After three losing bonus points in a row, defeat was not an option and from the start it was obvious that Munster were in the right frame of mind as they took on Leinster. They chased, harried, drove them back time and again, giving us plenty to cheer and some missed opportunities to regret but overall it was a comprehensive victory and sets Munster up well for three away games in a row, maintaining their challenge for league honours away to Connacht and Zebre before the key European game against Saracens. During the week people had been complaining that the lack of international players devalued the fixture but pride in the jersey is more important to the team and it’s supporters than any “star” player and all 23 who donned it did the jersey proud. I don’t think any Munster supporter would have been looking for a refund after watching the boys in red win all the battles and indeed the war to claim the double over Leinster for the first time since 2009.
Thankfully the rain had stopped just as we arrived in Limerick. However waving our flags for a rousing rendition of “Stand up and Fight” before the game you could feel the strong wind even though we were sheltered from the worst of it by the West Stand. It’s always good to catch up with the usual gang who were in situ early since the game was sold-out. Mark admitted he had lost my card with the blog address details so this time he took a photo of it! Hip flasks were produced, someone behind had a super-sized one while nearby a thermos flask containing mulled whiskey was generously shared as the owner had brought along plastic beakers. It smelt wonderfully Christmassy and Pascal added to the seasonal flavour with his cosy Santa headgear!
Leinster kicked off, Copeland secured, Williams put up a garryowen which was brilliantly chased and gathered by Conway and we were off! Keatley sent a probing ball deep into the Leinster half. Madigan and Kearney let it bounce between them allowing the chasing Munster backs – Jones, O’Mahony and Howard – to force Kearney into touch on their 22. From the lineout the maul was dragged down so Keatley had an early opportunity to put points on the board and despite the wind he managed to do just that with only 3 minutes on the clock. A great start which gave the crowd plenty to cheer from the off. Billy Holland stole the first Leinster lineout giving us more to celebrate.
However when shortly afterwards John Ryan was penalised for not rolling away Ian Madigan drew Leinster level.
Keatley kept pinning Leinster in their half with his kicks while captain Felix Jones led the back three who chased and tackled well all evening keeping Leinster on the back foot.
Munster went through 12 phases before Nigel Owens indicated a penalty for them as a Leinster tackler had not rolled away. However when he realised that Dominic Ryan was knocked out after colliding with his team-mate when tackling Donncha he awarded a scrum instead. There was time for a word of reassurance for Ryan by Donncha before he was able to walk off. Jordi Murphy replaced Ryan.
From that scrum, Copeland picked from the base. Then Holland, Ryan, O’Donnell, Hurley, back to O’Donnell all took turns to drive for the line. Holland got so near the post we thought he was there. In the pulling and pushing CJ lost his shirt. A few phases later, the man in black, he crashed over the line to score the opening try after 18’. My dad said that in his day (fadó, fadó) you were not allowed play on without a jersey so I guess the laws changed since then!
Felix put in yet another bone cruncher of a tackle right in front of us, that time on Kirchner. Minutes later he was involved in a tackle on Fanning who gathered a cross field kick and we were incensed that the Assistant Referee saw nothing wrong when a clean shaven Gordon Darcy grabbed him around the neck to haul him off.
Then we were cheering on as a super break by Keatley supported by Jones on the switch took Munster deep into the Leinster half.
Duncan Casey and Donncha O’Callaghan took it on into the 22 before Pat Howard carried closer to the 5m line. From the next ruck Munster were penalised for not rolling away which stalled their momentum. However Munster stole their 2nd lineout, this time through Copeland and went back on the attack.
Leinster did manage to enjoy some possession until after 15 phases Felix Jones turned the ball over. Another excellent chase by Andrew Conway nearly resulted in injury to both him and Dave Kearney as he collided with Dave after leaping into the air to gather the ball and fell heavily. He was ok but Copeland who had required treatment earlier could play no further part so Paddy Butler took his place. Conway was adjudged to have knocked it on so Leinster took the scrum and pushed Munster back. An offside as the backs did not keep the 5m gap as the scrum retreated earned another penalty for Leinster which Madigan converted so after all Munster’s dominance they only had a 2 point advantage (8-6) to show for it after half an hour. However Ian Keatley soon cancelled out that penalty with one of his own when Jordi Murphy did not roll away.
From the restart Paddy Butler was penalised for not releasing when tackled but to us it appeared that the tackler had released him and he kept going so it felt like justice was served when Madigan missed that penalty kick!
Another great chase, this time by O’Mahony and Butler resulted in a turnover from Fanning. Unfortunately Duncan Casey knocked on take the pressure off Leinster before another great kick and chase by Jones put Munster back on the front foot. Wave after wave, phase after phase, the red shirts drove into the blue, it was relentless, controlled aggression, and the crowd responded as a full house at Thomond does so well.
At half time we were very impressed by the number 10 on the Killaloe Minis team who seemed a great prospect, scoring at least 2 tries against Carrigaline, sign him up! See comment below to see who his famous Dad is!
We also enjoyed welcoming local hero Andy Lee, recently crowned Middleweight World Boxing Champion at half time with his belt. Hopefully he will defend his title in Thomond in the future. Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony also presented signed jerseys to the Irish Heart Foundation and Guidedogs for the Blind as it was the annual charity game with a euro from each program sold going to support those two good causes.
Just 4 minutes into the 2nd half Andrew Conway – despite the best efforts of Jennings, Fanning and Boss – scored a try which Keatley converted. In the build-up there was a lovely offload from Hurley to Howard. It is good to see them building up an understanding of what lines to run off each other as Hurley has a great ability to offload out of the tackle.
