Three days in Scotland, there should be plenty of material for a blog from that, although what goes on tour should stay on tour.. or at least have the names changed to protect the “innocent” 🙂
My London based rugby trips generally comprise of a half day in my capacity of a card carrying member of the Red Army and the remainder of the time visiting friends and relations so the actual rugby portion is like a Special Ops mission, parachuting into the area, complete the mission of supporting Munster and dispersing again. My own version of a flash mob! Unlike the flights back to Cork or Limerick, my flight to Dublin would not be full of Munster fans. You are as likely to see as many soccer fans on it, over at a Premiership game.
However, due to the delay in confirming the date and time of Rounds 5 & 6 until after Round 4 is played mid December, it was safer and cheaper in theory to book in September to be there for a potential game on the Friday night, Saturday lunchtime, afternoon or evening or Sunday lunchtime or afternoon. Hence I found myself on a 8am flight to Glasgow on the Friday morning with a return from Edinburgh on that Sunday night. I could not bring myself to book the 6.30am Friday morning flight direct to Edinburgh…it seemed inhumane to get up at 4am. The 2 hour train journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh was much more civilised. The half price train fare due to holding a Ryanair boarding pass just about made up for the annoying trumpet blast when we arrived ahead of schedule.
Packing for the trip required a lot of planning especially as I intended to carry my backpack to the match and head directly to the airport after the game. The weather forecast was carefully studied and while there were differences between the various forecasters one thing was clear. Thermals were definitely required!
There were other Munster supporters on the flight and at Dublin airport. I had read on the fans forum of people travelling by plane, train and ferry from Ireland, the continent and various locations throughout the UK. The advance party travelled on the Thursday, the number swelled on the Friday and by Saturday there was a distinctive red feel to Edinburgh with more who made it a day trip flying in on the Sunday for the game. There was an expectation that Munster fans would account for the majority of supporters at the stadium, creating almost a home atmosphere although the final attendance figure of 6,220 in the 67,000 seater stadium meant that it lacked the intensity of Thomond for a Heineken Cup fixture.
Edinburgh is a lovely city with plenty of interesting places to visit, shop and take refreshments. There was talk of exploring some of the area, a day trip to Gretna Green perhaps but instead we explored the old and new sides of the city. We were surprised to find that you were not allowed to take a photo of the Castle holding a (Munster) flag or emblem and at the level of security at the bars also – people were asked to take off their woolly hats to enter one bar while another would not let someone enter in a soccer hoodie although Munster branded clothing had no such issue. It was surprising to many of the locals to see so many Munster fans in town, they seemed unaware of the game – when it was on or who was playing. We visited several establishments throughout the day, watching the Connacht game in one, the Leinster game in another and parts of the Saracens game in a third. There was a good crowd of Munster supporters most places we went, wearing all types of Red Army jackets, hats, scarfs, jerseys..a montage of home and away kits from seasons past while some travelled incognito – probably assigned a covert mission. Smart phones were used to track down friends by text message or to see where they had “checked in” on Facebook or used as a handheld sat nav when a turn was missed.
We had a good singsong in a quiet bar on the Saturday night as part of our final preparations for the game. The designated driver received free soft drinks from the bar to keep lubricated…. even though the car was parked at Dublin airport! The barman who was from County Down joined in for a chorus of the “Black Velvet Band” and we were the last to leave when they shut promptly at 1am.
Sunday morning when I woke up it was still dry but from about 8.30 snow flakes began to fall and continued to fall for about 3 hours. There were a few flakes falling during the warm-up, hence the front rows in the stadium were not so full as those seats were wet and there was a risk of getting caught if the snow or rain returned. The snow did not lodge in the city but when we were on the bus to the airport after the game you could see a light coating of snow on the hills.
We caught the local bus to the Stadium and arrived before it was open, joining the other early birds outside the gates where acquaintances were renewed and the various styles admired. Some supporters went native, sporting kilts and there were plenty of flags.
The gates were opened 90 minutes before kick-off and a decent crowd had gathered by then.
