This weekend there were many events to celebrate the 1000 year anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf where proud Munster man, Brian Boru from Killaloe led his army to victory over the Vikings. See details at http://brianboru2014.com/ In Thomond on Saturday, many of the traveling supporters wore kilts and helmets. I wonder what Brian Boru would think about the way Fortress Thomond was breached by these warriors in the first and hopefully the last home defeat of the season?
They made themselves heard as they cheered and sang their team to victory and probably wondered what all the talk about the Thomond factor was about as they taunted us with the “Yellow Submarine” – a reference to the anthem of Toulon which uses that music. Kevin did launch us into “the Fields of Athenry” and “Stand up and fight” periodically to try to raise the spirits and rally the 16th man.
What a difference a week makes! Last Saturday you had to get in early to get a good spot on any terrace. This week both north and south terraces were closed and there was plenty of space on east and west. It was disappointing given the strategic importance of the game with both Munster and Glasgow keen to secure lucrative home semi finals in the league. The dry weather didn’t encourage more people to attend, but maybe they had overdone it last weekend. Maybe the team had also. I know we can’t expect the level of intensity shown last week every week but this was very below par. Yet fair dues to Glasgow, the only team to breach our line 3 times this season. Indeed only desperate defence prevented conceding a bonus point win to Glasgow as van den Heever held up Wilson and James Downey just got his hand in underneath to prevent the ball being grounded as confirmed by the TMO early in the second half.
There was a strong wind in Glasgow’s favour for the first half and it was the visitors who got off to a great start when they won an early penalty and launched a maul to get them close to the line. A few phases later Gray powered through John Ryan, JJ Hanrahan and Dave Foley to score the first try in the 4th minute. Glasgow followed this up with a penalty against Ryan for not rolling away in front of the posts and the crowd were shocked to be 0-10 down within 8 minutes. The feel good factor from the victory over Toulouse quickly dissipated. Munster went through the phases once they got the ball but it proved difficult to penetrate the Glasgow defence. However from the first scrum Munster launched an attack with Zebo as first receiver who got the ball to JJ.
CJ Stander nearly scored his 2nd try in two weeks but when he stretched for the line Chris Cusiter just got his foot underneath to prevent the score. However he was not long to be denied, Zebo made anther good break and when the ball was recycled quick hands got the ball through Earls and Downey for CJ to score on the opposite side.
JJ failed with the conversion attempt and worryingly went off with a groin injury shortly afterwards, with Ian Keatley coming on in his place. With the score at 5-10 we were still confident of a comeback but little did we know. A few missed tackles gave Glasgow a foothold in the Munster 22 and a further missed tackle saw Maitland score their second try. The only thing we had to cheer was the determined charge by Donncha to successfully put Duncan Weir off his conversion, at a scoreline of 5-15. Coming up to the half hour mark there was a super pass between his legs by Felix Jones to set van den Heever free down the wing, but a strong tackle caused Murray to knock on and the momentum was lost again. An intercept by CJ was kicked downfield and van den Heever gave chase but could not get to it in time. A 5m scrum after Zebo was forced to carry the ball over the line gave Glasgow a foothold near the Munster line again and resulted in the third try scored this time by Josh Strauss and converted by Weir in the 37th minute. At that stage I was still hopeful that Munster would use the wind in the second half to mount a comeback.
Three penalties in quick succession were kicked to touch but three times Munster failed to make it count on the scoreboard due to poor execution.
As the clock ticked down, hopes of a comeback faded and our thoughts turned to the need to prevent Glasgow scoring a fourth try and the bonus point. It was scant comfort on the night but could be important in determining the final standings at the end of the league in a few weeks. There was plenty of effort and some good breaks by Zebo, Jones, Earls, Kilcoyne and co but it was one of those nights when things just did not work. Hopefully that is out of the system now as we need a strong finish in this, the business end of the season.
Due to the injury to Casey Laulala last week it was good for Keith Earls to get more gametime at 13 and for van den Heever on the wing in case Laulala is not available for the Toulon game. BJ Botha required medical attention but played on for a while longer before being replaced. Hopefully it was not too serious as Stephen Archer is a long-term absentee due to a bulging disc problem.
Referee Nigel Owens nearly missed the game as his flight from Bristol was diverted to Dublin. Maybe the disruption to his schedule tried his patience a little as he seemed to be talking to the players at times as he does when he referees the Under 11s! At least it provided some entertainment for those watching on TV.
This weeks blog is the result of great collaboration with photos kindly donated by Conor, Eileesh and Damian in addition to Daryl. You can also see more from Daryl’s collection here. I even heard Ger predict “that’ll be in the blog” but unfortunately I had not caught what preceded that so Ger feel free to enlighten us all by posting a comment below! Tony wondered how to get more views for the blog than the record number of views last week. I suggested maybe a photo of a streaker on the pitch might do it and while a few players nearly had their shorts pulled down there was no photo to drive up viewership. Thankfully Tony did not volunteer to do a streak. It was a little bit cold for that!
So advantage Ulster whose trouncing of Connacht will surely see Munster feel a backlash when they turn up in Galway next weekend but Ulster still have to go to Scotstoun and Thomond plus play Leinster at home. Glasgow’s run-in seems to be the easiest.
This battle was lost but the war continues for another few weeks with Munster the only team in the Pro12 top 4 to be fighting on both the European and domestic fronts. Hopefully there will be a better showing of the Red Army for the visit of Ulster on May 10th so that “Stand up for the Ulstermen” does not drown out “Stand up and Fight” in the last league game before the play-offs.
Munster – F Jones; G van den Heever, K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Ryan, D Casey, BJ Botha, D O’Callaghan, D Foley; CJ Stander, S Dougall, J Coughlan (capt). Reps: Q MacDonald, D Kilcoyne, A Cotter, B Holland, P Butler, D Williams, I Keatley, J Murphy.
Glasgow Warriors – P Murchie; S Maitland, A Dunbar, F Russell, T Seymour; D Weir, C Cusiter (capt); G Reid, D Hall, J Welsh, T Swinson, J Gray; J Strauss, C Fusaro, R Wilson. Reps: P MacArthur, J Yanuyanutawa, G Cross, L Nakarawa, R Harley, H Pyrgos, P Horne, R Vernon.
Ref – N Owens (WRU)
Glasgow last beat Munster in Scotland last March and the response was the storming of the Stoop the following weekend. Let’s hope for a similar reaction this time with the mastering of Marseilles.