Four Irish provinces in action this weekend, all four won, three with bonus points, scoring 19 tries and only conceding 29 points in the process (40 – 7, 48 – 0, 36-8 and 14-16 = 140 – 29). However it is only fitting that the tightest of those games, the epic win by Connacht over Toulouse in France is the talk of the country. Congratulations to all involved. Hopefully next weekend all 4 provinces can secure the coveted back to back wins to set themselves up well heading into the new year!
Sunday morning I donned my red and enjoyed a hearty breakfast, required due to the lunchtime kick-off. A strong wind had the flags flying high as I walked across the bridge by King Johns Castle but it was a mild 12C. Bands of yellow and red clad Perpignan supporters were also walking out to Thomond. Andrew Conway was interviewed on the big screen during the warm-up, he is looking forward to playing soon once his knee has healed. The stadium announcer struggled through the Perpignan player names, earning a cheer from the crowd for his excellent pronunciation of the easiest (Tommy Allan). The MRSC choir was joined by the choir from Gaelscoil Aogain of Castleisland and tenor Nyle Wolfe for a rousing rendition of Stand Up and Fight.
As at all European Rugby games this weekend there was a minutes silence in honour of Nelson Mandela (RIP). Applause filled the silence as we showed our admiration for one of the most iconic figures of our time.
The first half was played at a 100mph, almost like a game of 7s. The dry conditions meant it was a good day for running and we saw plenty of that with the first try coming after just 3 minutes after great interplay between Johne Murphy, Conor Murray (with a sublime one handed pass back to Johne) before Sean Dougall scored under the posts. Ian Keatley converted and added a penalty 7 minutes later. Perpignan then laid siege at the other end before Varley broke downfield with the ball after a turnover and Keith Earls made great ground only to run away from his support allowing Perpignan to counter.
At times the travelling supporters got their chants of U-SAP, U-SAP going. We replied with Mun-ster, Mun-ster, the fields and on occasion Stand Up and Fight. It was a very physical game, plenty of aggressive defence from both sides and niggle to say the least. From our vantage point on the west terrace we saw Conor Murray tackled and while I would be useless in a court of law to say whether the USAP player had his forearm or his hand pressing on Conor’s throat, we thought it was a sinbinning offence to say the least but the officials did not see anything nor did the TV cameras or commentators. He got up gingerly, rubbing his throat and more worryingly was also limping. He tried to play on but had to be replaced shortly afterwards due to the knee injury. Cathal Sheridan took his opportunity well, firing out passes in a quick tempo game, busy making tackles and even a blockdown. Johne Murphy made a crucial save just shy of the try line and a few minutes later Munster were running hard at the other end when Laulala was hauled down after kicking the ball ahead. From the resultant penalty after patient phases Dave Kilcoyne got over the line for his first try in the Heineken cup. Keatley missed that conversion but got the next one ten minutes later from a more difficult angle, when Keatley and Sheridan managed to hold up the Perpignan player, O’Connell and O’Mahony joined the maul, the ball popped out to be hoovered up by Keith Earls who ran from the 10m line in Munster’s half to score a try in the corner.
It was great to see Keith in such good form after his recent injury woes which kept him out of contention for the Autumn internationals. Perpignan had a chance to get on the scoreboard just before half-time but Hook was unsuccessful with his penalty attempt to leave the score at 22-0.
During the break the choirs returned to perform “Roar”, while the U11’s from Bruff RFC and Newport RFC enjoyed a game of mini rugby and there was a competition to win an iPad mini sponsored by Seat. The winner (possessor of the lucky program) was a young fella from Tipperary, who when asked if he would be giving his prize to his parents for Christmas, took no time at all in deciding that no he would keep it for himself!
James Hook made amends with a successful penalty shortly after the restart. Perpignan thought they had scored a try when Charteris, brought down by Dougall, just managed to get the pass away to Guitone only for the TMO to confirm that that pass had been forward.
It was strange to see our locks appear small beside the 6’11” Luke Charteris.
Munster seemed to lose shape, passes did not go to hand and it took them till the 65th minute to score the all important bonus point after an athletic stretch by Dougall secured the lineout, setting up a maul which was brought down but the referee had already warned Perpignan so he did not hesitate to award the penalty try and a yellow card to the prop.
It is a shame to learn that Mike Sherry’s injury in the Dragons game will keep him out of action possibly for the rest of the season so Duncan Casey got his first senior cap as replacement hooker, and in his 8 minute debut was part of the scrummaging unit which claimed Munster’s 5th try, touched down by James Coughlan as the Munster 8 marched Perpignan over the line. Before that we thought Earls was in for his second try only to be disallowed by the TMO as a forward pass. In the final minute Joffrey Michel snatched a consolation try which Hook failed to convert to leave the score at 36-8.
So next Saturday these two teams will re-engage and we can expect a different attitude from Perpignan in front of their home fans. Munster know they will need to be more clinical in their execution, passes will need to be more accurate as will the lineout. It is unlikely that Murray will be fit, Keatley is expected to recover in time.
Enjoy the ERC game highlights here
Match stats are available here and show that Munster dominated the second half in both possession and territory. It also is interesting to see that Munster ran 605m with the ball (Earls accounted for 152m) and that only 3/17 lineouts were lost (but others did not go to plan). Discipline was also very good with only 5 penalties conceded. Earls was the official man of the match but Dougall must have been pushing hard for that accolade.
Munster: Felix Jones (Denis Hurley 62); Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 49), Conor Murray (Cathal Sheridan 17); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 60), Damien Varley (Duncan Casey 72), Stephen Archer (BJ Botha 60); Donncha O’Callaghan(Billy Holland 65), Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony Capt. (CJ Stander 72), Sean Dougall, James Coughlan
Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, CJ Stander, Cathal Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley
Union Sportive des Arlequins Perpignanais: James Hook Capt.; Joffrey Michel, Tommaso Benvenuti, Watisoni Votu, Sofiane Guitone; Camille Lopez, Tom Ecochard; Sébastien Taofifenua, Romain Terrain, Paulica Ion; Luke Charteris, Guillaume Vilaceca; Jean-Pierre Perez, Alasdair Strokosch, Justin Purll
Replacements: Maxime Delonca, Kisi Pulu, Jean Baptiste Custoja, Sébastien Vahaamahina, Dewaldt Duvenage, Tommy Allan, Richard Haughton, Dan Leo
Gloucester released tickets on general sale for their round 5 game against Munster last week. Is it a cunning plan or are they willing to cede home advantage as Munster fans swopped in to order tickets and ensure the Red Army will be there in numbers greater than their 10% allocation for what could be a decisive game depending on how results go next weekend..time will tell.