Last February I titled a blog “Stuck at 6th” and it seemed to jinx the team as they remained stuck at 6th for the remainder of the season so this blog is called “Top of the Table” in the hope that it will be a positive jinx this season! While the game on Saturday was not the greatest, if in August we had been offered top spot at this stage of the league we would have been happy to take it and 6 wins from 7 but we would have liked a bit more to cheer about on Saturday. Both teams were missing first choice players due to call ups for the Autumn Internationals but this was a top of the table game so the stakes were high.
Conditions were far from ideal and I had first hand experience of it as I formed part of the flag bearing guard of honour as the teams emerged from the dressing rooms at the start of the game. The MRSC committee sit in front of our usual location on the west terrace and asked Imelda to take part so she roped me in and young Stephen also agreed to participate since he would have us for company. We were given wristbands to authorise us to enter the pitch so at 7pm we made our way to the pitch to collect our flags and await further instructions.
I hoped it would stay dry for our walk and luckily it did but we had to watch our step as the pitch was very wet and slippery after all the rain, and we did not have studs on our footwear. It would have been embarrassing to fall flat on our faces but we got around to the east side without incident. As we walked behind the goal posts you could really feel the wind, we had been sheltered on the west side. There was a small crowd on the South terrace while the North terrace was closed. We stood along the side line while the teams finished their warm-up. The wind was swirling and our hands were frozen but hypothermia did not set in and I managed to send a tweet from the pitch. Then we formed a guard of honour along the 10m line while the MRSC choir and Jean Wallace took to the pitch for a rendition of Stand Up and Fight.
Shortly after the choir finished the Ospreys emerged and then it was time for Munster led by their Captain for the game Damien Varley with the 2 mascots. It was great to hear the roar from the crowd to welcome them and to see the players run onto the pitch up close, some looking skyward as they said a prayer. Then it was time to leave the pitch and march along the side around by the north terrace and back to our positions. Tony had kept our places in the front row so we excused ourselves through the crowd near the entrance who probably thought we were just pushy late arrivals!
Munster made a good start with a penalty from a scrum infringement. CJ Stander carried well and combined with Ronan O’Mahony to win a turnover for the 2nd penalty attempt which unfortunately sailed across the posts. Dave O’Callaghan made a great blockdown in the first quarter which lead to the 2nd successful penalty for Munster to bring the score to 6-0.
Excellent mauling towards the end of the first half got Munster into a good position and the crowd roared them on. A knock-on gave the scrum to Ospreys but the ball ricocheted out to be claimed by Duncan Williams and Ivan Dineen took the pass from Keatley to score under the posts.
However the TMO was asked to confirm that the scrum had been completed successfully and he advised that it had not as the ball came out the same channel it had gone in so the try was disallowed. This decision was met with groans and there were no further scores in the first half.
During halftime the Wallace brothers were interviewed on the pitch in recognition of their fundraising cycle for CROSS and there was a game of mini rugby. BJ Botha was injured midway through the first half and did not return after half time, John Ryan taking his place as Stephen Archer was not released by the IRFU.
Munster squandered a good break deep into the Ospreys 22 after the restart with a pass intercepted which brought play deep into Munster territory. The TMO was again called into action to review whether Ospreys managed to ground the ball to take the lead but it was judged to be a penalty to Munster as the player did not release the ball in the tackle. Shortly afterwards Keatley missed a long-range penalty attempt but soon made up for it to bring the score to 9-3 as the freezing rain poured down. Sheridan replaced Williams and his quick pass got things moving. Coughlan replaced Dougall (Stander remained at 8) before Hanrahan replaced Keatley.
Johne Murphy kicked ahead but was tackled late by Dirksen. There was a stand-off while the Referee discussed the situation with the Assistant Referee, Coughlan and Donncha waited on the 22 for the penalty to be confirmed, despite the Referee calling them back to midway. From the awarded penalty Hanrahan brought the score to 12-3 to ensure the Ospreys would need to score twice to win with 12 minutes remaining. Ospreys had an opportunity to reduce the deficit with a penalty shortly afterwards but Morgan completely miskicked it. Billy Holland replaced Dave O’Callaghan while James Cronin replaced Dave Kilcoyne for the last 10 minutes. Ospreys lined up a dropgoal attempt. Ronan O’Mahony who had a good game including some great tackles and an excellent take of a pass just behind him, unfortunately was judged to have carried the ball over the line, conceding a 5m scrum and from a subsequent penalty a losing bonus point was salvaged by the Ospreys so it ended up 12-6.
Yes there were handling errors, hospital passes and broken lines of communication – going for the same high ball or passing the ball behind players into touch – but there were also some good points. Defence was good, with no tries conceded for the second week in a row.
Of the junior players, Dave Foley had an excellent game, dominating the line out, it was good to see Dave O’Callaghan playing again, John Ryan did well, Ivan Dineen also made some good breaks and important tackles, and it was good to CJ Stander getting a run of games. It will be interesting to see how new signing Van den Heever will fit into the side when the league resumes in 3 weeks as both Johne and Ronan are in good form with Conway and Zebo to return from injury.
We missed Kevin’s baritone to get a bit of a singsong going. I even kicked off a rendition of SUAF in the second half, thankfully Imelda joined in and then a few others but the atmosphere was somewhat muted. Some of the MRSC committee launched into “Lean on me” in tribute to Varley (see below) but the most notable crowd participation consisted of groans as another handling error or reset scrum slowed down the game which became a slow handclap in the second half as the crowds frustration with the Referee grew.
Damien Varley got the Man of the Match award, “he learnt from the best” quipped Jerry Flannery, former Munster hooker. Some near me thought that the TMO Jude Quinn deserved it he had such an influence on the game!
Young Stephen was impressed that I wrote a blog, but I don’t think he really knew what that meant as he asked me to give a mention to a new “Build a Bear” shop which had just opened in Mallow Street, Limerick as he thought they could do with the advertising! I told him they will probably do well in the run up to Christmas.
As we left Thomond, we had to take shelter from hailstones, it was good they had not come any earlier. I was glad I had availed of the park and ride so I just needed to get out to the buses waiting near the West gate. I do wonder though why we can have such great atmosphere and craic on buses/trains at away games compared to the ones in Limerick.
Damien Varley was on the Saturday Night Show last week, looking none the worse for wear after the Glasgow game the previous night. He performed “Lean On Me” with the Killaloe Gospel Choir who are releasing it as a single in aid of the Pink Ribbon charity, available on iTunes for 99c.
Munster: Felix Jones; Johne Murphy, Casey Laulala, Ivan Dineen, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley Capt., BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan, Dave Foley; Dave O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall, CJ Stander. Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, John Ryan, Billy Holland, James Coughlan, Cathal Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, Cian Bohane.
Ospreys: Richard Fussell; Aisea Natoga, Jonathan Spratt (Capt.), Andrew Bishop, Ben John; Matthew Morgan, Tito Tibaldi; Marc Thomas, Scott Baldwin, Joe Rees; Lloyd Peers, James King; Joe Bearman, Sam Lewis, Morgan Allen.
Replacements: Matthew Dwyer, Nicky Smith, Dan Suter, Rhodri Hughes, Arthur Ellis, Tom Habberfield, Sam Davies, Hanno Dirksen.
Beard of the week award – Ospreys scrum half Titi Tibaldi.
If you have not seen it, you may be interested in signing a petition to save the Heineken Cup – available here
Photos of Ivan, Dave and Damien taken from Daryl’s collection