Storm Darwin hit Ireland this week, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake and many people counting the cost, especially in Munster. My sympathies to all affected. That storm could have been called after our hero Donncha O’Callaghan who this week became the most capped Munster player, and with a new 2 year contract signed to keep him in Munster until 2016, who knows how high a record he will go on to set! To be updated September 2015 if the rumours of his departure are true
Indeed the storm metaphor applies well to Donncha, who equally can leave a trail of devastation in his wake as he hits a ruck, pumps his legs to drive on a maul, soars to pluck the ball out of the air or roars on encouragement to his team mates as we quite clearly heard on the TV last weekend. He demonstrates each game how much he believes it is a privilege to play for Munster, the pride he takes from wearing the jersey and how much he enjoys his profession.
When he broke into the team in 1998 the Sky commentators struggled to pronounce his name but they have had plenty of practice since. Remember his ungainly 40m sprint to score the try in Leicester in October 2006? For years we enjoyed the familiar sight of him packing down in the second row with Paul O’Connell, brothers-in-arms in both red and green jerseys. Nowadays he can be quite the daunting sight as warms up on the sideline before charging onto the field, truly epitomising the definition of an impact sub! His fitness levels are impressive regardless of age, a credit to his professionalism. He has plenty left in the tank and will give his all in whatever capacity required to help Munster succeed. In the process he ensures high standards, driving up competition for places, with the consequence that Ian Nagle has gone on a 3 month loan to Newcastle as he was finding it hard to break into the senior team.
Donncha’s role as UNICEF ambassador has seen him speak eloquently and passionately about the suffering in some parts of the world where UNICEF have programs and it is mainly to promote their work that he uses his Twitter account. This tribute could not be complete without the iconic moment when Donncha’s shorts were torn and he decided to play on without any rather than wear a pair of the “wrong” type (elasticized versus draw string).
It all adds to his reputation as the joker in the pack but he takes his job seriously and his pride in the jersey was so obvious when I had a few words with him at Edinburgh airport in October (see the Humility blog)
The last word goes to Ronan O’Gara whose 240 appearance record was broken by Donncha:
We all have many good memories of Donncha over the years. What are yours?
After all the wind and rain it was great to have sunshine and blue skies as I set out for Cork on Saturday, passing many flooded fields and damaged trees on my way from Dublin. The good weather, along with the added attraction of celebrating the record setting milestone of their local hero while enjoying the last game in Cork before the planned redevelopment of Musgrave Park encouraged some extra people to turn up, leading to a queue at the ticket office. Donncha got the biggest cheer when the announcer went through the team sheets. The young lad beside us was delighted when Imelda gave him her flag to wave. After the match he went to return it to Imelda and was delighted when she told him to keep it for the next time!
Rob Penney had selected a more experimental backline and we were all eager to see how the centre partnership went in particular, with JJ Hanrahan at 10, Ian Keatley at 12 and Johne Murphy at 13. With Gerhard van den Heever and Simon Zebo on the wings and Felix Jones at full back there was plenty of pace to take advantage of the good conditions.
Zebre came to play and scored first in both halves. Coming from a lineout just inside the Munster half, Zebre made a few metres from a maul before Giovanbattista Venditti raced down the left wing handing off a few tacklers before passing to the hooker Tommaso D’Apice who scored his first try in the league. From the restart Munster won a penalty to reduce their deficit to 3-5. Ryan stole a lineout in a great position but the kick through by Murphy had too much on it for the chasing wingers. However more concerning was that Dave O’Callaghan was injured in one of the phases leading up to the kick and had to be stretchered off in the 18th minute to a sympathetic round of applause which became an outpouring of encouragement and appreciation for his replacement Donncha who got straight into the action. He partnered Donnacha Ryan in the second row with captain Billy Holland moving to the backrow.
