A minute’s silence before kickoff was an appropriate tribute to a true legend and gentleman of Irish Rugby who passed away peacefully at his home the previous evening. All 23 Ulster players lined up on the pitch with the officials and the Munster team as the supporters of both sides saluted Jack Kyle, may he rest in peace. It was also an opportunity to pay our respects to a former Munster Rugby Branch President David McCormack who also died recently.
When I arrived early on the west terrace there were already a few Ulster fans in occupation who encouraged us to raise our game, starting with cheering for every player as the teams were announced. Their large flag on an extendable fishing rod gave rise to great banter featuring angling and “size matters” jokes. During the first half they greeted each score with a ditty “we’re going to win (insert score)” and also entertained us with songs like “there’s only one f in Franco.” They were a bit quieter when Munster started scoring!
The first half highlights included some great backline moves featuring Gerhard van den Heever who made ground early through excellent footwork bringing Munster so close to the line. It earned Munster a penalty which unfortunately could not be converted into points. Ian Keatley was next to made a break after feinting to kick and he also got Munster into a promising position but Ulster were awarded a scrum after a knock-on and dominated it to win a penalty. There followed a period with an over-reliance on kicking much of which was ineffective – specifically a period of 6 kicks in a row with Keatley, Olding, Hanrahan, Ludik, Hanrahan and Humphries all getting in on the action or lack of around the 13 minute mark! Ian Humphries was on target punishing Munster for penalty infringements four times without reply– for not rolling away, side entry, blocking and offside – all in the first 20 minutes to bring the score to 0-12! Not the start we had expected. However a miscued kick by Olding which went out on the full gave Munster a foothold in Ulster territory and a high tackle allowed Ian Keatley to eventually get Munster onto the scoreboard with his second penalty effort to make it 3-12 after 24’.
New centre Pat Howard was unfortunate to collide with JJ Hanrahan when they chased back to tackle Olding as the crowd protested that there had been crossing by Ulster in that move. JJ struggled to his feet but Pat was clutching his head. Play had continued until there was a forward pass at which stage tempers flared into handbags between Donncha and former Munster player Nick Williams after the latter threw the ball in Paddy Butler’s face, warranting a rendition of “Stand up and fight” and earning Munster a penalty. After some treatment Pat was able to walk off to get 7 stitches. Andrew Smith replaced him. Munster were awarded a penalty and seemed to have been spurred into action, now playing with fire in their bellies. Winning their lineout, from the resultant ruck Duncan Williams set Ronan O’Mahony through a gap with a lovely reverse pass. Ronan rounded one defender and got Munster close to the line. Robin Copeland finished the attacking move following another excellent offload, this time from Denis Hurley. The conversion was missed but half an hour in the score looked healthier at 8-12. Just before half-time Ronan O’Mahony gathered a garryowen from just inside his own half to again put Munster on the front foot. Play moved the ball wide to the opposite winger van den Heever who again showed his great footwork to get past three defenders eventually requiring three of them to take him down near the Ulster line. However when play was moved wide an overlap on the other side of the pitch was squandered and so Munster failed to take the lead before the break.
Munster maintained their intensity starting the 2nd half. Olding was temporarily replaced to have an injury treated. Robin Copeland had a great take at the back of the lineout and charged towards the line. When tackled it looked like his leg was twisted. Play went on before the referee eventually blew his whistle when the injured player was at danger of being trampled. Watching the replay we thought he would not be able to continue but in another Thomond miracle cure not only did he get to his feet but he was good to play on. Olding also returned to play. Copeland took his position at the back of the scrum but fumbled the pick-up. However the ball went backward so Duncan Williams gathered it and raced down the blindside to score a try (after a check by the TMO) and just 3’ into the 2nd half Munster were ahead. Captain Donncha gave Keatley a delighted thumbs up when he landed the difficult touchline conversion.
