There was a sense of deja vue, heading to Cork for the second year in a row for a pre-season friendly against London Irish with some key differences.
- This season we will miss the stalwarts O’Gara and Howlett who contributed so much to Munster. If you missed my tribute to the two players check out my blog from May.
- Penney has had a year to bed in as coach and we expect to see more of his game plan being executed this season.
- A new batch of younger players, were looking to take advantage as the internationals are a few weeks behind the other squad members in their pre-season training.
- Last year I was not attending with one eye out for content for my blog.
I was delighted to see a sizeable number of supporters queuing up to buy tickets as I walked up to the Sundays Well gate at Musgrave Park on Friday evening. The decent weather and reasonable ticket prices encouraged people to turn up resulting in a good crowd for the second and final pre-season friendly. There were a lot of youngsters on the terrace, many of whom were as excited to be at this game as if it were a crucial Heineken cup game. I am sure some throats were a little worse for wear afterwards! The London Irish team featured two well known faces at 9 and 10 , local man Tomas O’Leary and Ian Humphries formerly of Ulster.
A light drizzle started before the game but thankfully passed off and at one stage sunglasses were needed on the east terrace. There was a strong breeze blowing at times. Munster lined out in their new away navy jerseys and started with a less experienced pack than the previous week. London Irish were first to score, a penalty converted by Humphries. While Munster looked more threatening, more likely to score a try in the first half they could not finish off a number of promising moves. The backline played well, Cian Bohane, a late replacement for Ivan Dineen at number 12, continued to show impressive pace and skills as did Ronan O’Mahony on the wing while Cathal Sheridan also enhanced his reputation. The scrum struggled at times. It was interesting to see the referee David Wilkinson crouching down often to ensure the ball was being fed in straight, a focus area for refs this season given the new scrum engagement process.
Munster beefed up the experience of the pack during the second half with the introduction of Donncha, Coughlan, Ronan, Botha, Stander, Sherry and Holland. Young prop James Cronin acquitted himself well. Even though London Irish pulled ahead to 13-3 with their second penalty and a converted try, Munster grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and laid siege to the line. After several good phases Ronan O’Mahony scored, JJ could not convert but shortly after scored and converted his own try to give Munster the lead for the first time in the game. There was still time for O’Mahony to score twice more to bring the full time score to 27-13 and the Jack Wakefield commemorative trophy was regained by Munster.
A lot of talk leading into this season has been about the loss through retirement of Ronan O’Gara (#10) and Doug Howlett (#14). Last night there was another Ronan at #14 on display and after scoring a hat trick in the second half he certainly has put his hand up for promotion to the senior team this season. He had so much pace, chasing down kicks and running good support lines, busy in attack and defence. He almost scored more than the hattrick, being involved in a lot of promising moves throughout the game. With Andrew Conway also targeting the number 14 jersey and Luke O’Dea still to come back from injury there will be great competition for places. JJ Hanrahan started the second half at 10, scoring a try for the second week in a row as well as attacking the gain line and making great passes to be involved in a lot that was good in the second half. Both he and Ian Keatley keep defences guessing as they are as likely to break themselves as to pass and hence provide more options for the gameplan this season. Johnny Holland has also featured as a sub in both friendlies and is being groomed as the third choice outhalf. He will likely see a lot of action in British and Irish Cup this season for Munster A.
It was good to see Rory Scannell come on for the last few minutes to make his senior debut for Munster. I thought he was quite impressive for the Ireland under 20s in the 6 nations and junior world cup and will be another to watch in the B&I Cup.
The biggest concern of the night was seeing BJ Botha be helped from the pitch with a knee injury towards the end of the game. Early indications are that he will be out for at least a month. More will be known after the scan is done.
All in all, the pre-season series has been successful, winning both games, scoring some great tries. The players were able to work on their match fitness, the younger players took their opportunities and provided the coach with good selection options, the supporters are excited about our prospects for the season ahead. Next week Edinburgh come to Musgrave Park for the first of four encounters for the second season in a row. Let’s hope the team kicks on from the second half of this game and lay down a marker for the season ahead.
Munster released a silent movie of about 7 minutes of highlights from the game – see Munster v London Irish Aug 2013
The poll from last week is open for another week and while the gap has narrowed the East side remains ahead as the best place to be in Thomond to watch games.
Munster: Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Mahony, Casey Laulala, Cian Bohane, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Cathal Sheridan, John Ryan, Damien Varley Capt., Stephen Archer; Dave Foley, Ian Nagle; Dave O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler.
Replacements from: Mike Sherry, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, CJ Stander, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Rory Scannell, Johnny Holland.