt., Alex Wootton; David Johnston, John Poland; Peter McCabe, Kevin O’Byrne, Brian Scott; Mark Chisholm, Darren O’Shea; Gavin Coombes, Conor Oliver, Robin Copeland.  Replacements: Duncan Casey, Liam O’Connor, Rory Burke, Fineen Wycherley, Sean O’Connor, Abrie Griesel, Greg O’Shea.

Jersey: Ross Adair, George Watkins, Jordan Davies, Apakuki Ma’afu, Nick Scott, Callum Sheedy, Kieran Hardy; Jake Woolmore, Joe Buckle, Simon Kerrod, James Voss, Pierce Phillips, James Freeman (Capt), Gary Graham, Nick Haining  Replacements: Nick Selway, Sean McCarthy, Jake Armstrong, Uili Kolo’ofa’i, Max Argyle; Joel Dudley, Lewis Robling

Match report from  The42.ie Jersey Reds report: http://www.jerseyreds.je/news/2016-17/munster-a-29-jersey-reds-28.aspx

I hope the visitors enjoyed their visit to Cork.  It is a pity that there were not more supporters there from Munster but the mass migration to Dublin for the European semi-final, also known as the RedWave made it difficult for many to get there.  I was glad I made the day trip from Dublin and enjoyed watching the game with Ger and Paddy, regulars on the west terrace at Thomond.  It was also great to catch up with Daryl at half time and to meet Niall and Danny after the game.  Lots of proud family members and friends of the parents were there to celebrate with them.

I saw on Twitter that captain Cian Bohane is retiring from professional rugby so I wish him all the best in the future.  Congrats to all the team and best wishes in the future.  You did the jersey proud throughout this campaign!  Also congrats to the management team including Peter Malone – best wishes to Peter as he takes on the challenge of the JRWC.

The full game is on YouTube – picture starts 4 minutes in with an insight into Jersey Reds road to the final – game starts at 21 minutes in.  The ITV Jersey commentator was not aware that Mark Chisholm had started in place of John Madigan.

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Final Dress Rehearsal: Munster: 22 – Ulster: 20

The strong team announced on Friday – albeit still missing CJ and Conor – set up the inter-pro as a dress rehearsal for the European semi-final. The late changes required allowed both Munster scrum-half under-studies (Angus Lloyd and Abrie Griesel) to audition for the potential bench spot should Conor Murray not recover in time for the showdown with Saracens. It was an ideal opportunity to see how they would perform under pressure as Ulster, desperate to secure a top four league finish came to storm fortress Thomond.
Ian Keatley made a welcome return to action after the injury he sustained in Cardiff to start alongside Angus Lloyd. Ian sent the kick-off towards Charles Piutau. Darren Sweetnam gave chase and collided with Piutau. We hoped he had not hurt himself but as he got to his feet and took his position in the wrong backline (i.e. alongside the Ulster backs) we could tell he wasn’t right. Paddy Jackson encouraged him back to the other side but as play moved away it was clear he had no idea where he was supposed to be, or maybe even where he was. The medics reacted quickly and he went off for a HIA with Andrew Conway taking his place on the wing. Hopefully Darren will make a good and speedy recovery, it was not nice to see him affected like that and it shows how easy it can be to do damage, even without being knocked out.
We protested a high tackle on Keatley by Henderson. The referee awarded a penalty, kicked to touch by Rory. Peter O’Mahony won possession to set up the maul which made good ground but when they went wide Ulster turned over possession and kicked downfield.  Keatley did well to get back to secure the ball but was penalised for holding on. A scuffle ensued, involving both #8s with Peter getting involved as he grabbed Reidy by the shirt collar and flung him away.

Paddy Jackson kicked for touch to give Ulster a 5m lineout. They got their maul moving with great momentum to cross the line for a try awarded to Rory Best which Jackson converted to make it 0-7 after 5 minutes.

Munster responded quickly. Zebo soared to claim the high ball and Angus found Killer who charged through the midfield before the ball was recycled. Niall Scannell offloaded out of the tackle to Peter who exploited the gap and sold a dummy. Earls took the inside pass before returning the ball to Peter who this time found Angus on his outside. He had a bit of work to do to get through the defence but he managed to cut back between Peter and Keith and his momentum helped him to score a try on his first start for the senior team. Watching the replay it was surprising to see how little effort Piutau had made to get back to defend after being turned by O’Mahony. Maybe he had picked up a knock. Ian Keatley converted to make it 7-all after 7 minutes.

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Angus Lloyd on his way to score the first Munster try on his first senior start – photo by Daryl Feehely

Ulster showed some great offloading skills to work their way back into the Munster 22. Saili thought he was away with an intercept but play was called back for a penalty (offside) which Paddy Jackson kicked between the posts to make it 7-10 after 13 minutes.

