I was being totally tongue in cheek last week when I tweeted about the #AvivaAmbush, but there had to be a backlash after the second home defeat of the season. Written off by some quarters the team had points to prove and thanks to @Pro12rugby I was sitting in the Premium level of the East Stand to witness the first win in Dublin since 2008 – I was there for that 18-0 win! My first rugby blog covered the 2012/13 defeat and I was there again for the 2013/14 defeat last March (Doris’s Day) so I wasn’t rushing out to buy a ticket given that the only game “my” team be it Ireland or Munster had won in the Aviva in my presence was the Women’s game last March, so it was great to win 2 tickets! While I missed the proximity to the action I have on the terrace our seats were the right side of the stadium for Munster’s first half tries and second half heroics when time and again they had to put their bodies on the line to hold out wave after blue wave of attack. Given the referee saw fit to sinbin not 1 but 4 red shirts in that half it was an incredible performance. While there was no bonus point for either team getting Peter O’Mahony back on the pitch, hitting rucks and mauls and even claiming a lineout showing it was business as usual after his double shoulder reconstruction was a major bonus.
I watched the highlights from TG4 this afternoon and it was breathtaking! The speed, physicality and ferocity were the most noticeable elements with the team working hard together to clear out and protect Munster ball or to turnover or at least disrupt Leinster ball. Players made their tackles and got up to hit the next one. They scrambled to defend their line and supported each other in packs. It was superb to see the pride and passion back, along with the belief. Yes there are things to work on but this was a huge step in the right direction and it was brilliant to be there.
First blood went to Leinster with Mike Ross winning a penalty against James Cronin in the scrum. 3-0 inside two minutes but Munster equalised quickly when Dominic Ryan put in a monster tackle on CJ Stander but failed to release. The PA announcer asked for silence for both kickers.
Zebo thought he was away but was called back as there had been an advantage to Leinster. There was a serious looking collision between Conor Murray and Ian Keatley when both chased an Ian Madigan kick but fortunately they were fine to play on. Another scrum penalty allowed Madigan to put Leinster 6-3 ahead but Munster upped the intensity and put down a statement of intent as they went through phase after phase – Murray, Copeland, O’Donnell carried and presented the ball back cleanly with their team mates clearing out well to allow Munster to move the ball quickly. While the TMO adjudged the final effort was held up a 5m scrum was won and Leinster knew which Munster had turned up! Fergus McFadden was injured in that passage and there was a significant stoppage while he was stabilised and removed from the field to be replaced by Mick McGrath. From the scrum Cronin won his duel with Ross and Keatley converted the penalty to make it 6-6 after a breath-taking 15 minutes.
Andrew Conway was in an aerial duel with McGrath for a high ball before he won the resultant wrestle on the ground. Murray got the ball to Hurley, then Foley carried, Keatley spun it wide to Jones, Murray this time went to Foley before Cronin took it on for the final few metres, brushing through Ross and Toner while Madigan could do nothing to stop him. The conversion attempt failed but Munster were ahead for the first time in the game 6-11 on 24′. Copeland won a turnover from Fanning, the scrum yielded another penalty and the score moved to 6-14. Jimmy Gopperth made a good line break but Felix Jones had it covered and his intervention allowed Munster’s defensive line to reset. Munster seemed to be hunting in packs, Conway and Jones chased down Fanning with Murray and O’Donnell arriving as the cavalry to push him into touch and win the lineout.
The pack took control from the lineout. While Zebo was waving his arms looking for the ball they smelt blood and probed for the weakness with Copeland eventually making the breakthrough to score his first try for Munster despite the mass of bodies. The ref sought the assistance of the TMO to check no defender was taken out illegally and the try was awarded. It was a great team effort and displayed the determination and patience allied with the skillset to work with such quick ball as players took responsibility to eke out the inches required to reach the line.
There was a controversial moment when Gopperth, Zebo and Hurley chased another high ball. Gopperth got it but there was contact with Zebo and Hurley ended up helping him land safely as he fell into Denis. The referee called for the TMO and satisfied that Zebo had his eyes on the ball at all times decided that a penalty against Zebo was appropriate. A few minutes later CJ was pinged for not releasing and Madigan took the 3 points on offer to make it 9-21 with 5 minutes to go to half-time.
Unfortunately Duncan Casey was injured and Damien Varley made his first appearance of the season, probably a little earlier than planned. We were on our feet cheering on Ian Keatley when he intercepted a pass in his own half and scored under the post. It was reminiscent of ROG in the semi-final in 2006! Half time score was a very healthy 9-28 but Leinster had come from behind in the Pro12 semi against Ulster while Connacht had conceded 14 points in 10 minutes the previous evening so the game was far from over.
