Two weeks ago I included details of the poll to find the best rugby stadium in the world which was won by Thomond. The same site is now running a competition to find the best rugby supporters and currently Gloucester are a few votes ahead of Munster at the top of the table, which adds extra spice to our home and away encounters in this years Heineken Cup. You can find the details and vote here:
I also thought some of you might enjoy reading Jerry Flannery’s blog looking ahead to this season with his unique view on other rugby commentators and analysts.
I am delighted that my collaboration with Daryl Feehely is continuing this season as his photos really bring the game to life. It is hard to decide which shots to include but you can view his collection of 88 from this game here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dfeehely/sets/72157635451054491/.
The 2013/14 rugby season got under way this weekend in conjunction with a new climatic season as temperatures plummeted from the mid 20s to just 10C! Armed with my new season ticket, in my car adorned with my new MRSC sticker, I set off for Cork. I was sorry I had not packed my new MRSC snood also but at least the heavy rain experienced at times on the drive down from Dublin via Thurles did not make it as far as Musgrave Park where Munster kicked off their campaign against Edinburgh, in their first of 4 encounters this season.
A good crowd of 6,810 were there, yet you could only hear a dog barking in the distance during the goal kicking. I wonder though why we do not have singing at Musgrave Park? I thought Cork people were renowned for their musicality? During the stoppages and resets it would have been good to have a bit of a singsong going… The crowd were pretty vocal though, and let the Italian referee know of their displeasure with some of his decisions! When the ball was kicked into the West Stand at one stage it bounced up and hit a young fella earning a sympathetic “ow” from the crowd followed by a round of applause when he collected the ball and threw it back to the ballboy. On the East terrace there you can get even closer to the action than the West terrace in Thomond. At one stage I could hear James Coughlan roaring to the assistant ref that the Edinburgh player was offside. the assistant ref must have needed to get a hearing test at Specsavers as he did not react 🙂
The early exchanges were lively, including a lovely break by Dougal, who popped up the ball for Murphy as he was tackled, the latter’s pass was just too low for Keatley to hold to the disappointment of the crowd. Edinburgh scored first from a penalty but Munster responded well with Keatley taking out a few defenders before passing basketball style to Denis Hurley who just made the line in the corner after being tackled as confirmed by the TMO.
The second try earned gasps of amazement and admiration from the crowd watching the replay on the big screen – a lovely kick through by Johne Murphy was chased down by Ronan O’Mahony who flicked it backwards into the grateful arms of the supporting James Coughlan…an audacious backheel flick à la Zebo or lucky break? View it and decide for yourself but added to his hat trick last week his reputation is growing!
So half way to a bonus point, quarter of an hour into the game, spirits were high. Donncha O’Callaghan was surprised to be penalised for trying to clear out a ruck with his shoulder, then Sherry was penalised for going offside at a subsequent breakdown, giving Edinburgh another chance to kick at goal, bringing the score to 15-6. Coughlan was tackled in the air as he collected a cross field kick from Keatley which resulted in a yellow card for Lee Jones.
Munster missed the 3 points on offer from the penalty but made the extra man count later to score their third try from close range by James Cronin, on his first league start for Munster. The TMO was again required to confirm that grounding was achieved as it was difficult to see the ball with the defenders trying to get underneath it.
My first ever experience of a TMO being asked to check for foul play occurred early in the second half when a scrum collapsed and with players grappling on the ground, others joined in the “handbags”. Usually at games the big screen blanks out and you don’t see the replays from various angles but this time we saw the replays along with the TMO who decided it was inconclusive and no cards were shown. It could be useful but on this occasion it just led to another break in play in an at times disjointed game.
Shortly after the restart Nick de Luca scored under the posts and brought the score to 22-13, but Munster responded immediately taking advantage of an Edinburgh kick out on the full and from the resulting lineout, quick hands by Williams, Cronin, Coughlan, Williams again to Keatley who threw another looping pass – avoiding the intercept – to Dineen who scored in the corner. That passage of play highlighted a lot of what was noticeably better than last season – quick recycling of the ball, good hands and great support lines, leading to much better continuity and creating space, eliminating the side to side passages of play with no penetration.
Competition is driving up standards within the team, as evidenced by Duncan Williams having one of his best games for Munster, Johne Murphy in his newlook white helmet was on fire – imperious under the high ball, coming into the line in midfield demonstrating his hunger for work, setting up the second try, chasing and tackling everything, while Cronin made some very impressive carries, bouncing off defenders and putting it up to Dave Kilcoyne to take the shirt back off him!
Coach Rob Penney said during the week that he has a (good) selection headache deciding on who to register for the Heineken Cup squad and on the evidence of the past few weeks this is a genuine issue and not just a soundbite.
I can’t recall seeing the Munster front row replaced en masse before but it happened last night, in fact it was good to see all the subs used and to see Kilcoyne and O’Donnell return to action after their delayed pre-season. JJ Hanrahan replaced Keatley on 64 minutes and continued to keep the pressure on Ian, scoring his third try in the last 3 games after a well timed run onto Sheridan’s pass. Ivan Dineen had a fine game but was injured in the buildup to that try and was replaced by Cian Bohane who had impressed last week.
Some loose tackling was punished when Jones scored the second try of the night for Edinburgh. At 34-23 with ten minutes left Edinburgh went looking for at least a losing bonus point and tested the Munster defence. Cheers rewarded O’Donnell’s great tackle, stopping Tonks breaking through the defence after a turnover. Munster looked to control the final few minutes of the game. The clock on the scoreboard showed 80 minutes had elapsed so Cathal kicked the ball out of play but to everyone in red’s dismay the Italian referee advised there were 2 minutes left and Edinburgh kept up the pressure. I expect steps will be taken to ensure that this does not happen again! Hurley secured the final turn-over for Munster and Hanrahan kicked out the ball to bring the game to a close.
It was interesting to hear in Keatley’s MOTM interview that Munster focused on ball skills in their 8 week preseason, they are definitely reaping the rewards. Even in the wet of the Gloucester friendly their handling skills did seem better than last season.
As I drove home through the rain which started again at the toll plaza, I reflected that the season was off to an encouraging start. It is good to be second in the league table, behind Leinster only on points difference. Those tries conceded will be addressed and more of the senior players have yet to return to action to further strengthen the team.
I also decided to book the day trip from Dublin to Edinburgh for the Heineken Cup game in October – €95 return. One of the few benefits of being a Dublin based member of the Red Army. 🙂
Munster are away to the two Italian clubs for the coming games. After their humiliation against Treviso in Italy last season this will be a good early test of their progress. Bon voyage to all.
Munster team: Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Mahony, Casey Laulala, Ivan Dineen (Cian Bohane 70), Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 64), Duncan Williams (Cathal Sheridan 54), James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne 60), Mike Sherry (Damien Varley 60), Stephen Archer (John Ryan 60); Dave Foley, Donncha O’Callaghan (Billy Holland 54); Dave O’Callaghan (Tommy O’Donnell 54), Sean Dougall, James Coughlan Capt.