Approaching the hour mark, I was thinking that this could be my shortest blog, ev-er..as it would have been a tale of knock-ons, scrum resets, ankle high passes and tit for tat on the scoreboard. Having beer spilt on me was nearly the most noteworthy thing to write about at that stage but there was a transformation for the last quarter which gave us plenty to cheer and sent us home happy to have consolidated our position at the top of the table.
Kevin of course claimed full responsibility as we congratulated him on getting the terrace going by kickstarting SUAF in the second half. I checked my recording of the match and you can hear the song ring out just prior to the sinbinning and the penalty try which opened the floodgates. Hear for yourself in the short clip at the end of the blog, well done Kevin! 🙂
A relatively small crowd braved the weather warning of gale force winds and heavy rain. Scheduling it on the same day as the Six Nations game at the Aviva did not help attendance either. It was dry when I arrived in Limerick. Outside the grounds the transition year students who had taken part in the #LiveLife walk from the Aviva to Thomond were fundraising. They were in good spirits after their week long 200km walk despite the poor weather and from following their progress on twitter I know the message they brought with them to schools and rugby clubs en route resonated with their audience.
On the terrace you could see the rain had managed to get into the farthest reaches of the terrace which is unusual. There was a good trade in hot drinks and several people had brought along hip flasks. I risked standing in the front and got chatting to Mick and Pascal about the Ireland v Wales game which featured a man of the match performance from our own Peter O’Mahony. The backrow was a focus area in this game also as the Cardiff number 8 was Robin Copeland who will join Munster next season. James Coughlan, the incumbent number 8 and Captain for the night gave a Man of the Match performance to lay down a marker to Copeland and the others looking to take the shirt off him. As with all Munster jerseys it will have to be earned and will be guarded jealously for the duration of possession.
Acoustic girl group “Eve” entertained us with a song before the MRSC choir who were joined by Jean Wallace for a rousing rendition of the anthem Stand Up and Fight which sounded well despite the smaller attendance. The rain returned before kick-off but it was showery not torrential thankfully.
The first half as I wrote above was a fairly even contest, whenever Munster took the lead Cardiff managed to cancel out the advantage, scoring one try apiece. James Coughlan had made a great break and laid back the ball which Denis Hurley protected to allow Dave Kilcoyne to scoop it up and launch himself at the line to score the opening try.
However, shortly after that Cardiff #14 Harry Robinson showed his pace and evasiveness before passing to #13 Owen Williams who touched down, and the scores were tied up again at 10-10 after an excellent conversion by Gareth Davies.
The lineout functioned well on a difficult night for hookers.
Barry O’Mahony on his first senior start in Thomond won a great turnover in front of us when Zebo held up the attacker and Barry ripped the ball away. That led a few phases later to a penalty and JJ brought the score to 16-10 to put some daylight between the sides. Cardiff scored another penalty before on the stroke of half time JJ restored the 6 point advantage.
Half time featured an interview with Fionnbar Walsh, father of Donal, about the LiveLife walk from the Aviva to Thomond and the upcoming “Home to Rome” fundraiser cycle.
The teams remained locked at the half time score of 19-13 until the 60th minute despite Cardiff coming out of the changing room all fired up at the start of the 2nd half. The Munster scrum began to dominate and Cardiff changed prop to try to stem the tide but it was to no avail. In the 54th minute Munster had a scrum. The referee awarded them a penalty as the Cardiff replacement prop Palmer did not bind correctly. Munster took the scrum again and again the ref blew it up, this time indicating it was due to a slip. On the tv replay you can hear the forwards encouraging Killer to keep at him (Palmer)… result another penalty against Palmer. We were of course looking for a penalty try. “Heave” we urged as the scrum went for it again but this time the ref opted for a reset due to another slip. That was generous as the Munster scrum was driving the Cardiff pack across the field at that stage so their only option was to collapse the scrum. Reset again. By now it was 58 minutes and Cardiff decided to substitute the hooker. At that stage Kevin kicked into song and we all joined in. At the next scrum the ref carded Palmer but only awarded Munster another penalty to our disgust. There was a delay getting on a replacement – the ref even had to go over to the sideline to find out if there was a prop who could come on – or else we would have been into uncontested scrums which would have neutralised Munster’s dominance. Unusually (but probably sensibly when the pack are under such pressure) Cardiff took off a winger (#11) to allow on the replacement prop. We were baying for the penalty try and at 59 minutes it was awarded.
