St David’s day provided a chance for Munster to make history by being the first side to win all four home and away games against Welsh opposition in the League and continue their unbeaten run.
Regular readers know my approach has always been of the “glass half full” perspective and there were definitely glimpses of brilliance on display at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday night. Gerhard van den Heever showed us his pace as he scooped up a ball and slowed down to a canter when he realised no one was close to him, to score under the posts. There was excellent tackling especially in the first half by Dave Kilcoyne and CJ Stander to name two.. Munster were definitely on the back foot for most of the first half and yet the Scarlets try had a question mark over it, at least to us watching in Break for the Border… did he actually ground it? James Coughlan missed the first tackle but almost made up for it by grabbing Gareth Davies from behind and seemed to get under him, but the TMO was asked to focus on the side line to ensure Gareth had no foot in touch and not the grounding. He probably did ground it but we had plenty of debate about it. Denis Hurley continued to gain experience at 12 and took more crashballs up the centre than we have seen in the backline playbook for a while. Casey Laulala made a breath-taking offload to Tommy O’Donnell at one point while Johne Murphy made some great breaks up the wing. This video clip highlights one great passage which just broke down at the end but gives a glimpse of what could be to come… we hope:
When GvdH scored it was against the run of play and the award of a penalty before the break brought Munster clear at 8 – 13. However just as the Munster try came against the run of play, the same thing happened in the second half for Scarlets when Barclay timed his intercept perfectly to claim a long pass from Williams to Keatley off a lineout and score a try which was converted. A penalty for Scarlets was the only other score of the half but there was plenty of action including a second touch down by GvdH which was disallowed by the TMO. Another cause for great debate was the incident (knock on at the base of a ruck seemed to us to be caused by the ball being knocked out of Williams hands by a Scarlets player in the ruck and hence out of play! Then there was the sinbinning of Josh Turnbull for kicking the ball out of Duncan Casey’s hands… reckless use of his boot resulting in a facial injury for Duncan Williams. Another key moment was the reversal of a penalty against Coughlan for a high tackle. The assistant referee seemed to be concerned about a bump by BJ Botha but on the replay it looked fairly innocuous, however the penalty against Coughlan was reversed for retaliation by a Scarlets player. Munster however could not turn their numerical advantage into points on the scoreboard. A scrum in a promising position was turned over when the ball came loose while other passes did not go to hand. I look forward to reading what regular reader and commenter on this blog Peter writes this week as he was at the game and there seemed to be plenty of niggle.
So 16 matches in, 1 point off the top of the table and with a break until Mach 22 to refocus on the final push for the Rabodirect Play-offs, things could definitely be worse. Match Highlights:
Munster – S Zebo; G van den Heever, C Laulala, D Hurley, J Murphy (R O’Mahony 67); I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 61), D Williams (G Hurley 76); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 70), D Casey, S Archer (BJ Botha 4-13, 64), D O’Callaghan (D Foley 55), D Ryan; CJ Stander (S Dougall 65), T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
Scarlets – J Williams; K Phillips, J Davies (G Maule 64), O Barkley, F Climo; A Thomas, G Davies (R Williams 64), Phil John (R Evans 71), E Phillips, S Lee (J Adriaansee 71), G Earle, J Snyman, J Turnbull (S Timani 76), J Barclay, R McCusker.
I normally watch the match back before writing the blog but this weekend I had other priorities. My Dad had a heart attack on Wednesday so I had been home until Friday before returning to Dublin to attend a course on the Saturday. I decided to join up with the Dublin Supporters group to watch the match before heading home again that evening. My concentration on the game was less than usual as a result, hence I could only recall glimpses…
Dad played rugby in Thurles as a young man. Back then it was declared a “foreign” sport so you were “banned” from playing it and gaelic games, a rule that remained until 1971. It was Dad’s interest in rugby that got me hooked on it. I remember watching the Five Nations on TV and being in the Tony Ward camp for the Ward v Campbell debate, though I think that was based more on looks than rugby skills given my tender age at the time! The first live game we went to together was the Hugo McNeill organised Peace international, Ireland v Barbarians in 1996. From about 2003 we went when we could get tickets to the old smaller Thomond Park, some internationals in Lansdowne Road and even to two matches in Croke Park.
The last game we went to together was the loss to Ulster on a bitterly cold January night in the upgraded Thomond Park in 2009. I had upgraded to the Stand as Dad would not be able for the terrace. Other than the fact we lost my strongest memory was seeing Rua Tipoki go off injured again as he had only returned after his injury in the famous rematch against the All Blacks. Dad was 83 then and finding it an effort to go to games, he was only coming to keep me company. I told him to stay home by the fire, that I would be fine on my own, but I know he was delighted when Tony and Imelda took me under their wing on the West Terrace, keeping me company and space beside them if I was delayed. While they have not met him yet they always ask for him and when I go home after the game he might say that he thought he had seen me on TV and would let me know what he thought of the game… It is funny how he would never fall asleep in his chair watching a match but when my mother puts on the soaps off he nods..
Dad saw the Scarlets game from his hospital bed in CUH on Saturday and his verdict was more from the glass half empty perspective – “they threw it away” he informed me. I was surprised he had even seen the game as he did not have his glasses with him but he could see enough to see the intercept try coming! He was the same at the games we went to together, I would be singing, chanting, shouting encouragement like “heave, heave” while he would applause politely if they scored or shake his head in disgust if they knocked on or were pushed into touch… See why I encouraged him to stay at home?
After visiting Dad we called in to see his cousin Liz in Cork. The last time we had met was when I was soaked after the Munster v Scarlets game at Musgrave Park in November 2012. I had dropped my parents into visit her and collected them after the game so she knows I am mad about my rugby. After the normal conversation catching up on news of Dad and discussing our mutual relatives she brought up Ronan O’Gara and declared that he was looking better these days! Ah, I replied, that is because he is now on TV as a pundit wearing makeup and not on the rugby pitch wearing mud, sweat and occasionally blood or tears! We got a laugh out of it, I hope you do too, as laughter is the best medicine… Get well soon, Dad.