Friday night was National Culture night so entry was free to various events and museums around the country including King John’s Castle just down the road from Thomond Park. As I had often gone past but never been inside I took the opportunity to take a quick tour before heading to the game, thanks to hearing about it on the 5pm news on live95 as I had approached the city. Inside I learnt about the famous siege of Limerick and saw the remains of the tunnels dug under the castle by the besiegers trying to breach the fortress and by the besieged trying to collapse the tunnels dug by their opponents.
After an inauspicious start to the season it would be understandable if there is a siege mentality in Munster rugby. The email fiasco, home loss to Edinburgh (which as the media were quick to point out was their third in a row after losing their final two home games last season) various injuries and even a stolen passport have resulted in the wrong kind of headlines. The match preview in the Irish Times on Friday seemed to be writing off Munster and with Connacht doing so well the pecking order of Irish rugby is unclear. Hopefully the squad are pulling together and will prove the saying “we’re better when we’re bitter” still holds true.
It was a misty murky night as the photo shows and humidity was high. Considering the bad thunder and lightning earlier in Limerick conditions weren’t too bad for the actual game but there was a strong breeze and some rain in the second half. Brian joked that you could see the financial challenges impacting Munster when the floodlights were not turned on until 7pm! Continuing in the cultural vein, Tony and Imelda passed some time before the game telling me about the more recent history of the area. We enjoyed meeting Dave – a proud Munsterman visiting from Toronto where he has lived for 30 years – who hopes to open a branch of the supporters club there. He was delighted to be involved as a flag bearer in the guard of honour and after borrowing a red jacket for the occasion stepped out onto the pitch. I am hoping for a few more “hits” to the blog from Canada 🙂
Before the game there was a pitchside interview with Ian Keatley but there was no big screen to watch it on since the game was not televised. Not part of a cunning plan to thwart the video analysis of the Ospreys for next week’s game but since TG4 were at Galway for the interprovincial clash this was a consequence of the withdrawal of RTE2 and the entry of Sky as broadcast partner to the League. It also meant there was no TMO or delays checking things from various angles which probably sped up the game a bit.
It was a big night for Johnny Holland, who after starting both pre-season friendlies finally made his competitive debut. Jack O’Donoghue who captained the Irish U20s at the JWC was also drafted onto the bench in place of Sean Dougall.
The return of Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray, Paddy Butler and Denis Hurley to the starting 15 plus JJ Hanrahan and Dave Kilcoyne to the bench gave the management a chance to look at more options before the bigger tests in the coming weeks. Victory against Zebre would not provide a great indication of form but a loss would be catastrophic.
Both sides tested each other out early with mauls off the lineout. Johnny Holland got great distance to a penalty taken down the line but from the resultant maul which I thought Zebre collapsed as Munster went for the line, the referee saw it differently and penalised Munster.
Shortly afterwards near the Munster line Paul O’Connell was working so hard to hold up one Zebre ball carrier that he became airborne himself as a maul formed around them.
At another stage Denis Hurley playing at 12 was involved in a lovely loop pass with Paul O’Connell. Denis made some big tackles and displayed his excellent passing skills during the game as he adapts to a role in midfield.
Early on a ball was kicked out and bounced into the area in front of us, almost hitting Fiona who had arrived on crutches so whenever a ball came close again a chorus of “mind Fiona’s foot” was heard.
The first try came from a solid scrum and a great cut-out pass from Johnny Holland to put Andrew Smith into space. He took on the defence before passing to Simon Zebo to score in the corner. Johnny Holland’s conversion looked on target from the difficult angle but just fell short. It was disappointing for Johnny Holland to have to go off after twenty minutes with what looked like a shoulder injury. JJ Hanrahan came on in his place.
The second try was setup by Ronan O’Mahony who chased and gathered a good garryowen from Conor Murray, getting past a few defenders before being tackled. Conor Murray got the ball away with Copeland and Butler involved before Denis Hurley passed to Simon Zebo to score on the opposite wing in a good team effort.
There was time for a third try before the break! This one was again finished by Zebo but made by JJ Hanrahan. It looked to me like the ball rebounded off a player and JJ swooped on it from deep inside his own half. He raced upfield, making it to the 22m line before passing it just behind Simon Zebo who adjusted well to gather the ball and score close to the posts making the conversion a lot simpler. JJ brought the score to 17-0.
