It was a good thing that it was not an arctic evening in Swansea with 4 shaven heads on the Munster team (Casey, O’Donnell, Coughlan and Conway) after they got behind the Shave or Dye campaign to raise funds for the fight against cancer. It reminded me of when we had Stringer, Warwick and Earls all shaven headed, when sometimes you would be wondering which of them you were looking at over on the far side of the pitch, if you did not see their shirt number! On Friday more of the team had opted for the dye option with Sheridan going blonde while Stander and Downey went for the frosted Clooney look. Zebo and Hurley went pink but fair play to Duncan Casey and Alan Cotter who shaved their heads AND dyed their beards! Other players not involved at this game who were shaved on Friday include Johne Murphy and Billy Holland so there were some great photos circulating on twitter on Friday, with Andrew Conway being likened to Nidge from Love/Hate.
See photos on the Munster rugby site along with details of how to support the fundraising initiative.
As Break for the Border was not open I met up with some of the MRSC Dublin group at the River Bar just by O’Connell Street bridge for the game live on Welsh TV S4C. After all the rugby over the weekend there wasn’t a large crowd there but it was nice to be greeted by name on my arrival just as the game was starting. I still shake my head about an experience I had when I went in 4 or 5 seasons ago for the away leg of the back to back Heineken games in December. Someone kindly brought over a stool for me to sit at one of the barrels they use as tables there and at half time during the ads I asked the guy sitting at that table if he was going to Thomond for the return leg the following weekend. I was just making conversation but his response surprised me.. not the words in themselves but the actions.. he told me he couldn’t go as he was married.. and held up his hand with his wedding ring which he pointed to with his other hand…Kind of a conversation killer. Its not easy being a female supporter at times. It was good to catch up with Sinead and Kevin as I had not been in Dublin for a game since the away game to Ulster. Sinead showed off her photo with Rob Penney and another with Doug Howlett taken since we had last met… I was jealous but gave her one of my “cards” so next time she meets any celebs she can put in a good word for the blog!
It was good to see that Duncan Casey’s injury last week was not as bad as initially reported. A temporary signing Quentin MacDonald is due to provide reinforcements from March till the end of the season. Casey continued his fine form and accurate throwing. From an early lineout the pack mauled close to the line allowing Sean Dougall to pick and go to claim the first try of the game.
Ian Keatley added the conversion and 2 penalties in the first half. Sam Davies, a young-looking 20 year old, converted one penalty opportunity for the Ospreys but another attempt came back off the posts and allowed James Coughlan to set off on a run ably supported by James Cronin and we thought we would score again but the attack broke down with a forward pass. Indeed it was Ospreys who scored next when just before the break Ashley Beck evaded some weak tackles to score a try which was not converted.
Cathal Sheridan did not return for the second half after injuring his forearm. Updated Feb 25: his arm was actually broken and required surgery so he will be out for 3 months. Get well soon Cathal.
The decisive score came when Dougall and Laulala tackled Beck. The ball spilled out the side right in front of Simon Zebo who could not believe his luck, almost hesitating as he expected the whistle to blow before he twirled and sprinted for the tryline from inside his own half. He could have made the conversion angle easier for Keatley but it did give Munster a 10 point buffer. Another good effort by Duncan Casey and James Coughlan almost led to the third try but O’Donnell unfortunately knocked on when he went to pick and go. Baldwin thought he had scored for the Ospreys but the TMO reviewed his crawl towards the line and judged it to be a double movement. Ian Keatley took a knock in the build up to that and required a head bandage. Sam Davies converted his 5th attempt at goal to bring the score to 11-18. The lineout provided another try as an excellent take by Donnacha Ryan, passed by Duncan Williams to JJ Hanrahan who burst through the defensive line before offloading to James Downey to score under the posts with two defenders hanging off him.
Ospreys did not give up and Natoga nearly got in to score in the corner but the defence did enough to prevent it. There was still hope of a bonus point win, especially when Ryan Jones was sent off with two minutes remaining but a promising move was knocked on. There was a stoppage as CJ Stander who looked to be in some discomfort was patched up. Casey Laulala was man of the match and he credited the defensive effort for the victory. It was strange that he had never won at the Liberty stadium before during his time with Cardiff or Munster, and quite a few of the younger Munster players were the same, making this victory all the sweeter. Given that Ospreys had run in 11 tries the previous week against Treviso this was definitely a good test and the Ospreys did come close on a few occasions. Next weekend against Scarlets may be tougher, depending on how many of their Welsh players are released as it is a rest week for the Six Nations, but this win combined with Glasgow’s loss opens up a bit of a buffer below the top 2. Given the financial value of a home semi-final it would be great to continue the winning habit and secure that, especially given the ERC withholding payments related to the Heineken Cup competition due to the uncertain future of that competition. The 2014/15 season ticket looks a hard sell at the moment given we don’t know which competitions there will be to compete in… will there be a League sponsor? Will the Italians and Welsh participate? Who will play in the European Cup… Hopefully all will be satisfactorily resolved soon.
Extended match highlights:
Munster: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Cathal Sheridan; James Cronin, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha; Donnacha Ryan, Dave Foley; Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan(Capt). Replacements: Ger Slattery, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.