Leo the lion banged his drum and got the youngsters chanting “Leinster, Leinster” throughout the first half but the Blue Army did not really get into full voice until the last quarter when they had the numerical advantage on the pitch to match their advantage in the stands.
From a wonderful maul off a lineout Murray gave a super long pass to Keatley off whom Jones ran an excellent line to burst through. From the subsequent phases we thought the bonus point had been secured but the TMO review showed that Zebo had not quite made the line. Leinster defended the 5m scrum resolutely and that was the closest we got to a fourth try but there was plenty of drama yet to unfold. Andrew Conway joined Casey on the sidelines when he was injured after chasing a box kick and tackling McGrath. He was replaced by Gerhard van den Heever.
The referee issued a warning after Hurley was deemed to not have made a big enough effort to roll away so when Varley got hit by the ball when coming back from offside he was sent to the bin. Munster heads did not drop, they stepped up their defensive effort even further, Zebo holding out Sean Cronin, Jones putting in a big tackle on Madigan, but things got worse when BJ Botha only 10 minutes on the pitch played the ball when offside and joined Varley in the sinbin. When Leinster took a lineout Munster managed to slow down the Leinster pack but the ball was spun out to Fanning who scored under the posts.
The floodgates did not open. Peter O’Mahony lifted the supporters and the team when he joined the fray replacing Robin Copeland with CJ moving to #8. Peter was straight into the action and showed no ring rustiness after his long rehabilitation. There was an uncontested scrum as Munster had no front row players to bring on (with Casey injured and Varley in the bin). An excellent chase by Gerhard and Denis put Rob Kearney under pressure and earned a penalty which Keatley converted to ensure Leinster needed to score more than 2 converted tries to win! But they had time with 14 minutes remaining so it was tense! With Varley restored to the team and BJ still in the bin Archer came on for the next scrum with CJ taken off so that scrums could be contested again. The two-man advantage was restored to Leinster on 69 minutes with a yellow card shown to Dave Foley for pulling down the maul, for which a penalty try was awarded also.
The score remained 23-31 until 75 minutes when Peter O’Mahony claimed the Munster lineout and a maul formed which was taken down by Devin Toner. JJ Hanrahan had replaced Keatley so he stepped up and moved Munster out to 34. Leinster needed two scores at least and time was running out for them. There was yet another yellow card on 78′, this time for Conor Murray – not sure why, was it mistaken identity (Felix?) – but O’Connell disrupted the Leinster lineout while O’Mahony got in a boot to ensure no clean ball for Leinster. They were awarded a scrum (Paul knocked on) as the clock went red but Munster won the turnover to prevent Leinster earning even a losing bonus point!!!! JJ kicked the ball out and a historic victory was earned.
Leinster were missing some key players but the manner of the Munster performance and their mental strength to cope with all the yellow card disruption was awesome. I was delighted for Denis Hurley who came through a tough test as a centre with flying colours and isn’t it great to see Felix Jones back to his best form also? I don’t know how man of the match was selected as there were so many contenders but Sky awarded it to Conor Murray.
Match stats show Stander and O’Donnell made the most tackles with both centres (Smith and Hurley) and the indomitable O’Connell also getting into double figures while the possession stats for the 2nd half tell a tale with Munster only having 26%, necessitating making 144 tackles to Leinster’s 88!
Highlights courtesy of Leinster Rugby as longer than the official pack from Pro12 channel:
Munster’s first win in Dublin since 2008 – and we all know what else we haven’t won since 2008… dream on! In the meantime the team need to back up that performance by ensuring a home win next Friday night in Thomond Park against the Scarlets. Hopefully there will be a good crowd there to support them and for the A team game next Saturday (details below).
Munster: Felix Jones (Capt.), Andrew Conway (Van den Heever 49), Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley (Hanrahan 67), Conor Murray; James Cronin (Kilcoyne 49), Duncan Casey (Varley 38), Stephen Archer (Botha 49); Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell; CJ Stander (Holland 78), Tommy O’Donnell, Robin Copeland (O’Mahony 63)
The A team report is below but a big part of the Aviva game is getting involved with the flag distribution, stressing the word free, seeing the relief on parents faces that there is something for nothing and the delight on the children’s faces (and disappointment by the Leinster kids that we don’t have blue ones for them!), enjoying the banter with the supporters of both sides, trying to guess which team is being supported by those in neutral colours!