The central section of the East stand was reserved for Edinburgh supporters while the red army flanked them on the right and left. We met some French Erasmus students who were in Edinburgh for the weekend and came along to see the game, happily waving Munster flags. The queue for the hot drinks was very slow but did help warm our hands. I noticed that Simon Zebo must have been feeling the cold also as his socks were not at their customary ankle location but closer to halfway up his calves! There were some late changes to the Edinburgh front row, Munsters bench (Sherry did not make it through the warm-up) and referee. The latter change had an impact on both teams who would have prepared for a game played in the way Romain Poite likes to manage the breakdown, scrum etc. Greg Garner the replacement referee often pinged both sides for not releasing the player after the tackle.
Munster started well winning a penalty to go 3 points up within the first 2 minutes. The forwards dominated especially at scrum time with special kudos to Dave Kilcoyne who won several penalties during the game. They also made great ground via a well executed maul in the early stage of the game. There were some errors, a lineout malfunction, a missed penalty kick to touch…but there was also a more direct approach with less of the touchline to touchline play seen the previous week. The “Fields of Athenry” rang out in the stadium when Munster were under pressure near their try line and “Stand Up and Fight” also had a few renditions. One man demonstrated his impressive lung capacity with very long drawn-out roars of Munsteeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrr from time to time. The PA system did play music during breaks but it was not as bad as the away game to Saracens, not as loud and probably more an attempt to create some noise in the cavernous stadium.
The halftime score was 3-12. Munster ahead by 4 O’Gara penalties to 1 from Laidlaw. The best chance for a try for Munster had come at the end of the first half after some great phases of aggressive play. Some of our optimism of achieving a bonus point win waned but there was still hope. All four of the tries in the home leg in round 2 came in the second half.
At halftime the Edinburgh mascot Flinty challenged 2 young Edinburgh fans to an obstacle course and lost – having to turn around ten times in a row had him all disorientated! Or maybe he had been out the night before trying to infiltrate the Red Army at various hostelries around the city…
Dave Kilcoyne was sent to the sinbin (for tackling the player within 10m after Edinburgh were awarded a penalty) but Munster absorbed the pressure and earned a valuable turnover which O’Gara kicked deep and the covering Edinburgh player then threw a forward pass to give Munster a scrum in a great position.. James Coughlan had to go off to allow a replacement prop Wian du Preez on so Doug Howlett made another successful cameo appearance as a flanker. A chip from Conor Murray for Earls to gather was batted out of play by Laidlaw who was given 10 minutes in the sinbin for his efforts and Munster were awarded a penalty. They converted that to a penalty try after a controlled scrum featuring Captain Howlett.
A few scrums later I saw Simon Zebo having a go in the back row to add to his abilities at 11 and 15. He seemed to play at first receiver at some stages also so very versatile and it is great to have him contracted to Munster for the next 3 seasons at least.
When Conor Murray scored the second try with almost 20 mins left, the bonus point win seemed a lot more achievable than it had at half time. However, despite good possession and position the attacks seemed to fizzle out. Munster in fact became frustrated and a fracas developed. Substitutions were made to bring on fresh legs and there was a discernible increase of pace but mistakes were made and it got a bit frantic when control was required. In the last ten minutes it was Edinburgh who scored twice to make the result a much closer one at 26-17.
After the game it was good to see the players and subs come over to the East Stand to show their appreciation for the efforts of the supporters who had made the journey.
The supporters began to disperse, many were heading away that evening while others were staying another night in Edinburgh. There was a muted atmosphere in the Departures area. While the team played much better than the last 2 games there was a sense that we had left something behind. Thoughts turned to permutations and calculations, where did the result leave us? Would we qualify for the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup, the Amlin Cup or not at all? Would Racing Metro send a strong team to Thomond next week or save themselves for their domestic competition? Would O’Gara be cited for kicking Cox or any of the other players who became embroiled in the subsequent brawl? He was cited on Monday and we have to wait till Thursday to learn his fate – will he be cleared or how long a ban may he receive…
The final pool game is next Sunday lunchtime, by which stage we will have a very good idea of what is required as many of the other pools will be completed. A win is required, a bonus point win would be preferable and the numbers of trys scored may also be relevant in determining which teams qualify as the best placed runners up. Should we be successful in qualifying for the quarter finals we would have till April to refine the game plan, hopefully welcome back Paul O’Connell after his surgery and register CJ Stander for the knock-out stages to give us more backrow options. The weather for next weekend looks to be wet which will not be ideal but we have had some practice lately! I’ll be there on the West Terrace to see how events unfold…
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