When Gloucester released tickets for this crucial round 5 game in December I was delighted and quickly secured 2 tickets for their infamous Shed as the allocation to which Munster would be entitled would not meet the demands of the Red Army. While Bristol, East Midlands and Birmingham airports were closer to Gloucester I booked cheap flights to London so I could catch up with my friends there and planned to take the MRSC London bus to the game. As the new year started the weather became a concern with flooding and gales so the forecast sites were monitored and thankfully it seemed we would be ok. I printed out my boarding pass, booked my carpark, studied the tube and bus timetables, but, … it was not meant to be. On Thursday evening my Aunt passed away. Before I headed to Tipperary I posted to the Munsterfans forum and Twitter that I had 2 tickets available for the Shed due to a bereavement. I was touched when I received replies offering condolences from people I know as online user names and twitter IDs. Richard a Corkman based in London got in touch and as the tickets were to be collected in Gloucester, I sent him on the booking confirmation.
My Aunty May was a proud Munster woman, and while she was not an avid rugby fan, like a lot of us she had a soft spot for the “little fellow” Peter Stringer. The day before she passed away she had even been asking my mother if I was disappointed at the loss to Ulster the previous weekend and they had chatted about my upcoming trip to Gloucester. While she was terminally ill we never expected her to slip away so suddenly, but she had had a lovely Christmas at home and a peaceful death. She was waked on Friday evening and buried in the sunshine on Saturday. May she rest in peace.
That evening I headed into the pub down the street from where she had lived – all 84 years of her life – to watch the match. The quick tempo game was a bruising encounter as Gloucester were determined to make up for their home defeat to Saracens the previous weekend. Ian Keatley showed a good turn of pace to prevent an early Gloucester try. It took until the 21st minute for a score to be registered when Ian converted a penalty. Gloucester missed a shot at goal before and again after, reminiscent of the quarter final there in 2008 when Chris Paterson who had been Mr Reliable in that seasons Six Nations for Scotland had a very bad day with the boot. Was the result to be similar this time?
It was great to see Keatley kicking so well to touch and at goal after his problems the previous week. He did miss one long range penalty effort but overall repaid the faith shown in him by his coach.
Munster’s try, our highlight of the first half came after 32 minutes and was a great team effort, involving Damien Varley, Casey Laulala, BJ Botha, Paul O’Connell with a lovely offload to Tommy O’Donnell before Keatley threaded through a grubber which was chased down by both Peter O’Mahony and Keith Earls. Earls got their first and touched down under the posts. Other team members were also heavily involved (some in more than one phase) in clearing out and protecting the ball in the build up to the try. The man at the bar beside me who was not watching the game turned to glance at the screen when Earls scored and was convinced I was a Glaws fan as he just saw the team in navy had scored. I informed him that we were in our away kit!
The lineout and scrum went well, Varley was in great form after his injury concerns and Dave Foley was impressive on his first start in the Heineken Cup, taking the step up in his long stride. The Gloucester backline kept seeking holes in the Munster defence and made a breakthrough just before the interval as Charlie Sharples went on a run evading multiple tackles to bring the score to 7-10. I am sure that was the highlight of the half for Gloucester and set the game up nicely for the resumption of hostilities after the break!
Munster came out all action and from the kick-off tore into Gloucester. I feared Dave Foley’s enthusiasm had gotten the better of him when there was a mid-air collision trying to claim the ball. Thankfully the Gloucester player recovered and play resumed with a penalty to them. Gloucester continued to probe but Munster made their tackles. Similarly to the first half there was no score again for the opening 20 minutes but it was ferocious stuff! Sky Sports kept showing the tackle count throughout the game and Munster were always well ahead. In the end it was 132-40, with Varley, Foley, O’Connell, Downey and Coughlan all in double figures while O’Donnell had the most with 14. A tap tackle by James Downey stopped a certain try at one stage but it was edge of your seat viewing. The turnover stats were equally impressive, securing 17 while only conceding 7 as they scavenged in packs taking an aggressive defence approach.
Conor Murray on his return from injury had a major input to the 2nd try when he pounced as the ball squirted out from a Gloucester scrum. He tried to pass to Tommy O’Donnell but the ball seemed to be knocked on by a Gloucester defender before being touched down after another Gloucester player carried it over the try line, earning a 5m scrum for Munster. It was like Perpignan as the scrum was reset for not being steady, then reset again for a collapse. The third time was the charm as the pack edged closer to the line, almost losing control of the ball before Tommy O’Donnell broke clear and supported by Murray attacked the line. O’Mahony was next to gather the ball and found a gap to the side of the ruck to ensure he got his name on the scoresheet after being pipped by Earls to the first try 🙂 . The referee asked the TMO to confirm there was no reason NOT to award the try. There was no reason so the try was awarded and Gloucester needed to score twice to thwart Munster. They certainly can be proud of their effort and commitment as they probed and just when you thought they had made space on one wing they took the wrong option allowing the scramble defence to repel them and when they almost made it through the line on the opposite side the player was descended on by a navy swarm and bundled into touch.
A further penalty converted by Keatley extended the cushion after 69 minutes, pushing Munster out to 7-20. What a ten minute spell it had been! A choke tackle by Paul O’Connell towards the end of the game, with his leadership, tackling and lineout work contributed to his Man of the Match accolade on the occasion of his 150th cap for Munster! Please sign a new contract Paul!
The game also marked the return to competitive action of Simon Zebo. He got our hearts racing as he kicked a ball clear and set chase but was penalised for pushing Sharples so there was to be no fairy tale return. He could still produce his (annual) hat trick of the pool stages next weekend if he is selected!
So after a poor start last October in Edinburgh it is great to have secured qualification with a game in hand. Next weekends results will reveal if we have done enough to earn a home quarter final or if we have to travel away but this team still has plenty of room for improvement and come April who would want to take us on? Tickets are still available for the final pool game next Sunday afternoon.
The official ERC highlights package is available here while this home video by John, a regular reader of the blog captures some of the atmosphere, singing and the lap of honour after the game.
Were you there? I would love to read your comments about the experience either on the blog or send to me at twitter and I will add below.
Click here to see the full Stats from the game.
Since I had to register to buy Gloucester tickets, I received their post match report via their Gloucester Newsletter this morning. Their pride in the performance of their team is fully justified.
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls (JJ Hanrahan 70), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Johne Murphy (Simon Zebo 68); Ian Keatley, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams 76); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 64), Damien Varley (Duncan Casey 78), BJ Botha (Stephen Archer 68); Dave Foley (Donncha O’Callaghan 68), Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony Capt. (CJ Stander 76), Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.
Gloucester: M Thomas (R Cook 59); C Sharples, J May, B Twelvetrees (capt), S Monahan; F Burns, D Robson (T Knoyle 58); Y Thomas (D Murphy 59), D Dawiduik (H Edmonds 45), S Puafisi (S Knight 63); E Stooke, J Hudson (T Hicks 75); M Cox (S Kalafamoni 51), M Kvesic, G Evans (B Morgan 51).
PS Congrats to Munster A on their bonus point win featuring the debut try of new winger Gerhard van den Heever who scored twice, the other two being scored by Denis Hurley and Ronan O’Mahony. Hopefully they will also secure a quarter final place in the B&I Cup next weekend.
Photos taken from Daryl’s archive: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dfeehely except shot provided by J Upton.