Ruan Pienaar showed his international class blocking down a box-kick to pin Munster back. Angus recovered well and shortly after put in a great grubber kick to get Munster into the opposition half. Munster managed to steal the Ulster lineout ball but couldn’t control it and Paddy Jackson made a great break back into Munster territory before Earls and O’Donoghue dragged him down. A few phases later a high tackle by Billy gave Jackson another kicking opportunity but he was off target.

From the restart, Conway gave chase, causing Piutau to take his eye off the ball and drop it, to our delight. However the Munster scrum was turned and Ulster regained possession.

Ulster made another break resulting in a penalty against Donnacha Ryan which they kicked to touch. The maul defence worked much better that time as we roared them on to resist the drive. The ref called to Ulster to use it. When they did not Munster were awarded another scrum on their 5m line. This time Ulster were penalised for binding and again there were some afters by the front rows.

Another good grubber kick got Munster into the right part of the pitch again and earned more applause for Angus. Tremendous pressure on an Ulster scrum lead to a Munster penalty which Ian Keatley put between the posts to level the scores on 36 minutes at 10-10.

A super pass by Rory Scannell put Andrew Conway into space and he raced forward before offloading to Saili. Killer took it on and thought he had scored but the referee ruled it was held up. Several 5m scrum resets and four minutes later the half-time whistle went.

The adapted rugby displays featuring Garryowen Lions v Seapoint Dragons and Mallow Barbarians v De La Salle Palmerstown were very lively. Niamh Briggs and Niamh Kavanagh were interviewed about the Womens Rugby World Cup as they brought the trophy along to promote the competition.

A board with the slogan #NoClubWithoutU was produced at half-time also and those of us within reach were delighted to add our messages and names to it. Messages of support can also be emailed to supporterspro@munsterrugby.ie

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Half time collage – the board of good luck messages after signatures were added by the WT faithful, the 2 Niamh’s with the WRWC trophy and some of the tag rugby half-time participants.

Jacob Stockdale thought he had added to his season’s tally of tries in the 44th minute but the TMO confirmed a forward pass in the lead up so it was dis-allowed. Jack was replaced by Jean Deysel who packed down at 8 for the subsequent scrum, showing his versatility.

A turnover won by Rory Best was kicked downfield, resulting in a 5m lineout for Munster deep in their own half. Rory Scannell put in a great clearance kick to bring play back towards halfway. Abrie Griesel of Young Munster came on for Angus after 50 minutes while Ulster also made several changes including Best for a HIA. Trimble made a super break and almost got to the line with McCloskey in support. Munster were penalised and Paddy Jackson took the three points of offer to make it 10-13 in the 52nd minute.

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Abrie tries to block down Ruan’s box kick – photo by Daryl Feehely

We were on our feet cheering when Saili got on the end of a long pass by Rory Scannell, fended off one tackler, sidestepped between three others converging on him before offloading to Keith Earls.

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Saili makes a break – photo by Daryl

Man of the match Keith finished off the move to score a try, putting Munster ahead for the first time (15 -13). The conversion attempt by Tyler went wide.

A second block down of the day by Ruan put the pressure back on the home side. A sliced kick by Zebo compounded the situation and ended up with Ulster regaining the lead through a Luke Marshall try. Rory Scannell had been injured in a tackle leading up to that and had to be helped off. With no back replacements left it was Rhys Marshall who came on with Peter O’Mahony moving into the backline at times. Credit to the team for keeping their defensive shape despite the disruption. A penalty awarded in the 68th minute was kicked to touch. Dave O’Callaghan claimed the lineout. Ulster tried to repel the maul but the Munster pack adjusted and drove forward before going to ground. A few pick and goes later Dave was driven over the line by James Cronin to score the third try for Munster. The successful conversion by Tyler put them back into the lead (22-20.)

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Dave O’Callaghan, driven on by James Cronin scores the decisive third try – photo by Daryl Feehely

A two point lead is always nerve-wrecking. A penalty or drop-goal would see victory snatched away but the clearance kick by Abrie sent the restart back almost to half-way. We got in some good singing practice with another rendition of “Stand up and fight” to encourage the team to see the game out. Ulster seemed to be camped in the Munster half as the clock slowly proceeded past the 75 minute mark. Chants of “Munster, Munster” seemed to give the team a lift during that siege and their discipline was impressive. A tackle by Abrie knocked the ball out of Henderson’s grasp to give Munster a scrum – the ideal way to wind down the clock further I thought! Rhys Marshall packed down as flanker.  One reset got the clock to the 78th minute but then a knock on under pressure from Pienaar handed the put-in back to Ulster for a last throw of the dice. Cool heads were required on the pitch, whatever about on the terraces. Tackles were made, discipline was held as were our breaths. Pienaar passed to Jackson but his attempted drop goal was off target and the final whistle sounded.