I enjoyed a laugh with former Leinster hooker Shane Byrne by offering him a red flag and when the Munster A team walked by I got another photo with Donncha who was in great form. The challenge this time was to get the four heavy boxes containing I believe 1000 flags to the Aviva. The lads loaded up my little Yaris and Liz and I drove towards the Aviva where we appealed to the gardai on the checkpoint to let us poor weak females through with our heavy boxes. The “blonde” act worked and we were let through to park just around the corner from Jurys where we started distributing flags. I am sure the stall on the other side of the road selling flags, hats and scarfs were not impressed! When the lights changed a flood of people came by. James took a box down to the next crossroads to meet those coming off the DART while Dave, Liz and Kevin worked the crossroads near Jurys. One lady asked me for a flag to bring home to her son in the south east of France. They know Munster down there I told her, after our trips to Marseilles and Montpelier in recent years! I was the only one of the flag team going to the game so I took a few bundles with me and headed off about 6.05, getting to my seat just in time at 6.25.
DONNYBROOK DERBY – THE A TEAMS ENCOUNTER
Just like buses you wait ages for one and then 2 come together! The appetiser to the main event was at 1pm in Donnybrook, where the A teams took to the new artificial pitch on a sunny, breezy afternoon. There was a small crowd there, lots of relatives I expect (I was chatting to the mothers of both Leinster winger Sam Coghlan-Murray and their A team coach Girvan Dempsey.) I also saw Guy and Simon Easterby there but was more excited to see Doug Howlett on the pitch in his tracksuit getting stuck into his new role of advisor along with the rest of the coaching team managed by Mick O’Driscoll.
The Munster team with a mixture of ages and experience from the most capped player Donncha O’Callaghan to latest arrival Eusebio Guinazu. After enjoying the Under 20s Junior World Cup it was good to see many of them involved between the two teams – Jack O’Donoghue, Rory Burke, Max Abbott, Dan Goggin and Alex Wootton for Munster, Cian Kelleher, Peter Dooley, Oisin Heffernan, Peader Timmins and Ross Byrne for Leinster. Tickets for the stand were €15 and it was like an icebox so I paid €10 and basked in the sunshine sitting on the steps or leaning on the barrier behind the goal posts. Not the best place to watch a game but good to see the Munster warm-up! The new artificial pitch looked well, some players lost their footing at times, it probably takes getting used to. There were a lot of stoppages especially in the first half with injuries to Leinster players mainly, and the ref awarded lots of penalties mainly for scrum offences and holding on. Luke O’Dea was unlucky not to score in the first half when he could not collect his chip ahead while O’Mahony also almost scored but was bundled into touch by Nick McCarthy. Munster were playing into the wind. It was 3-3 at half time but Munster A took control in the second half, scoring 2 tries, one for the forwards credited to Shane Buckley and one for the backs which I thought was scored by Ronan but it was Luke who linked well with Rory Scannell. Eusebio came on in his first game for Munster at prop. Johne Murphy just got back to deny Cian Kelleher scoring after running from deep in his own half but Leinster kept the pressure on and eventually Ross Byrne touched down in the 75th minute. Rory Scannell contributed 8 points, kicking two penalties and one conversion for Munster A. The final score was 18-8. The game will stand to both teams as they commence their B&I Cup campaign next weekend – Munster A will be in Clonmel RFC on Saturday afternoon (3pm) taking on Moseley RFC.
Munster A: Johne Murphy; Ronan O’Mahony, Ivan Dineen, Rory Scannell, Luke O’Dea; David Johnston, Cathal Sheridan; Alan Cotter, Kevin O’Byrne, Rory Burke; Donncha O’Callaghan, Sean McCarthy; Shane Buckley, Barry O’Mahony, Jack O’Donoghue (Capt.).
Replacements: Max Abbott, Eusebio Guinazu, John Madigan, Ryan Murphy, Jamie Glynn, Dan Goggin, Alex Wootton.
Leinster A: Cian Kelleher, Sam Coghlan-Murray, Colm O’Shea, Tom Daly, Adam Byrne, Cathal Marsh, Nick McCarthy; Peter Dooley, Richardt Strauss, Oisin Heffernan, Tom Denton, Gavin Thornbury, Jordan Coghlan, Josh vd Flier, Peadar Timmins.
Replacements: Tyrone Moran, Sean McCarthy, Jeremy Loughman, Ross Molony, Jack Dwan, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin
Unfortunately I had an appointment in town so I could not hang around to meet some folks in the stand but hopefully next time!