Tommy O’Donnell and David Kilcoyne came on around the 50’ mark and the pack continued to take the fight to Ulster with some good mauling. Munster got a penalty opportunity which Keatley converted to push Munster further ahead 18-12 and added a further 3 points on 55’. A sustained period of pressure by the pack set up a drop goal opportunity but it just missed the target. Ulster then had a period of possession and went through 13 phases before O’Donnell turned over the ball and Williams cleared the danger.
Keatley and van den Heever combined well to bring Munster back up into Ulster 22. A grubber kick through by Keatley was chased by JJ. It looked like a good try but the TMO judged it was not grounded before JJ went into the in-goal area. Thirteen minutes to go, a penalty came back off the post and while Munster won back possession Ulster won the turnover and suddenly the momentum shifted again.
For the final ten minutes it was all Ulster. Stephen Archer who only came on around 68’ was sent to the sinbin just 3 minutes later for taking out the Ulster lifter in the lineout on his own 5m line. Ian Humphries continued his 100% kicking record to add the first Ulster score since the opening quarter to set up a thrilling finish (21-15). Butler had to go off so that Botha could return for a crucial scrum inside the Munster 22. Ulster won a penalty and went for the corner with just 2 minutes remaining. Munster were penalised for pulling down the resultant maul. The maul got over the line but grounding could not be confirmed so Ulster went again while the clock showed less than 2 minutes remaining. This time the Ulster maul powered closer to the line. Munster defended the first wave and it looked like the second wave could have been held up. However the try was awarded and we thought it was all over given that Humphries had been so accurate with his goal kicks all night. However he missed it and we were celebrating a win which had in the opening quarter looked unlikely. The referee had other ideas and after checking that there were 10s left with the TMO indicated that Keatley should restart the game. Ulster were determined to hold onto possession and score. Munster were still down a man but were equally determined to keep them at bay, without conceding a penalty. Time seemed to go slow as we roared our encouragement. The kick-off was sent deep and it took Ulster 17 phases to get back into the Munster half. Eventually CJ won a penalty wrestling for the ball which was not released and Keatley kicked the ball out to bring the game to a conclusion.
An exciting finale (again!) but plenty to work on this week. Some passes did not go to hand, a few lineouts were also overthrown and penalties conceded too easily but I am sure those issues will be ironed out before next weekend’s crunch European game. I was touting Duncan Williams for man of the match as he had a super game – not just for his try – but the official award went to Robin Copeland who wore the 6 jersey but often packed down at 8 in the scrum. It was hard to tell him apart from CJ Stander at times since both were wearing the red and white headbands, and at some angles a 6 can look like an 8! JJ made some excellent takes under the high ball in his less familiar role of full back. Indeed the backline looked threatening all night.
As Tony likes to joke that performance was intended to keep the Clermont video analysts guessing in their preparation! Meanwhile George sent me his first half analysis (mainly a critique of the referee) by Twitter despite being less than 2m from me on the terrace to my left!
After the game we retired to the MRSC bar where someone provided lovely scones and I was delighted to meet up with James McCarthy who I had interviewed by Skype about wheelchair 7s rugby for a blog during the summer. As I was leaving I thought I recognised “Mr Chips” from the munsterfans site as he had said hello after the Toulouse game in April. It was indeed he who had travelled down from Belfast for the game so I had a chat with him and Mrs Chips and a few of their friends. I appreciate their encouragement and the views I get via their site.
Continue reading below for my observations about the A team game.
Daryl’s photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfeehely/sets/72157649119826178/
Munster: JJ Hanrahan (Felix Jones 66), Gerhard van den Heever, Pat Howard (Andrew Smith 28), Denis Hurley, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan (Dave Kilcoyne 49), Duncan Casey, BJ Botha (Stephen Archer 67); Donncha O’Callaghan – capt, Billy Holland; Robin Copeland (Tommy O’Donnell 49), Paddy Butler (Paddy Butler 77), CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall, Neil Cronin, Andrew Smith, Felix Jones
Munster A versus Nottingham
Saturday afternoon I hit the road south to Temple Hill the home of Cork Constitution RFC to support Munster A versus Nottingham in the fourth round of the British & Irish Cup.
Those games are a different experience to the senior team games but you can get really close to the action and hear the communication between the players on the pitch as they work together as a team.
