T’was a lovely summers day in Autumn, with the temperature hitting 21C as I drove to Limerick for the first derby of this season. The majority of the blue flagged cars in the city were not an invasion of Leinster fans but the Clare faithful celebrating their recent All Ireland hurling success. Walking across the Shannon, King Johns castle looked great in the sunshine. There was a strong breeze blowing as I crossed the bridge but it was lovely to be out and about in my red jersey and not wrapped up in rain gear!
The game was not sold out but with ticket sales of 20,646 it was more than double that of the next biggest Pro12 attendance of the weekend. The MRSC handed out red flags which must have had some funding from the new sponsor as their logo was included on the new design! Blue clad and flag bearing Leinster supporters were also visible in pockets around the stadium. We arrived about an hour before kick-off and watched Romain Poite go through his warm up stretches in front of us.
Alan Quinlan was MC for the evening and pre match he had a chat with John O’Neill, former Munster winger (who retired in 2003) on the occasion of his 40th birthday. He also interviewed Billy Holland, I felt sorry for Billy being asked about competition in the squad given he was a “victim” of that since he was not selected. At half time Alan introduced world champion 50km race walker Rob Heffernan and his family to a warm reception. Rob looked tiny beside Alan!
There are not so many Irish world stars in any discipline so it is great to acknowledge one of our own, a proud Corkman, who secured gold in Russia in July after his heartbreak of finishing 4th in the London Olympics last year.
The game was fiercely contested. Strong pressure on restarts and excellent chasing of garryowens by Earls and Zebo (either challenging in the air or timing their tackle perfectly when the catcher had landed) kept the pressure on Leinster. Munster appeared to be the team most likely to score a try but strong defence on both sides and some errors ensured there was little opportunity to make the breakthrough.
We almost got in on the action ourselves as a massive clearance kick by Zebo came into our section of the terrace. Leinster took the lead with an early penalty. Initially scrum advantage went to Munster with Leinster penalised for pushing too early. Donnacha Ryan took a great inside pass from Keatley to make good ground but Leinster turned over the ball and sent us back to our own half. A few minutes later there was great handling between Laulala, Zebo, Downey, Ryan and Jones but again Leinster turned over possession and from the resultant counter attack secured a penalty on the halfway line which Ian Madigan just failed to convert.
Archer earned a turnover from a maul while Niall Ronan secured another in the first quarter. However Leinster took a 6-0 lead from a scrum collapse penalty against Archer. Then Munster won the next scrum penalty and Keatley stepped up to convert it to bring them to 3-6 just approaching the half hour mark before the game burst into life with excellent kick through by Keatley and chase by Earls and Keatley to secure the ball near the Leinster line. Ian Madigan came in from the side and was sinbinned. The atmosphere was electric as Munster turned the screw. Opting for the lineout, when the maul was repelled, Earls gathered the cross field kick from Keatley which seemed to hang in the air an age while the Leinster defence scrambled but he side stepped Kearney to score the only try of the game which Keatley converted and Munster took the lead, 10-6.
Peter O’Mahony’s head injury just before half time was a concern. When he was rolled onto his back the crowd applauded to show their relief. He played on for the remaining 2 minutes, watching Fergus McFadden take the final penalty of the half to bring Leinster back to within a point. However CJ Stander replaced O’Mahony for the second half and put in a good shift, making some trademark carries. As Donncha O’Callaghan was busy warming up during the break I thought he may be coming on at 6 or to move Ryan to the backrow but it wasn’t until the last quarter that he was unleashed on the field, putting in at least one of his trademark choke tackles to win a turnover.
The second half featured several rousing renditions of “Stand Up and Fight” and “The Fields of Athenry” as cheers greeted every good tackle, counter attack and turnover by the team in red. Duncan Williams made some important tackles before he was replaced on 52 minutes by Conor Murray, making his first start of the season. It was good to see him come through it given he had to wear a protective boot earlier in the week. There was booing when Poite awarded a penalty against Archer for blocking Madigan, continuing our poor relationship with that referee which dates back to the 2008 game against the All Blacks and since then included a sinbinning for O’Connell apparently for dissent.. Hopefully we won’t have him too often this season.
James Cronin came on as a second half sub alongside Damien Varley and the next scrum marched Leinster back to earn a penalty which Keatley converted to take the score to 19-15 on 63 minutes. Munster kept up the pressure, aiming to play out the game in the Leinster half but they had other ideas.
Lote Tuqiri, a 3 month signing for Leinster did not get much opportunity with the ball in the first half but he almost changed the game on his own in the last quarter, first with a break which tested the Munster defence before a late solo run on 73 minutes from their 5m line to past half way before his hamstring gave out and the Munster defence scrambled to clear the danger. Munster ended the game walking the Leinster pack backward through the final scrum of the game and the bragging rights had been secured for the first time in 5 games. This will make it easier to go into work in Dublin on Monday!
As I drove home I realised I was a little hoarse, guess I need to work on my vocal match day fitness :-).
True love on the terrace! That’s one for the West Terrace joked Kevin. A young UL student from Kerry was beside us shouting over to his girlfriend who was on the opposite side of the walkway on half way line as they could not get tickets together. At half time he tried to switch sides but was turned back. We mounted an appeal to the stewards and eventually he was allowed to cross over. The path of true love was made smooth!
Next week the Red Army return to Edinburgh for the start of what may be the final season of the Heineken Cup. While it would appear to be one of the easier first round games, I am sure Munster will not underestimate an Edinburgh side who have not had the best start of the season. I am heading over for an 11 hour day trip to be there, red, loud and proud to ensure we create an atmosphere in the cavernous Murrayfield. Safe traveling to all making the journey.
Thanks to Daryl for the use of his photographs taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dfeehely/sets/72157636244166284/with/10114875514/
Munster: Felix Jones (Denis Hurley 67); Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams (Conor Murray 52); David Kilcoyne (James Cronin 55), Mike Sherry (Damien Varley 55), Stephen Archer (BJ Botha 67); Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (Capt.) (CJ Stander 40), Niall Ronan (Donncha O’Callaghan 63), James Coughlan.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden (Luke Fitzgerald 55), Lote Tuqiri (Jimmy Gopperth 74), Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan (Isaac Boss 55); Cian Healy (Jack McGrath 63), Sean Cronin (Aaron Dundon 67), Mike Ross (Martin Moore 67); Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Kevin McLaughlin (Dominic Ryan 63), Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (Capt.).