Munster capitalised on their extra man advantage for the following 10 minutes. Zebo made a great break but could not get the pass to van den Heever on the wing. James Cronin one of many impact subs, showed his strength to shrug off several tackles in a move that lead to a try for Zebo who morphed into Robbie Keane for his gymnastic celebration.
Next on to the scoresheet was our new winger Gerhard van den Heever on his Thomond Park debut who collected a cross field kick to touch down, securing the bonus point and the congratulations of his new teammates, bringing the score to 40-13.
Ian Keatley replaced Denis Hurley at 12 to recreate the partnership in the 10-12 axis with JJ which we had seen in the final stages of the Edinburgh game. He gave a super pass to Zebo which Simon kicked through and chased with van den Heever but the defender just got across in time to deprive them both. It did however give us a chance to see the pace they both bring to the team in their first game together.
A few minutes later the Shadow was chasing another kick through by Johne Murphy as Munster found space due to the Cardiff winger missing since the sinbinning. Cathal Sheridan and Sean Dougall returned from injury and Ger Slattery also got some game time replacing Duncan Casey who put in another good performance as did Dave Foley who was replaced by Billy Holland.
Substitute Andrew Conway made his presence felt displaying some great footballing skill to score a try which all came from a turnover in the Munster 22 following a super tackle by John Ryan, on for Archer. There followed excellent passing considering the conditions through multiple hands including a lovely offload in the following phases by Ryan to Slattery, before a partial block down of a kick by Keatley bounced up perfectly for Conway to kick on not once but twice as he gave chase. It looked like he might not get to his kick through in time but the TMO was happy with the grounding to bring the score to 47-13 with less than 3 minutes left.
There was still time for more entertainment, again breaking from deep inside Munster territory with excellent carries by CJ Stander and James Cronin plus good juggling skills by John Ryan to keep it alive before Munster won a penalty for a knock on, which Sheridan took quickly. Cardiff were penalised for not being back 10m and from the resultant lineout on the stroke of full time CJ Stander broke away from the maul and managed to touch down (as confirmed by the TMO) despite the attentions of three Cardiff tacklers. Chants of “CJ, CJ” broke out.
Overall, the game was a slow burner but thankfully did not end up being a damp squib but rather crackled into life for the last twenty minutes when we were treated to 5 tries while Cardiff were kept scoreless throughout the second half. Next up are Zebre in the last game in Musgrave Park this season (and prior to it’s redevelopment). Hopefully the weather will be better but full credit to the players for playing so well, especially in the set pieces for this game despite the soft ground. Credit also to the groundsmen for keeping the pitch as good as possible.
Thanks as ever to Daryl Feehely for the use of his photos (I took the LifeLive one 🙂 ) – you can see his 58 photos from the game here while the Rabo have highlights on their YouTube channel:
Munster: Simon Zebo, Gerhard van den Heever, Casey Laulala (Andrew Conway 67), Denis Hurley (Ian Keatley 68), Johne Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams (Cathal Sheridan 68); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 61), Duncan Casey (Ger Slattery 71), Stephen Archer (John Ryan 67); Donncha O’Callaghan, Dave Foley (Billy Holland 70); CJ Stander, Barry O’Mahony (Sean Dougall 61), James Coughlan (Capt.)
Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish, Harry Robinson, Owen Williams, Gavin Evans, Chris Czekaj, Gareth Davies, Lloyd Williams; Sam Hobbs, Kristian Dacey, Benoit Bourrust, Chris Dicomidis, Filo Paulo, Macauley Cook, Ellis Jenkins, Robin Copeland
Hear singing leading to sinbinning!