A drizzly, windswept night in Thomond Park, a Saturday evening kick-off, the stage was set for another great Munster occasion, their 24th home win over a French team but Clermont rewrote the script. Munster were expected to become the first team to win 100 European Rugby Cup games ever… Clermont were written off by some as chokers but instead they were the team who made history, becoming the first French team to win at Thomond Park, while the following day Toulouse became the first club to reach 100 European wins. Hopefully we will soon achieve that milestone also.
Clermont played the elements and the referee’s interpretation of the offside rule better and came out on top with Munster losing the physical battle and making uncharacteristic errors. Maybe this will finally be Clermont’s year but this pool is only at the half-way point and there could still be more twists and turns along the way, starting next weekend with the return fixtures in Clermont and London.
The terraces filled up early, the roar as the team headed back to the changing room after their warm-up showed we were in good voice. Pockets of the Yellow Army could be seen jumping up and down in both stands and dotted around the terraces, waving their flags, making their presence heard especially when their team got off to a great start!
The kick-off was not secured by Munster and when the Clermont scrum-half kicked through all Felix Jones could do was carry the ball into touch, conceding a lineout on the 5m line. When Clermont’s maul pushed Munster off their line and the ball was touched down after just 60s by Fritz Lee we were in shock! The guard of honour flag bearers had not even returned to their vantage points in front of us by that time and we were 0-5 down. But there were 79 minutes left so no need to panic we hoped. No silence for the kicker as the travelling supporters clapped their hands to encourage Camille Lopez per their tradition. We were happy to see the difficult conversion go wide.
After 10 minutes an off the ball fight broke out but Wayne Barnes decided not to ask for a TMO review despite Peter O’Mahony nearly having the jersey pulled off him by Fritz Lee. Maybe if he had there would have been a card which would have changed the dynamic of the game. It was too far away from me to see what started it but the newspapers on Sunday claim that Lee threw some punches and could be cited if there is TV evidence.
Tommy O’Donnell made a great break down the east wing giving us something to cheer. Dave Kilcoyne had been injured in the lead-up to that. He was treated on the field before trying to run across the pitch to join the next scrum but unfortunately was not able to continue and James Cronin, fresh back to action after his own injury during the Saracens game came on earlier than expected. An excellent maul earned a penalty which Keatley converted on 14’.
A blocked down box kick from Murray could have led to a second try for Clermont but Nalaga could not collect the ball kicked through and we escaped. A free kick from the resultant scrum just edged over the line in front of us getting Munster out of their half. An excellent tackle by Howard and Hurley on Rougerie got the crowd going. However we were rocked again when on 20’ Fofana scored a try, arising from a free kick awarded for not keeping the gap in a lineout. Rougerie had brought play deep into Munster territory on the west side before they went wide the other way, the ball took a deflection into Fofana’s hands, he accelerated into space, handed off O’Mahony and scored. Again it was not converted so the score was 3-10 but they were half way to a 4 try bonus point with an hour remaining! Munster responded with a great restart which won them a scrum from which they won a penalty which came off the post but went over to make the score 6-10.
Lopez’s first successful kick at goal came on the half hour mark when Clermont were awarded a penalty due to a scrum infringement. Just minutes later he followed it up with a drop goal from inside the 10m line to further increase their lead.
Coming up towards half-time, Munster kicked a penalty opportunity for touch. The ball was dropped and another opportunity lost.
Playing with the wind in the second half gave Munster an advantage but several kicks went dead while others went out on the full handing possession and territory back to Clermont. It looked like Peter O’Mahony was seriously injured around 48’ but the medics patched him up enough to continue. Gerhard van den Heever had to be replaced in the 57th minute by Johne Murphy.
Good carries by O’Donnell, Hurley, Howard, Cronin, all got our hopes up. There was better chasing after kicks in the second half. However it wasn’t until the 59th minute that Munster were awarded a kickable penalty opportunity which Keatley converted to reduce the gap to a converted try at 9-16.
Just minutes later Felix Jones chased a kick and tackled Nick Abendanon to great cheers. That’s more like it we thought. Put them under pressure. Barnes stopped play as Abendanon was injured and needed attention after that tackle. It could have been whiplash from the force of the tackle. He went off for an assessment but later returned.
Despite great efforts in the final quarter Clermont maintained their superb defense to deny and frustrate Munster. An excellent kick by Keatley stopped just short of the try line forcing Clermont to kick it out and provide a foothold in their 22. From the lineout maul Stander’s jersey was pulled over his head. Rather than wasting time trying to fix it he pulled it off and played on. Not quite as exciting as when Donncha played on without his shorts but it gave an insight into the determination to get into position for the next carry or tackle. Punch drunk at times from all the tackles, you could see some players struggled to get to their feet but they did fight to the very end, desperately seeking a try to tie up the game but despite a sustained period of pressure entailing 17 phases Clermont held firm. Keatley almost found a gap and eventually Clermont conceded a penalty. From that lineout Munster went through another 22 phases before another penalty was awarded. With 45s remaining Keatley kicked to touch but the lineout was stolen from Paul O’Connell by their captain Damien Chouly… and with it Clermont won a prized scalp and took control of the Pool.