Munster kept the pressure on and worked through the phases to create an overlap which was capitalised on by Simon Zebo to score his second league try of his injury disrupted season. Eight minutes later Zebo claimed his second of the night after a great break by CJ Stander. Unfortunately JJ Hanrahan missed the conversion to break his excellent run of successful kicks at goal. Munster could have scored more in the first half but for some poor execution being pinged for forward passes and on a few occasions poor passes or kicking to let Zebre off the hook. They nearly scored a super try at the end of the half when breaking from their own 22, Jones, then Murphy and van den Heever made great ground to get into the Zebre half and supported by Keatley, O’Donnell and Keatley again almost made it all the way to the line only to lose the ball leaving us with much to ponder and hoping for more excitement in the second half as the temperature dropped. The scrum and the lineout were going well, Keatley was injecting pace into the backline, keeping the defenders guessing; Stander was making good breaks and Munster were half way to another bonus point win.
Zebre however were only ten points behind despite Munster’s dominance and reduced it to only seven points within a few minutes of the restart when O’Donnell was penalised for not rolling away. There were lots of changes in the third quarter, including one Dave Ryan, formerly of Munster, now propping with Zebre and the replacement of Duncan Casey by Ger Slattery for his second appearance in the senior team. As Declan Kidney used to say, one man’s injury is another’s opportunity and that has been the case in the hooker role at Munster this season. Initially Mike Sherry’s injury gave the opportunity to Duncan Casey and Niall Scannell. Then when Niall hyper-extended his elbow and Damien Varley was recovering from concussion, Ger was called up from his club side Young Munsters and he has taken full advantage of his opportunity. Coming up to the hour mark the Munster backline was changed with Denis Hurley coming into the centre and Keatley moving to outhalf alongside Duncan Williams. Zebre were issued with a warning and when they infringed at the next maul their captain van Schalkwyk was sent to the bin. Munster opted for the lineout and mauled over the line. Slattery was found at the bottom of the pile of bodies to score his first senior try.
So on the night when we celebrated the most appearances by any player for Munster we also celebrated the first two tries by the newest addition to the senior squad. The second was very different when he popped up on the wing to touch down. In between his brace of tries another was scored by Tommy O’Donnell after a quick tap by CJ Stander who almost made it to the line himself but presented the ball back for O’Donnell to touchdown. There was a break in play while Slattery needed attention shortly after and we were surprised to see someone run the length of the pitch in a clown / joker outfit. You could tell it was too cold to streak!
Slattery recovered and in the dying minutes of the game Hurley made a super break and deft offload to Williams, a few phases later Zebre kicked the ball to clear their line but only as far as Andrew Conway who passed to Johne Murphy on the half way line. Next phase, Keatley made a great break and nearly got all the way there himself. It would have been a fairytale ending to the night if Donncha who combined with Tommy O’Donnell to drive on close to the line had scored but the ball was recycled for Slattery to score his second try. Keatley kicked the difficult conversion to bring the final score to 36-8.
So we went home delighted to be still top of the table, as Leinster keep pressure on us. It was not the best game ever but it was a special night for Dunners, and beneficial to have tried out some new combinations, allowing players to gain experience in different positions. Management will have identified further areas for improvement as Munster face into two difficult away assignments in Wales, and may have learnt more to help them decide which additional players to register for the knock out stages of the Heineken Cup in a few weeks.
On the injury front, Dave O’Callaghan went to hospital with his knee injury while Duncan Casey suffered a knee hematoma (updated to a dead leg on Monday). Hopefully both will make good and speedy recoveries.
Munster: Felix Jones; Gerhard van den Heever, Johne Murphy, Ian Keatley, Simon Zebo; JJ Hanrahan, Cathal Sheridan; James Cronin, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha; Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland (Capt); Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: Ger Slattery, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall, Duncan Williams, Denis Hurley, Andrew Conway.
Zebre: Dion Berryman; David Odiete, Kameli Ratuvou, Roberto Quartaroli, Giovanbattista Venditti; Guglielmo Palazzani, Brendon Leonard; Andrea De Marchi, Tommaso D’Apice, Dario Chistolini; Michael van Vuren, George Biagi; Filippo Cristiano, Andries van Schalkwyk (Capt), Samuela Vunisa. Replacements: Lorenzo Giovanchelli, David Ryan, Luciano Leibson, Emiliano Caffini, Nicola Cattina, Alberto Chillon, Giulio Bisegni, Filippo Cazzola.
Thanks to Daryl for the use of his excellent photos.. check out his larger collection from this game here
And because I can’t resist watching it again… the infamous shorts incident:
The Score team also shared 27 images of Donncha’s career here