Congratulations to Edward Fitzgerald, clear winner of the competition to name this blog. Read on to discover why the blog is named after Doris…
Before the game there was plenty of talk about Munster v Ireland, then the appointment of Alain Rolland was criticised due to his Leinster background. A propping crisis affected Leinster while Munster lost Donnacha Ryan to injury and at the 11th hour Peter O’Mahony to a hamstring niggle so CJ Stander was promoted, but at 7pm on Saturday the time for talking was over!
There was a dramatic entrance as Leinster took to the pitch with cheer leaders and guys in military gear shooting out smoke while we could feel the heat from the flame throwers up in the stand. The game itself did not quite catch fire but there were plenty of talking points and it was good to see a more positive performance than last week.
Munster made a great start – a ball out on the full earned a line-out deep in Leinster territory and while they were penalised for not using the ball off the resultant maul they took first blood in the scrum battle, with Ian Keatley slotting the resultant penalty right in front of the posts in the third minute. Paul O’Connell actually spilt the first blood, a cut near his eye required attention so Donncha O’Callaghan was into the action temporarily. A few minutes later it was Keatley’s turn to kick out on the full but Leinster could not take advantage as James Coughlan turned over the ball and Munster attacked again, winning another penalty when Leinster went offside and did not roll away. The Munster scrum won another penalty on a Leinster put-in which Keatley also converted and we were delighted to find ourselves with a 0-9 lead at the start of the second quarter.
Leinster got on the scoreboard shortly afterwards when Felix Jones dived on a loose ball only to be pinged for not releasing which Madigan duly converted. Brian O’Driscoll was spoken to about shouting at the referee and waving his arms in the air looking for a penalty while CJ Stander received treatment before being ok to continue. Later Varley was spoken to about the scrum with Rolland having issues with Dave Kilcoyne’s contest with Mike Ross, even though he awarded another penalty to Munster from that scrum which Keatley converted to restore Munster to a 9 point advantage (3-12). Coming up to half time Brian O’Driscoll threaded a clever ball through which Jones had to carry over the line to concede the 5m scrum to Leinster. That time Rolland penalised Kilcoyne and Madigan doubled Leinster’s score. The blues finished strongly, putting together multiple phases before winning another penalty when Hurley got caught offside but that kick went astray and they went into the break 6-12 behind despite having had 69% of the possession.
Eoin Reddan made a super break down the blindside from a scrum early in the second half. Tommy O’Donnell was pinged for not rolling away despite being held giving Madigan another opportunity to kick at goal which he did while there was a lot of discussion by both captains with the referee. A few minutes later it was Dave Foley who was penalised for not rolling away and a team warning was given to the captain Varley. By that stage the penalty count was 5-8 against Munster and with the scores tied Leinster piled on the pressure, making half breaks and testing the Munster scramble defence. It was inevitable that they would concede a penalty and it was Dave Kilcoyne who was sent to the bin. Sensing blood Leinster went for the lineout, Munster prevented the maul so Darcy probed infield only to be held up in an excellent choke tackle by Keatley and Hurley. Tommy O’Donnell had to go off to allow James Cronin in for the resultant scrum with Hurley adding his weight to the pack as flanker. Lines were cleared but Leinster launched an attack again from the 22 and a super offload from Jennings put O’Driscoll through the gap. The TMO checked that he had not crossed into the deadball zone before the try was awarded and converted to give Leinster the lead for the first time in the game.
Munster did not give up though and managed to keep possession for a spell. Simon Zebo released Keith Earls down the wing, while seeming to pick up an injury in the process but he managed to run it off. CJ Stander almost crossed in the corner but at the end of 17 phases Lauala earned a penalty and Keatley reduced the gap to 4. Excellent work by the 14 man team.
The centre partnership had a big test and were more visible in defence than attack up against Brian O’Driscoll and the merely stubbled Gordon Darcy who looked a lot better without the full Grizzly Adams style beard! Denis Hurley left the pitch along with Felix Jones to a standing ovation as it was at the same time that Brian O’Driscoll walked off a bit gingerly. It was time to try the Hanrahan / Keatley 10/12 axis again.
Zebo moved to full back and combined well with Earls this time on the opposite wing to move Munster back in Leinster territory. Van den Heever made some good carries also but could not quite get through the blue wall. CJ Stander won a key penalty for a high tackle which Keatley converted to made it a one point game with just 4 minutes left. It was enough time for Leinster to win another penalty to end the game 22-18 when Hanrahan and O’Donnell were penalised for crossing. Ulster’s loss away to Cardiff meant they did not move into second position so that was “good” result for Munster’s hopes of a home semi in the league as Leinster move into a 5 point lead at the top of the table.
I have to say I don’t like the Aviva and have not had much joy there either, with Munster losing twice and Ireland losing twice before tonight. The only win I had been there for was the ladies game versus Italy last month which I had hoped had broken my unlucky streak. The announcer repeatedly asked for silence for both kickers and I was shocked to see people behind the goal post start a Mexican wave while Madigan was preparing to take a penalty. There was a constant stream of people going out for food, drink and toilets. Maybe Jerry Flannery had a point when he joked about the Leinster fans reading the program before the game to learn the names of their players unlike the die-hard Munster fans. Always good to stir the pot Jerry! That obviously did not apply to 104 year old birthday girl Doris Findlater, a Leinster season ticket holder who was interviewed at half time.
Highlights of the game:
Munster: Felix Jones (Gerhard van den Heever 66); Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, Denis Hurley (JJ Hanrahan 66), Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 71), Damien Varley (Capt) (Duncan Casey 58), BJ Botha; Dave Foley (Donncha O’Callaghan 66), Paul O’ Connell (Donncha O’Callaghan 3-13); CJ Stander (Capt), Tommy O’Donnell (James Cronin 54-62), James Coughlan. Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, Alan Cotter, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (Capt). Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack O’Connell, Ed Byrne, Leo Cullen, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Zane Kirchner, Jimmy Gopperth
I was there early to help the MRSC Dublin branch distribute flags to Munster fans on the roads approaching the Aviva. It was great that the evening was dry, although a little misty, after being wet until about 2pm. There was a good atmosphere and banter. One man wanted a flag to bring to visit his brother in Australia on Thursday. He said I could come too! It was the best offer I got all day…
People thought we were selling them but when they heard they were free business was brisk! Children in particular were delighted to wave them as these 3 brothers proved when it was hard to capture them on camera with all the flag waving going on!
Some children were disappointed that we did not have Leinster flags also. Many mixed blue & red groups passed, sometimes within families while others did not wear either teams colours so it was hard to judge if they would want a flag or not.
With the local and European elections coming up it was also an opportunity for canvassing for some politicians and I expect next weekend they will be outside Thomond.
There were signs of ring rustiness on both sides especially Leinster in the first half – balls kicked out on the full, passes not going to hand, a lineout going astray but it was an absorbing contest between two teams which know each other so well. There will be battered and bruised bodies needing treatment today. The fixture provided the ideal preparation for the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup after the disruption of the Six Nations.
Interestingly Toulon v Toulouse had a similar 4 point win for the home team (32-28) and I hope both Irish teams do well against them next weekend. I am looking forward to a packed Thomond Park and to showing Toulouse why it is one of the great venues in club rugby. Tickets have found their way through French addresses into Munster hands and it should be a real cauldron of noise and atmosphere. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket come early, be loud and proud and red as we were in the Stoop last year. Let’s make it an occasion to remember.