I’m sure you’ve all had this experience, overhearing someone sounding very knowledgeable but getting it completely wrong as the guy behind me did last night at the Munster pre-season friendly versus London Irish. He was right that CJ Stander was having a fine game, charging through defenders, making big tackles, but wrong about his nationality. When he went on to say that CJ had played for the New Zealand U21s I could not stop myself turning around to tell him that CJ hails from South Africa. He probably thought I was rudely butting into his private conversation…
Yes it was a stretch to get a title to include the Waterford word “blaa” but it had to be done, given that this game was played in Waterford! It was my first time at the Regional Sports Centre there. When I spotted floodlights as I approached the city I thought I had arrived but those were at the Hurling and Camogie centre so I had to turn on the sat nav on my phone to get directions from there. The carpark entrance to the RSC was a disaster with tickets being inspected and a queue waiting to turn in from both the left and the right so I went on to the next roundabout where I turned right and found parking opposite Supervalu. That was an hour prior to kick-off so it was great to see such interest in the fixture with 5,000 red clad supporters arriving from all directions to the sold out game.
I took a seat in the stand near the 10m line in the above photo. The running track around the pitch meant we were further away from the action than on the West Terrace at Thomond but I managed to get some decent photos for the blog. There was no big screen to see the action at the far side of the pitch. I recognised local squad member Jack O’Donoghue who had captained Ireland to the U20s world cup semi-final walking past. It was a pity that the U20s team did not get any exposure at half-time but it was great that another local player, Niamh Briggs was interviewed on the pitch then about her recent experience at the Women’s Rugby World Cup where she helped guide Ireland to their best ever finish in 4th place.
The sun came out at times and it was quite dazzling looking towards the west. Munster played into that end for the first half.
The return of Billy Holland, Sean Dougall and the first start for Munster of Robin Copeland after their victory in the Emerging Nations Cup in Romania made this a much more experienced pack compared to the previous week. It was great to see Stephen Archer back playing after a serious disk injury prematurely ended his season last March. Recent arrival Andrew Smith also made his debut for Munster playing alongside Cian Bohane in the centre.
Munster had much more possession than last week and it was good to see some strong mauling and ball carrying, running at the opposition. They took the game to London Irish, turning down kickable penalties to go for the corner.
The maul was working well and CJ Stander seemed to be putting Munster on the front foot all the time.
Darren Sweetnam, Ronan O’Mahony and Cian Bohane stood out among the backs, making good ground while also marshalling the London Irish attackers including their impressive centre Armitage. I was particularly impressed by some excellent footwork by Darren Sweetnam but Ronan O’Mahony’s composure under a high ball from Tomas O’Leary which he gathered, ducked out of the tackle, called the mark and set off down the pitch really energised the crowd and is worth checking out in the video below to see it and the excellent support lines run by Robin Copeland and Johne Murphy. A few plays later Ronan chased down a garryowen and put the receiver under pressure, winning a penalty and putting Munster deep into enemy territory. Shortly afterwards Donncha O’Callaghan and Jebb Sinclair (#5) were both were sin-binned after wrestling on the ground. Unlike in Thomond on similar occasions there was no spontaneous rendition of “Stand Up and Fight.” As a result of Donncha’s absence Johne Murphy put his scrum cap to good use moving into the backrow for the subsequent scrum with Munster close to the London Irish line.
It is worth watching that period in the highlights video to see several good drives by CJ Stander and a strong run by Cian Bohane as Munster went through multiple phases. I thought Johne would get onto the scoresheet but Ronan O’Mahony accelerated into the space to take the pass and score the opening try. Munster deserved the lead after being the dominant team, it was just a surprise that it took so long to be scored. Then as often happens London Irish scored themselves within minutes through Alex Lewington but failed to convert it to go into the break 7-5 behind.
Johnny Holland kicked three from three despite the blustery conditions, the most difficult being the first conversion from a tough angle. He also showed some good pace making one memorable break in the first half.
Early in the second half the London Irish prop Matt Parr was binned and he was just back on a few minutes when Luke Narraway was sent to the bin when Munster looked sure to score, I think through Sean Dougall. In fact we thought a penalty try had been awarded as the scoreboard changed to 12-5 before being reset to 7-5. From the resultant scrum Munster kept on the pressure and Duncan Williams darted over to touchdown. Johnny Holland converted and added a later penalty on 68′.
London Irish made a break and it stretched the defence but Ronan O’Mahony and Cian Bohane got back in time to stop them. However Cian stayed down and there was a long stoppage as he was treated before being wheeled off on the stretcher, his captain Donncha by his side as both were substituted. Johne Murphy returned to action to replace Cian, whose injury looked bad and painful but the extent of it will not be known until it is scanned. Hopefully he will make a good recovery.
There was still time for Barry O’Mahony to try to match his brother Ronan by scoring a try but he could not control the ball to ground it over the line after winning the chip and chase.
Thanks to @OutTheLine for the video highlights clip. Check out the lovely take, tackle evasion and break by Ronan O’Mahony at 1.22 in the video.
So the preliminaries are over and the Pro12 kicks off next Friday night at Thomond with the visit of Edinburgh. With more players to complete their pre-season and return to action there will be a transitional look to the team for the next few weeks but the experience the younger players gained from the pre-season games will stand to them then and in the B&I Cup this season. Peter O’Mahony is hoping to play in October after his shoulder surgeries. The new qualification rules for the European Cup mean that Munster need to perform consistently well in the League and given the lack of silverware in recent seasons the league title will be a target. Here’s to the 14/15 season, looking forward to plenty of opportunities to #SUAF between now and May.
MUNSTER: J Murphy (D Johnston, 66); R O’Mahony, A Smith (R Scannell, 66), C Bohane (J Murphy, 75), D Sweetnam (I Dineen, 59); J Holland, C Sheridan (D Williams, h-t); J Ryan (A Cotter, 73), K O’Byrne (G Slattery, 62, D Casey, 76); S Archer (BJ Botha, 50), D O’Callaghan – captain (J Madigan, 75); B Holland; CJ Stander (S McCarthy, 66), S Dougall (B O’Mahony, 66), R Copeland (S Buckley, 62).
LONDON IRISH: A Fenby; A Lewington, T Fowlie, G Armitage, W Harries; M Dorrian, T O’Leary – captain (D Allinson, 52); M Parr, D Paice (G Ellis, h-t), H Aulika (L Halavatau, h-t); J Sinclair, N Rouse (O Treviranus, 34); K Low, C Gilsenan (T Court, 45-52, M Mayhew, 75), L Narraway. B Cowan, S Geraghty, J Short, E Sheridan, T Ojo, T Homer, C Noakes.