Peter O’Mahony’s post match interview made the point that in the back to back ties it is half-time with the opportunity to put things right next week. They know it won’t be easy over there, especially with the battering and injuries sustained but they will prepare to go into battle again next weekend and give a good account of themselves.
Maybe the disruption of the Autumn Internationals took their toll, or can we blame the unseasonably dry Autumn which meant we lacked practice playing with a bar of soap? How big a factor was the experience of beating Munster which Jono Gibbes brought to Clermont from his time at Leinster? Looking at the match stats alone we should have won but we also know that Clermont could have won by more!
A good start next weekend, with better accuracy of execution and more physicality will be essential. It’s going to be a tough week for the squad but “to the brave and faithful nothing is impossible.” Not just an empty motto., Munster have walked the talk before. Indeed as I drove back to Dublin on Sunday I tuned into the Leinster game on the radio and hearing “The Mighty Quin” ring out reminded me of a great Munster away win there in the quarter-final in 2013. Same again next Sunday would be the perfect Christmas present 🙂
Afterwards in the MRSC bar James said he looked forward to seeing how I would approach the challenge of writing this blog while maintaining my glass half full approach. How did I do James? Continue below for the A team game observations.
Official highlights: http://www.epcrugby.com/matchdaytv/?play=media&id=19758
Munster: Felix Jones; Gerhard van den Heever (Murphy 58), Pat Howard, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (Cronin 12), Duncan Casey, BJ Botha; Paul O’Connell, Dave Foley; Peter O’Mahony Capt., Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Sean Dougall, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Johne Murphy.
Clermont: N Abendanon, N Nakaitaci, A Rougerie, W Fofana, N Nalaga, C Lopez, L Radoslavjevic; T Domingo, B Kayser, C Ric , J Cudmore, S Vahaamahina, D Chouly – captain, J Bonnaire, F Lee.
Replacements: V Debaty, D Zirakashvili, J Ulugia, J Pierre, T Lacrampe, A Lapandry, B James, J Davies.
Full game on YouTube:
B&I Cup round 5:
The Munster A game in CIT was a good test for the young side against the larger, more experienced and table topping Worcester Warriors. I was very impressed by Sean McCarthy who played #5. He seemed to have a great rapport with Rory Scannell on the restarts, chasing them well and reclaiming at least 3 that I can recall, the second of which led to the first try for Jack O’Donoghue after about 20 minutes.
It was great to see Dave O’Callaghan back from injury as was Andrew Conway who played fullback and with the injury to Gerhard in the Clermont game he is likely to be promoted to the main team next weekend so good for him to get a game. Indeed it was Andrew Conway who scored the second Munster try in the first half after a good chip and chase. A third Munster try by Ronan O’Mahony was disallowed and a penalty effort went wide. Worcester only had 2 penalties to show for their first half efforts, not helped by having a player sin binned in the opening minutes for tackling Ronan O’Mahony in the air. However it was all Worcester in the second half. Their scrum was dominant and they also scored two tries after 61 and 71 minutes. The referee nearly awarded them a third but the Assistant Referee confirmed to him that Worcester had knocked on. Munster A could only manage 1 penalty in the second half and ended up losing by 5 points. They play their 6th and final pool game next Saturday in Moseley.
CIT was a good venue with plenty of parking and a covered stand so supporters were not scattered around the perimeter. I met Barbara there, she was over from London for the 2 Munster games before heading back Sunday in time for the Quins game v Leinster.
“Surprise, surprise” – Dermot and Eilis continued from last week’s blog.
When I called into Dermot and Eilis on Friday with their dinner and told Dermot that I had quoted him in my last blog he was delighted and seemed to grow taller before my eyes as he came up with more quotes for this edition! He was not shaking so much, making it easier to speak and started telling me how he had not been able to put the printout of the blog down as it was so engaging. Meanwhile Eilis piped up – “what about me? Am I in it?” I reassured her that she also got several mentions and gave them the printout of the blog. I told them I would not calling next Friday as I am flying to France, for a rugby game. “Surprise, surprise” was Dermot’s response, put that in the blog he insisted! Before I left, Eilis asked me if I liked her new sweater and then Dermot insisted I also comment on his new cardigan – sibling rivalry seems to be strong, even amongst seventy year olds! They are going through a tough time at the moment as their home which has been rented for more than 6 decades has been put up for auction and the prospect of having to move at this stage of life is traumatic. Hopefully they will be allowed to stay on by the new owner. The distraction of my blog provides a little light relief for them.