Leinster then managed to go through 16 phases but Munster’s defence held firm and eventually Leinster were pinged for holding on when Denis Hurley was on his feet grappling for the ball, allowing Munster clear their lines. Tommy O’Donnell (cut lip) had to be replaced by Dave O’Callaghan who came straight into the action, adding his weight to a good maul from the resultant lineout. Munster were back on the attack. CJ Stander made another great carry before Fanning was sin binned for diving on the loose ball at the back of the ruck. Not too dissimilar to the card shown the previous week to Paul O’Connell. Keatley added the 3 points from that penalty to bring the score to 21-6 with 25’ left – a very healthy looking scoreline. Paddy Butler made a great break through the centre but his kick ahead bounced into touch just inches before the onrushing Ronan O’Mahony with the line at his mercy could get to it. It would have been a well-deserved reward for his great work rate throughout the game!
BJ Botha and JJ Hanrahan came on for Archer and Hurley. As CJ got his ankle strapped the Fields of Athenry rang out around Thomond.
Dave O’Callaghan had a busy half hour of action, making 10 tackles. His offload which Duncan Casey gathered by his bootlaces was part a period of pressure which ended when Dave picked and went, brushing by three defenders to touch down for the third try. With over 14 minutes left it seemed like a 4th try and bonus point win was possible. Leinster brought on Jimmy Gopperth with Madigan moving to centre. Eusebio Guinazu replaced John Ryan who put in another impressive shift at loose head while Kevin O’Byrne came on for Duncan Casey who had outplayed his opposite number the internationally capped Strauss at hooker.
Leinster laid siege to the Munster line and eventually Jack Conan provided a great offload to his captain Shane Jennings to score a try. Madigan converted to make it 28-13 with 9 minutes left. Munster went on the attack, they were practically at the post but Leinster held firm. Pat Howard seemed to juggle the ball but regathered it as Madigan almost intercepted. Nigel Owens called it as a knock-on by Howard as he had made contact with Madigan but boos rang out. Then JJ was pinged for being offside but Gopperth sliced his kick for touch.
From the lineout we thought we had secured the bonus point try when CJ Stander crossed the line, only to be disappointed when we realised that Nigel Owens had penalised Billy Holland for impeding Jordi Murphy in the lineout! Minimal contact it seemed at the time but it was very disappointing and led to some more booing and that was the last opportunity gone. However we still had something to cheer thanks to BJ. His shirt was pulled off him by #5 Douglas after the lineout. He ran across the pitch holding in one hand before eventually dropping it to focus on his defensive responsibilities until the next break in play.
Donncha enjoyed the moment as he shared a laugh with BJ as he eventually pulled on his jersey. No Donncha, it won’t make us forget your iconic wardrobe malfunction moment! It does make me wonder though if this is a new tactic as we saw a lot of shirt pulling in the home game versus Clermont and again this game. Maybe they need to consider the more tight fitting fabric?
So smiles all round, the first double over Leinster since 2009 and while both teams were missing many of their internationals it was a compelling physical encounter. Looking at the teams selected some experts gave Leinster the advantage but that was mainly based on their experienced backline. As it is often said, the pack need to win the physical contest and this was a superb forward effort, including the impact made by the bench. It was not surprising that CJ Stander got the official Man of the Match award, not just for his try but for his overall ball carrying, defending and leadership but great credit is due to all the team for a fully committed performance to end the year on a high.
Outside, Patrick introduced me to his son whose name I forget with the shock of being informed he was a Leinster fan! It happens in the best of families! Patrick had the last laugh anyway as he joked that Leinster had Paradise Lost… In the bar I was able to thank Dee and Bruce for giving me a laugh that morning with her first ever tweet:
Another tweet that had me smiling that morning came courtesy of the referee! I enjoyed telling people about it on the terrace before the game:
I was delighted that my sister and her fiancé experienced a great atmosphere and a win for their first visit to Thomond and for all those home for the holidays who do not get to many home games.
Match stats: these will probably be updated in the next few days but I was amused to see that Munster had 100% possession in the first half!
MUNSTER: Felix Jones (capt); Andrew Conway, Pat Howard, Denis Hurley, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Duncan Casey, Stephen Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland; CJ Stander, Tommy O’Donnell, Robin Copeland. Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Eusebio Guinazu, BJ Botha, Dave O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Neil Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, Johne Murphy.
LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner; Darragh Fanning, Luke Fitzgerald, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss; Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss, Tadhg Furlong; Mike McCarthy, Kane Douglas; Dominic Ryan, Shane Jennings (capt), Jack Conan. Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Maks Van Dyk, Jamie Hagan, Tom Denton, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Jimmy Gopperth, Noel Reid
39 Photos of the game by Daryl are available here. Match highlights:
Also check out the 360 fan pic: http://tag.huggity.com/fanpic/532-2014-seat-munster-leinster/app/index.php
The Red Army Rise Again!
It was a bit stressful trying to secure 2 tickets to the Saracens away game on my mobile phone, not least because the website did not allow me to zoom in or out and then when it looked like I had been successful the confirmation email did not turn up for 90 minutes giving me an anxious wait! Overall it was a superb effort by the Red Army to officially secure 2,300 tickets of the 10k capacity . I wonder how many more will make their way into Munster hands from the portion bought by their fans?
Thanks to all who follow the blog, especially those who signed up to get an email every time I publish a new edition and to those who share it on twitter, facebook and boards.ie. Happy New Year to all!