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A reminder of the loss suffered by Ulster with the tragic death of Nevin Spence, his father and brother. Photo by Gayl

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam (Andrew Conway ’2), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’67), Keith Earls; Ian Keatley (Tyler Bleyendaal ’44), Angus Lloyd (Abrie Griesel ’51); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’56), Niall Scannell, John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’67); Donnacha Ryan (Dave O’Callaghan ’61), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue (Jean Deysel ’45).

ULSTER: Jacob Stockdale; Andrew Trimble (captain), Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding (Stuart McCloskey ’51), Charles Piutau (Craig Gilroy ’61); Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Andrew Warwick (Callum Black ’63), Rory Best (Rob Herring ’51), Wiehahn Herbst (Rodney Ah You ’74); Kieran Treadwell, Alan O’Connor; Iain Henderson, Chris Henry (Clive Ross ’28 (Robbie Diack ’70)), Sean Reidy.  Replacement not used: Paul Marshall.

Match report from The42.ie is here.

Daryl’s full set of fabulous action and crowd photos are here while more of the ones I took are on the blog Facebook page

Post match thoughts of Rassie Erasmus are here

Simon Zebo was wearing the player microphone and passed a comment about “watching too much UFC” when there was a scuffle! While he was telling Angus to get the ball away quickly at one point he also apologised for getting in his way.

Two tough games with different combinations tried as they dealt with unexpected injuries (to Tyler last week and Rory this week) will hopefully stand to Munster who will need to raise the intensity and accuracy to a higher level next weekend as the stats show.

Stats

Stats from ESPN

The full game without commentary is available here – you can hear the players and referee more clearly as a result and get a sense of how many “assistant” referees are on the pitch as the players tell him about knock-ons and other infringements throughout. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyXJ8INiWew

The social side

Eamon shortened the journey to Limerick as he was glad of a lift again. On the terrace Mike kindly gave me his spot by the wall. We were not sure whether to slag or congratulate Paul who told us that his wife had “let” him off to the game despite preparing to host lunch for 24 the following day! George arrived with some friends and I was delighted to hear that he had already encouraged them to check out this blog 😊 so looking forward to some hits from Perth and other places closer to home.

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Daryl’s latest photo of the early arrivals on the WT. There was some messing going on at the time..

Driving to work on Thursday morning I got a shock when over the radio I recognised Tony’s voice, followed by my own, Imelda, then James and finally the sales pitch by Conor Murray to advertise that the Supporters Club is open for new members! It would have been very cool to get a photo with the four of us and Conor but we got the next best thing in the MRSC bar after the game before the Munster Monster Quiz.

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Team Waterford with 3/4s of the Players team – with Conor, Darren and Mark. Photos by Linda Molloy

Also on the players team were Ronan O’Mahony, Darren O’Shea and Mark Chisholm. I expect the latter two will be involved with the A team in their B&I Cup final on Friday night so I wished Darren well and told him I would be down to cheer them on.

Last season I had been on a Waterford team with Dee and Bruce, friends from MRSC Dublin. They did not need my “services” this time (any link between that and their improvement from 3rd to 2nd?) but they put me in touch with another Waterford team made up of Claire and Eleanor who welcomed Imelda and I to join them. The first round was going well till we lost points on the sinbin question. We had a great second round but faded away in the end. We seemed to pick the wrong option, often after narrowing it down to a 50:50 choice – be it the number of yards for the record penalty kick – between 66 and 72 yards were the 4 options but sure aren’t we metric ladies! Similarly for the number of people who set the Guinness book of record for the largest scrum – the local papers had apparently said over 2,000 but that was not an option. Oh well, we had a laugh and learnt a few things 😊

Before the quiz started I met Paul who will be a few rows behind me in the Aviva next Saturday and caught up with Geraldine. I even got a bear-hug from Mr Chips who had left Belfast at 9.30 for the trek to Limerick and will be back again for the Connacht game. He knows the road well at this stage. Dave Kearney came over to talk to Eleanor and Claire who introduced me. He did not recognise me at first but then the penny dropped and he was very complimentary about my writing which is always nice to hear.

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Joanne from the bar enjoyed photobombing our team photo!

Imelda continues to impress with her latest sewing projects – this is a flag which Eddie and Bernie have taken to all the European Cup finals so for the semi it has been upgraded with details of the silverware won and a tribute to Axel.  It should be some sea of red as the #RedWave hits Dublin on Saturday.  Safe travels to all and good luck to the A team on Friday and the senior team on Saturday.

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Imelda shows the flag she upgraded for Eddie and Bernie. Hope it brings the team luck. Photo by Gayl