“You don’t know what you’re doing! You don’t know what you’re doing!” No, I haven’t changed from my glass half full approach for the new season but at half time as we smiled at the proposal on big screen someone started that chant at the happy couple and the Shed joined in the good natured teasing!
At Kingsholm, the home of Gloucester rugby, the Shed runs the length of the pitch and it is famous. As I had to cancel my planned visit there last January I decided to go along for the pre-season friendly, knowing it would be a very different Munster team that would be selected given the delayed pre-season for those players involved in the Ireland games in Argentina and Romania in June.
My Gloucester twitter buddies told me to come along early as a big crowd was expected and so it proved. Their supporters were keen to see their new players, Hook, Hibbard, Afoa and co. along with new coach Laurie Fisher so nearly 13,000 supporters came along. As the capacity is 15k and this was a pre-season friendly (their second game) that was a great turnout. The two pubs Trevor had mentioned meeting up in beforehand were impossible to find for tourists like us since he still called them by their old names but we made contact inside the grounds as the teams were warming up. Trevor was wearing his Munster jersey and had bought along his Munster flag, almost making us feel at home. We saw a few Munster supporters around but nothing like the number that had made the trip in January for the vital European Cup game. Gloucester warmed up at our end. Andy (a Sawdoctors and Gloucester fan) was enraptured by the quality of passing by James Hook, much to the delight of Anne.
Gloucester took the long way round to their changing room to pass by the Shed and be cheered off. Munster emerged in their bright “solar green” away kit and were under pressure from the kick-off.
There was a big screen at either end. As the game was not televised we did not have various angles shown for replay etc. but the limited camera angles did help us to see how near to the far tryline Gloucester were getting. The referee had seen enough after three scrums and awarded a penalty try. James Hook added the conversion and it looked like it would be a long day at the office for the pack, especially Cotter and Slattery against the vastly more experienced internationals Afoa and Hibbard. The big screen showed the below cartoon for goal kicks to remind spectators to respect the kickers. It also acted as the scoreboard and counted down the time remaining.
There were signs of ring rustiness for both sides, typical at this stage of the season. Munster made a memorable break into the Gloucester half with several good passes but the final one went astray, as did a lineout or two, staving the team of possession. The same happened a few times to Gloucester but those were greeted with groans and not the calls of “Eeyore, Eeyore” from the Shed. Rich explained to us that this was a tradition and advised the longer version of it. Gloucester butchered two try scoring opportunities in quick succession. I was impressed by the defensive effort that held Gloucester to just 10 points in the opening 40 minutes. The centres and backrow plus Ronan O’Mahony caught my eye with big tackles but as a lot of the action was at the far end I was not best placed to judge. Ivan Dineen I felt was unlucky to be sin-binned for a strong tackle on James Hook which took place near us. Without the benefit of a TMO the referee reached for his card with 5 minutes left to the break.
The second half even started well with an early penalty to Munster which Johnny Holland converted to make it 10-3. Cathal Sheridan returned to play his first game since breaking his arm at the business end of last season.
James Hook with two successful kicks at goal in quick succession increased Gloucester’s lead before the flood gate opened in the second half.
Gloucester were successful with two tries from mauls. The Shed erupted when Captain Billy Twelvetrees broke a few tackles to score another try as Munster tired.
The defensive effort took its toll and the substitutions disrupted pattern of play also but the team did not roll over. Out-muscled at times, they did not give up. Darren Sweetnam thought he was away and would have won the race to the far end if the whistle had not called him back for a knock-on. At the death Cian Bohane did score after several good phases including the props, Niall Horan and John Ryan.
It was in the corner though so the conversion could not be added and the final score was 45-8. Several Gloucester fans took the time on their way out to shake hands and wish us a safe journey home. I wished them well for the coming season.
So eleven debutants blooded including young Stephen Fitzgerald (18) who showed great composure at full back. The younger players will know a lot more about the standard they need to reach to compete at this level. Gloucester have purchased some good players and have ambitions to return to European Cup competition. If they are ever drawn in a pool with Munster again I will look forward to returning to Kingsholm.
GLOUCESTER: Rob Cook, Charlie Sharples, Henry Trinder, Billy Twelvetrees (capt), Jonny May; James Hook, Greig Laidlaw; Dan Murphy, Richard Hibbard, John Afoa, Tom Savage, James Hudson, Sione Kalamafoni, Matt Kvesic, Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Darren Dawidiuk, Yann Thomas, Sila Paufisi; Elliott Stooke, Jacob Rowan, Callum Braley, Billy Burns, Stevie McColl, Tom Palmer, Ross Moriarty, Henry Purdy, Shane Monahan, Mark Atkinson, Tom Isaacs.
MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald; Ronan O’Mahony, Cian Bohane, Ivan Dineen, Darren Sweetnam; Johnny Holland, Duncan Williams; Alan Cotter, Ger Slattery, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan (capt), Sean McCarthy, Shane Buckley, Barry O’Mahony, CJ Stander.
Replacements used: Cathal Sheridan for Williams, John Ryan for Cotter, Kevin O’Byrne for Slattery (all half-time), Rory Scannell for Dineen, John Madigan for Stander (56 mins), Ryan Murphy for B O’Mahony, David Johnston for Holland (both 63), Niall Horan for Botha (66), Greg O’Shea for Fitzgerald (68), Ned Hodson for Sweetnam, Ryan Foley for Sheridan (both 77).
The travel blog of my weekend in Bristol is available here