A winning try scored at the death, complete with a long review by the TMO ensured a sense of déjà vu from Perpignan but the way Munster went hunting for a score with phase after phase of possession, angling for a drop goal opportunity or a penalty was reminiscent also of the end game against Northampton at Thomond while watching Ronan O’Mahony gather the weighted cross field kick and touch down to win the game, brought back memories of his hat trick scored in Cork against London Irish in the pre-season friendly.
Given 12 changes, with only Botha, Sheridan and Laulala retained from the starting 15 in Perpignan this game provided an opportunity for some of the A team players to show what they could do, and due to the long-term injury of Mike Sherry there was particular interest in the hooker role where Duncan Casey made his first senior start. He was kept busy tackling and held his own in scrums and lineouts but will be disappointed that his evening was cut short when he received a head injury after 29 minutes.
It was also the first home start for newest signing, the winger Gerhard van den Heever. With the wind chill factor it felt colder than 5C especially during the sleet showers approaching half time. The cover for the East Terrace in Musgrave Park to be funded by the MRSC, promised as part of the redevelopment plan, will be a welcome addition.
The encounter last season between these sides was played in a terrible conditions. I had never been as wet at a game before and to add to our misery that night the Scarlets capitalised on an error to score the decisive try. This season’s game was a fast paced, physical battle but with lots of stoppages for injuries and TMO reviews. The half-time score of 3-3 tells you a lot about the game but there were some highlights. A good chase by Tommy O’Donnell on his first start since his injury forced the Scarlets full back to run into touch and he threw the ball away, giving JJ a penalty opportunity which he could not convert. The scrum was a weapon in the first half, but became more of a liability in the final ten minutes. Strong mauling contributed several penalties. Hurley was involved in several of the most promising line breaks which were scarce on the night. Niall Scannell who had impressed for the Ireland U/20s in 2012 came on earlier than expected due to Casey’s injury and was straight into the action hauling a Scarlets player into touch and throwing the resultant lineout which earned Munster a penalty after Scarlets infringed at the maul.
Unfortunately BJ went down writhing in agony with a knee injury and he had to go off at 34 minutes to be replaced by John Ryan. Hopefully it is not too serious an injury.
A strong start to the second half as in Perpignan was hoped for but it was Scarlets who broke early for Barclay to score under the posts taking the score to 3-10. Those missed tackles leading up to his try will not make for good viewing in the post game analysis this week. Munster clawed their way back with a penalty at 46 minutes but a minute later Dave O’Callaghan was injured in a tackle. I was concerned when I noticed the referee leaning over him along with a Scarlets player as the other bodies got up from the ruck. It was good to see him able to speak and move as the medics treated his head injury. Local hero Donncha O’Callaghan, replaced him coming on to a great cheer from the crowd. He got stuck in from the off, upping the intensity as he also increased the average number of caps in (and age of) the pack.
Munster won another penalty off a maul and at 56 minutes JJ brought the score to 9-10. Plenty of time left to secure the win but it was not to be straight forward. Scarlets were penalised for taking out the support jumper from a Munster lineout, but Munster lost the resultant lineout – their first and only mistake in the lineout that I recall of the game. Munster laid siege to the Scarlets line and showed grit to hold onto possession only for Turnbull to kick the ball out of Williams hands and relieve the pressure. On a Scarlets throw Billy Holland was taken out and their prop Rob Evans was sinbinned. Given the earlier similar penalty the ref had no compunction about showing the yellow card. However from the resultant lineout there was a knock-on so a replacement prop had to be brought on and Barclay went off. A few minutes later Barry O’Mahony (who had replaced O’Donnell who also picked up a head injury) swooped to gather a spilled ball and took off only to be lifted and dumped by Poole, just minutes on the field as a sub himself. After a lengthy review of the tackle by the TMO Poole found himself back on the sidelines.
Munster looked to press their numerical advantage for the final five minutes but were thwarted. Hurley found a lovely touch near us and with the clock ticking down it was a case of now or never. Donncha did what he does so well, his specialty a choke tackle earned a crucial turnover with less than 30s on the clock. After 9 phases the referee advised “last play” but the ball was not right for a drop goal attempt so on they went. Pick and go, pick and go, be patient, no room for error. The crowd found their voice and sensing blood urged them on. After 18 phases Williams spotted a gap and went through with Barry O’Mahony on his shoulder to take the pass and almost make it to the line…another 2 phases, then JJ kicks cross-field to Ronan O’Mahony in space who touched down amid scenes of jubilation.
Of course there had to be a post script as last week.
The assistant referee who had been running the line beside O’Mahony could not advise whether Ronan had been onside or not so Nigel had to again go to the TMO to ask for a check on the potential offside and also to confirm that there had not been a knock-on at the base of the ruck at phase 18. “Hey Nigel, #17 was offside at that ruck” shouted the helpful experts on the terrace as they watched the replay along with Nigel on the big screen. It took about 4 minutes before there was a decision as we stood there frozen, waiting, again, cheering the replays of the touchdown. Finally after more conferring with his other assistant Nigel Owens returned to the try line and raised his hand to award the try. Celebrations broke out in earnest, dancing up and down on the terrace got the circulation going again. Part of our delight due to being able to leave with the victory and seek warmth!
An ugly win as JJ said in his post match interview but we’ll take it! The song of the year, (love it or loathe it) “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk was in my head as I left the ground. Highlights from RaboDirect:
Thanks to Daryl for the use of his photos, see the full set here
When I got home I was amused to find a tweet from one of my readers, Rob whom I have never met, with a picture taken from the warmth of his living room showing my celebrations of the try on the terrace on his tv!
Happy Christmas to all my readers and thanks in particular to the regulars who post comments, engage on Twitter and share my blog.
With the current forecast for Friday’s game in Thomond versus Connaught I hope it is safe for traveling to the game and would not be surprised if it was another of the classic 3-0 scorelines that have been produced in the past between these sides. Hopefully the forecast is wrong on both counts. For now we can enjoy our Christmas perched not at the top of the tree but at the top of the table.
Munster: Denis Hurley; Gerhard van den Heever (Ronan O’Mahony 57), Casey Laulala, Ivan Dineen, Andrew Conway; JJ Hanrahan, Cathal Sheridan (Duncan Williams 59); Dave Kilcoyne, Duncan Casey (Niall Scannell 30), BJ Botha (John Ryan 34); Ian Nagle, Billy Holland (Capt.); Dave O’Callaghan (Donncha O’Callaghan 48), Tommy O’Donnell (Barry O’Mahony 70), CJ Stander. Replacements: Niall Scannell, Alan Cotter, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Barry O’Mahony, Duncan Williams, Johnny Holland, Ronan O’Mahony
Scarlets: Gareth Owen; Liam Williams, Gareth Maule, Adam Warren, Kristian Phillips; Aled Thomas, Rhodri Williams; Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Jacobie Adriaanse; Jake Ball, Richard Kelly; Josh Turnbull, John Barclay, Rob McCusker (Capt.). Replacements: Emyr Phillips, Shaun Hopkins, Rhodri Jones, Johan Snyman, Dan Thomas, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Mike Poole
Adding in this link as I make an appearance as captured by Rob above at 1.48