In the first 15 minutes Munster scored two penalties through Johnny Holland both arising from scrum infringements. Nottingham equalised (again 2 penalties awarded at scrum time) and moved ahead when they found space out wide to score a try through Styles. Munster were successful putting pressure on for the conversion which was missed. The pitch seemed to be slippery and there were lots of scrums which were ineffective as a way of restarting action after a knock-on etc. as the referee seemed to award a penalty or free kick most times not all to the same team.
Towards the end of the first half the referee showed a yellow card to Martin Kelly. Also in the first half there was a good scrap on the ground involving Johne Murphy which happened right in front of the Assistant Referee but he did not intervene. It was a shame to see Luke O’Dea go off injured (replaced by Greg O’Shea) while Dave O’Callaghan who had been named in the team was a late withdrawal, his place taken by Sean Dougall.
Shortly after the restart there was a stoppage while Johnny Holland was treated, a stretcher was called for and eventually arrived. Rory Scannell moved into the outhalf role with Dan Goggin joining Ivan Dineen in midfield. Christy Condon came on about 6 minutes into the 2nd half when the first scrum was required, Ryan Murphy being sacrificed. However before the first sinbinning had expired fellow prop Alan Cotter joined Martin and so when Ryan returned to action he only had a minute or two on the pitch when he had to depart again once the next scrum was required!
Being down a man for almost twenty minutes of the second half put Munster A under pressure and Nottingham exploited the space to score again out wide this time through O’Neill. Again the conversion was missed but a ten point gap looked like an uphill battle. However when Munster got back their full complement they took on Nottingham. The new front row of Nottingham should have made it tougher for Munster but Christy Condon was visibly pumped and up for the challenge! Two penalty opportunities were unfortunately missed but Munster were growing into the game.
Johne Murphy collected a garryowen and showed his class, taking off up field, avoiding several tackles and putting Munster on the front foot. Quick recycling and Jack O’Donoghue was in for the first Munster try beside the post. There was a certain symmetry to the game with Munster dominating the opening and closing quarter hours (although it was hard to keep track of the time as the clock did not stop for breaks in play). Another penalty was kicked to touch and the pack mauled strongly. The referee indicated advantage and when Nottingham infringed again he awarded a penalty try to put Munster finally back in the lead. Rory Scannell converted both tries but the announcer insisted on crediting a different Scannell and it was not his brother Niall either! Another successful penalty kick by Rory gave Munster a more comfortable 7 point lead and so it finished. However the victory came at a cost as in addition to the injuries to O’Dea and Holland, Alan Cotter and Jack O’Donoghue also had to be replaced. Their next game is on Friday night at CIT against Worcester.
“Feels like you’re there”
I’ve known Dermot and his sister Eilis for about 18 months now as I drop in dinner to them on a Friday to help out the local Meals on Wheels. Their TV is always on a sports channel when I call. Through our weekly chats I learnt that Eilis was a keen golfer in her day while Dermot played in goals with the local GAA club. Eilis was saying that she loves my enthusiasm for rugby as it reminds her of how she feels about golf, so Friday before last I dropped her in a printout of the “Aviva Ambush” blog to see what she thought. That edition seemed appropriate since they are Dubliners through and through! Sometimes Dermot has bad days so he tends to keep his sentences succinct as easier to get them out between shakes so I was delighted that his verdict was that my writing came across as very “professional”. “Like you were there” he said. “But I was there” I protested as I misunderstood but with a shake of his head and by pointing at himself he paid me a wonderful compliment as that is exactly what I try to achieve with my writing. No wonder he is my sweetheart J
It was also fun to meet some regular readers this week including Joe who recognised me at the local cinema despite me not wearing anything red and Niall at the A team game where I also met Patrick and Jennifer. I am looking forward to another full house at Thomond Park and isn’t it great to be top of the league and top of our pool at this stage of the season. To be the same by New Year would be wonderful! Please Santa?
Ending as I began this time with the minutes silence at the B&I Cup for Jack Kyle and David McCormack.