I love the sense of optimism at the start of the season like on New Years Eve. Getting to the last four in the League and Cup last season just whetted the appetite to go further and secure some silverware. After playing Edinburgh 8 times in the past two seasons and winning 7/8 encounters there was an expectation of victory in the league opener against the Gunners. The inclusion of more of the players involved with Ireland in June – Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway and Ian Keatley in the starting team with Dave Foley and Tommy O’Donnell on the bench – meant that there was more experience available at an earlier stage of the season than prior years. I was also looking forward to the League debuts of last season’s Academy player of the year Shane Buckley at 8 and UL Bohs hooker Kevin O’Brien, plus new centre signing Andrew Smith.
It was good to meet up with the other regulars on the west terrace after almost four months. There was some banter about emails and Grannies. The mild evening meant that some people were in summer clothes, not a common sight at rugby games in our climate! George was wearing the new season design black and green polo shirt. I was glad he was behind us when I saw that the back of the top was totally fluorescent “solar” green. If he had been in front of us we would have needed shades! Conor was also there with his ‘young wife’ (his words). The North and South terraces were closed and there were plenty of empty seats in the stand and space on the East and West terraces. The traffic restrictions due to the visit of the Royal de Luxe Giant Granny to Limerick for the weekend may have put off some attendees.
The Friday night kick-off is not great for the many supporters who travel to Limerick from other parts of the province and beyond. Indeed when the fixture list was finally published in August the number of Friday night matches was a major talking point. Some people questioned the value of their season ticket since they would not be able to attend as many games as expected when they had purchased it in April. CEO Garret Fitzgerald advised that this was a by-product of Sky Sports involvement in the league. Their Pro12 coverage will be on Saturdays but any games to be televised by TG4 / BBC could not be on a Saturday! As Sky are only broadcasting 3 home games per team the only other home games we get on a Saturday will be those not being televised by anyone. Len Dineen’s commentary on Limericks Live95 FM may be an option for those who can’t travel to the home games.
Robin Copeland who picked up a rib injury in last week’s game was interviewed on the west side of the pitch during the warm-up. The Guinness branding was very visible on the shirts, referees tops and padding as they replaced Rabodirect as sponsor.
Looking at the players warm up the Edinburgh team looked bigger. TG4 showed that their pack weighed 889Kg v Munster’s 864kg. The U/11s from Galbally were in front of us getting a few photos taken. When mascot Oscar came over to pose with them he was nearly toppled when one of the boys grabbed his antlers to clamber up behind him and get into the shot!
Local singer Sinead O’Brien led us in a rousing version of “Stand up and fight” and then it was finally game time! One of the MRSC folks in front of us was busy shouting encouragement at Simon Zebo. At one stage he got mixed up between shouting “Zebo” and “Simon” and it came out as “Sime-O”.. I don’t think it will catch on 🙂
Like last week Munster took a long time to get on the scoreboard. By then Edinburgh was 6-0 up after two early penalties (a scrum collapse in the opening minutes and BJ being offside on 7′). There were a lot of scrums, mainly arising from forward passes and the referee would penalise first one side and then the other. Munster did manage to turnover a put-in by turning the scrum.
When Munster won a penalty in the Edinburgh 22 they opted to go for the line. However the maul was well defended and the ball won by Edinburgh.
John Ryan put in some important tackles including one Stringer-esque ankle tap. Another highlight was when Zebo kicked over the defender but the bounce of the ball did not work out and Edinburgh regained possession, while Andrew Conway was unlucky when a kick ahead went out on the full – it was a matter of inches from bouncing the right side of the line. A great clearance kick by Ronan O’Mahony from his own goal line was fumbled by the Edinburgh player to our delight but the referee did not see any forward pass and play continued to our disgust.
Just after the half hour mark Munster (I think through Johne Murphy) won a great turn-over. As Zebo passed to CJ the defender picked Zebo up and dropped him. The referee called upon the TMO. After watching the replay on the big screen a yellow card was shown to Leonardi. Some thought it should have been a red card but the referee was happy that yellow sufficed as Simon had landed on his back.
Munster kicked for touch and took a lineout on the 10m line. A subsequent infringement earned them a second penalty this time on the 5m line. Billy Holland claimed the ball and the pack formed a maul, getting closer to the line but CJ Stander surged through 2 tackles to touch down.
Unfortunately the conversion was missed and Edinburgh went in at half time 9-5 ahead after scoring their third penalty with the last kick of the half. It could have been worse as Tim Visser thought he had scored a try but it was not awarded due to a forward pass as confirmed by the TMO.
Ivan Dineen replaced Ronan O’Mahony at half time and gave some impetus in midfield. Zebo made another good break up the east side and from the resultant ruck a second Edinburgh player (Watson) was sent to the bin. Munster opted for the lineout but a penalty awarded against the defender was reversed after the TMO was again called on to check no card was warranted by Donncha’s use of the boot on the defender. We did not know why there was such a delay or why the penalty was reversed as there was a problem with the replay so were confused. Kevin thought the break an opportune moment to start Stand Up and Fight while we were waiting. The clock seemed to be on a go slow – it only read 52 minutes about 90 minutes after kick-off due to all the stoppages for injuries and the TMO reviews! Jerry Flannery and Mick O’Driscoll were on with water bottles, kicking tees and advice throughout the game.
Despite still being reduced to 14 Edinburgh scored a try when Alex Cuthbert was first to reach the ball kicked through. It was time to unleash the big guns in the form of O’Donnell and Foley. On 59′ CJ Stander rolled out of a tackle to ground the ball. Again the conversion was unsuccessful so the score was 10-14. There was still 20 minutes left so plenty of time to take control of the game. CJ nearly scored a third but the resultant penalty was converted by Ian Keatley to bring Munster within a point at 13-14. In the closing minutes both kickers had a final attempt at goal but failed. There was even time for a third yellow card for Edinburgh this time for replacement prop Nel but when the final whistle sounded it was the visitors who were celebrating.
There were some positives but there was a real pre-season feel to the game with so many mistakes being made. Against stronger opposition the result could have been even worse. There are no prizes handed out in September but it is important to win your home games. Hopefully Munster will rediscover their mojo in Treviso and play with more zip against Zebre the following week in preparation for the more serious test when the Ospreys and Sky come to Thomond the following week.
Munster: Ronan O’Mahony; Andrew Conway, Johne Murphy, Andrew Smith, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Kevin O’Byrne, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan Capt., Billy Holland, CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, Shane Buckley.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, Alan Cotter, Stephen Archer, Dave Foley, Tommy O’Donnell, Cathal Sheridan, Johnny Holland, Ivan Dineen.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; D Fife, S Beard, A Strauss, T Visser; T Heathcote, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford (capt), J Andress; F McKenzie, O Atkins; T Leonardi, H Watson, C Du Preez.
Replacements: J Hilterbrand, R Sutherland, WP Nel, B Toolis, M Coman, S Hidalgo-Clyne, N McLennan, P Burleigh.
Back in Thurles for the weekend the place was awash with blue and gold flags in anticipation of the All Ireland Hurling final. There was a great buzz about the place and it looks like that is set to continue at least for the next 3 weeks as we await the replay. Unfortunately that will clash with the Munster game against Ospreys so I will be keeping on eye on the hurling duel via Twitter.
Highlights from the Pro12 YouTube channel:
All Daryl’s photos from the night are here