Much has changed in the week since I wrote about bragging rights. Of the four Irish provinces in European Cup action this weekend Ulster and Leinster won, Connacht, despite a great effort came up short against the might and budget of Saracens while Munster suffered a major setback against Edinburgh who had won only 1 of their 5 league games to date this season. However after losing to Munster for 6 games in a row (last winning in Sept 2011) maybe Edinburgh had the greater hunger. Isn’t that why we love sport? If there were no upsets, no highs like the Harlequins quarterfinal or the Northampton pool games, or lows like this weekend would it be too predictable? Not that it makes it easier to swallow, consistency is a word you consistently hear talked about in all sports.
Munster, the new younger squad are still a work in progress and no one is more disappointed about the game than the players and management themselves. I arrived at the airport too early to check in so was sitting on a bench when the Munster group arrived. Rob Penney sat on the other end of the bench, working hard on his laptop. We exchanged a few words, he was gracious but it wasn’t the time for a deep discussion or to plug my blog. The players looked physically and mentally / emotionally drained. James Coughlan was wearing a sling. They know they let themselves down and will be desperate to make amends and get their campaign back on track next Saturday.
Check-in was very slow. At 6pm I joined the Dublin line which was beside the Munster team one. Donncha O’Callaghan was last in that queue. I decided to say hello, telling him I had had my photo taken with him during the World Cup in 2003 in Australia, and looking for a positive topic, congratulating him on his good efforts as Ambassador for UNICEF. He was very genuine, appreciative of the support as I said I would be in Thomond next weekend, very disappointed about the game… What came across was his humility, hence the blog title. Donncha would play for Munster for free, he would and does willingly put his body on the line for the jersey, his team mates and supporters. He feels privileged to do this for a living and this is not unique to Donncha. Isn’t that the attitude which has endeared Munster to our hearts for so many years, that drives us to turn up in numbers, home and away? Over 15 times a season I drive from Dublin to Limerick or Cork to support them rather than watching on TV. One bad day at the office is not going to make me write them off. Nor do I believe in kicking a guy while he is down. Anyway, off my soapbox… I asked for a photo and he duly obliged as did the stranger in front of me in my queue who took the picture.
She was travelling with her 10 year old son and teenage daughter from the Shetland Islands to Cork for their midterm break. They were very curious about the unknown “celebrities” in their midst, so I explained how Munster was the southern province of Ireland. They automatically became Munster supporters based on having an Aunty Mary in Dunmanway, Cork and spent the next 10 minutes goading each other to ask Donncha for a photo also – yes the queue was that slow-moving, there were only a handful of people in front of us but it took ages! I was impressed by how well the children pronounced Donncha, unlike many TV commentators in the early days of his career. Anyway he finished checking in and was heading away while the kids were still trying to get up their courage to approach him so I spoke up and called his name. Fair dues he graciously posed with them for a photo and some small talk and they were delighted. Their cousins will surely be jealous!
All credit to Edinburgh, they fully deserved their win, yet the game was finely balanced up until the 68th minute. But let’s go back to the beginning which for me was Dublin airport for the 8.05 Ryanair departure. The majority of the passengers were Munster supporters, some of whom had travelled up from Cork, Limerick, Galway, etc. As we walked out to board, John, originally met on the return flight after the Harlequins quarter-final let me know he has been following my blog since. Great to meet him and his friends again. It is always funny to hear things back from people that they read in my blog, generally my travel itinerary, but it proves they read it 🙂
It was pleasant, walking around Princes Street soaking up the sunshine and atmosphere. I justified my mid morning tea and cake at Patisserie Valerie by telling myself I had eaten breakfast over 4 hours earlier, before taking a bus out to the stadium. There were plenty of Munster supporters there ahead of me including a group in Santa onesies! I wonder if they were the same guys we saw bare-chested in the second half on the big screen with the letters spelling out Munster on their chest? Whoever they were they must have had their Readybrek as it was pretty cold by then. Some of the Edinburgh supporters also dressed for the occasion in wigs and kilts. Not sure why one of them was a leprechaun…
The central section entry was reserved but when you walked in the next entrance you could move across as it was free seating, so of course people gravitated to the centre only to be moved on by stewards. When I got there my west terrace friends had already been moved twice and when they were asked to move for the third time an impasse developed until finally they moved to the edge of that section. It was about half an hour later before any Edinburgh fans arrived and the first one came alone in a red jacket. You can see in the picture below the empty reserved section. We were there before the warm up started!