There were two games of mini rugby at half-time, giving four teams the opportunity to play in Thomond. It often seems to me that their coaches look more excited coming off the pitch afterwards than the youngsters!
It did not take long for the bonus point to be secured after the restart. This time in a reverse of the first try it was Zebo for the assist, setting up the try for Smith to score hopefully the first of many for Munster. The conversion hit the posts but was successful.
was it in the lead up to that one or the next that James Cronin made a super break and deserved to score? The sight of a prop in full flow is something to behold. Not as graceful as a back but even more likely to get the terrace roaring as he get the team into a promising position.
Robin Copeland seemed to pick up an injury and was replaced by Jack O’Donoghue, one of the rare breed of Waterford bred Munster players and a very promising Academy player. A scrum led to a scrap between two players. It looked to me like it was Jack who was involved. We missed Kevin who normally leads us in a chorus of Stand Up And Fight on such occasions. Imelda and I did give it our best shot, despite Tony opting for “just one cornetto”. After consulting with his assistant the referee awarded the penalty to Munster. Johne Murphy who had replaced Denis Hurley in midfield made some good breaks and it was young O’Donoghue who was on his shoulder for one of them.
Dave Kilcoyne finished off a good drive by Munster by scoring close to the posts which was also converted.
According to the announcer Johne was replaced by Donncha which confused us as we could see both Johne and Duncan were playing, Johne in the whitest scrum cap, almost blue white perhaps as a nod to the great work he is doing promoting blue September (http://www.blueseptember.ie/). It turned out that it was Tommy O’Donnell who had gone off (another of the scrum cap wearers on the team!) so Billy Holland moved to the backrow.
Full credit to Zebre they kept fighting to the end and after all the substitutions put pressure on the Munster scrum to win a penalty which they kicked into the Munster 22. They launched their final attack and created a 2:1 overlap on the west wing. Ronan O’Mahony was unable to keep them out and a try was conceded. Donncha and Felix charged the conversion attempt and succeeded in putting off the kick to leave the final score at 31-5.
The above was written based on memory and what I could see without the benefit of replays on the big screen. I know several of my regular readers were also at the game so please share your highlights / man of the match through the comments option. Unsurprisingly Simon Zebo was the official man of the match and had a fine game but who else caught your eye? I was impressed by JJ Hanrahan in his first game back, Andrew Smith who made his greatest contribution to date, Cronin and the back row were all conspicuous and it is great to see Felix Jones in good form also. We will have a better idea after next weeks visit by the Ospreys! Hopefully there will be a better crowd there for that game (and being from Tipp I hope they have plans to show us the All Ireland hurling replay before the game!)
My brother-in-law phoned me as I was driving out of Limerick, a proud Roscommon man, he was thrilled that Connacht had come from 3-9 down to beat Leinster 10-9 in Galway, giving them three wins from three in the league. A new pecking order indeed with Leinster currently furthest down the league table of the four Irish provinces but there is a lot of rugby to be played yet this season!
Thanks to Daryl for his great action shots. You should check out his full set here The photos of Limerick below are my own.
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Munster: Felix Jones – capt, Ronan O’Mahony, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Johnny Holland, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha; Billy Holland, Paul O’Connell; Paddy Butler, Tommy O’Donnell, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Johne Murphy
Zebre: H Daniller; D Odiete, G Bisegni, K Haimona, G Toniolatti; E Padovani, G Palazzini; A Lovotti, A Manici, L Leibson, Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi, M Bergamasco, F Cristiano, S Vunisa. Reps: O Fabiani, A de Marchi, D Chistolini, V Bernabo, A Ferreira, A Chillon, G Garcia.
Highlights – not sure why over a minute of the highlights is an ad for Sky but worth seeing the first two minutes of actual highlights!
Some more Culture Night photos and an anecdote about Pascal:
Thomond was barely visible from the castle battlements
As I left the castle to head to Thomond I met Pascal, a west terrace regular. I almost did not recognise him, dressed in a smart suit as he was on duty as the Masons Lodge opposite the castle. I asked him if he was going to miss the game but he said no he would be along to it, so I asked was he going to go in his suit and raise the sartorial elegance of the terrace. He replied that he would be changing and as I walked across the bridge I had a vision in my head of Pascal doing a Clark Kent kind of twirl and having his red “uniform” underneath the suit.. which reminded me that Superman wears Paul O’Connell pajamas.. so if you saw me chuckling as I walked up the road now you know why!