It was good to see Peter O’Mahony on the pitch along with Johne Murphy, assisting with the warm-up. Zebo had his calf taped up and was entertaining the crowd, catching one kick behind his back. While the players were in the changing rooms the Marines rappelled down from the roof to deliver the match ball while youngsters waving flags formed a guard of honour for the players.
Edinburgh started very well, their number 12 Max Scott was threatening our defence and scored the first try of the game in the 5th minute so we knew we had a game on our hands. Their captain Greig Laidlaw converted, his conversion going in off the upright. He followed that with a penalty before Munster got on the board after a lovely break by Earls after 15 minutes yielded a penalty.
A great block down by Donnacha Ryan led to the first Munster try, after Coughlan and Kilcoyne’s attacks had been repelled the ball was quickly recycled and touched down by Casey Laulala to level the scores. However almost immediately a penalty was awarded to Edinburgh. Laidlaw had a lucky day with the boot as this kick also went in off the post. Munster won a free kick from a scrum, Coughlan and then Downey carried well before Sherry pounced for the try and Munster were back in front until Edinburgh reduced the deficit to a point when awarded another penalty before taking the lead with yet another penalty. Keatley made a great break but ran out of support. Edinburgh defended their line resolutely to go in slightly ahead at the break.
There was a lot of work to be done at half time to smooth out the pitch which was cutting up badly especially at scrum time. The second half kickoff was not gathered by Edinburgh on the restart and unfortunately bounced out of play. It was just going to be one of those days, a lineout which had been working well this season became a liability, balls were kicked out on the full, twice the ball popped out at the back of a scrum and was turned over by Edinburgh, balls were knocked on like it was a pre-season game… There seemed to be a general malaise impacting the team.
Munster clawed back 2 penalties to go 4 points clear with 15 minutes left but the game had taken its toll. Paddy Butler and James Downey had both been bandaged up in the first half and were replaced in the second. Then Jones went off to be replaced by Hanrahan. Niall Ronan suffered a head injury and was replaced shortly after by Donncha O’Callaghan. Zebo pulled up injured and was replaced by Williams, reminiscent of Ireland v Italy in the 6 nations with the backline decimated by injuries.
The TMO had 2 looks at the Edinburgh decisive try, first to confirm that Max Scott had been in the air trying to block JJ Hanrahan’s chip and hence unable to avoid colliding with him as he chased after the ball and secondly to confirm the pass to Tim Visser who scored was not forward. Laidlaw converted and Munster had to look for a converted try to regain the lead but it was not to be. Laidlaw celebrated his birthday with victory and a Man of the Match award. This may well be a turning point for Edinburgh’s season. We will be hoping Murrayfield proves to be such a fortress when our pool opponents visit in the coming rounds.
EDINBURGH: 15. Jack Cuthbert, 14. Douglas Fife, 13. Nick De Luca, 12. Matt Scott, 11. Tim Visser, 10. Harry Leonard, 9. Greig Laidlaw (capt), 1. Alasdair Dickinson, 2. Ross Ford, 3. Willem NEL, 4. Grant Gilchrist, 5. Sean Cox, 6. Dimitri Basilaia, 7. Cornell Du Preez, 8. David Denton, 16. Aleki Lutui, 17. Lodewicus Blaauw, 18. Geoff Cross, 19. Ollie Atkins, 20. Roddy Grant, 21. Sean Kennedy, 22. Joaquin Dominguez, 23. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
MUNSTER: 15. Felix Jones, 14. Keith Earls, 13. Casey Laulala, 12. James Downey, 11. Simon Zebo, 10. Ian Keatley, 9. Conor Murray, 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Mike Sherry, 3. Stephen Archer, 4. Donnacha Ryan, 5. Paul O’Connell (capt), 6. Paddy Butler, 7. Niall Ronan, 8. James Coughlan,
16. Damien Varley, 17. James Cronin, 18. BJ Botha, 19. Donncha O’Callaghan, 20. CJ Stander, 21. Duncan Williams, 22. JJ Hanrahan, 23. Denis Hurley.