Often when there is a soccer match on at the same time as the rugby, showing on a screen in another area of the bar, you hear an odd roar when there is a score or a groan for a near miss. As the Zebre game was only available live on an Italian channel there were few venues where it could be watched and so we were in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Woolpack sports bar for the game. The Leinster game in Cardiff had kicked off when I arrived and the Sky commentators were blaring out on the big screen while the Munster game was showing without sound on several other smaller screens in the same area.
It was distracting but it was good to see the full game which resulted in a bonus point win for Munster to put them just a point behind Glasgow. The Ospreys remain in top spot but only 3 points separate 1st from 4th, keeping it tight in the table before the break when the European Cup action resumes. Reading the comments on the Munster fans forum there were some funny things in the Italian commentary such as Billy Holland being called Billy Holiday which we missed. Someone there put up a link to the game on YouTube which I have included below.
After the disappointing result in Galway Munster needed to put in a good performance and pick up valuable league points. It was a bonus to get Keith Earls into a team for his seasonal debut and to have James Cronin available for selection after his injury in the home game against Clermont.
Several early attacks ended with JJ Hanrahan kicking away possession as Munster focused on gaining territory. A maul near the Zebre line was turned over but Pat Howard made a big tackle when Zebre launched a counter-attack, winning another turnover and Munster put the ball through the hands looking for a gap until they won a penalty after 7 minutes, successfully kicked by Ian Keatley to make it 0-3.
Another Zebre attack was turned over, CJ Stander secured the ball, Conor Murray put in a big kick from his own half which would have bounced into a great touch near the Zebre line but thanks to Ronan O’Mahony making a superb chase the Zebre defender had to play that ball into touch, resulting in a lineout for Munster. Ronan required treatment for a bloody nose but was ok to continue. Dave O’Callaghan tidied up possession from the lineout when Dave Foley could not secure it. CJ carried the ball strongly into the Italian 22 and when tackled the ball was released quickly to the backs. A great pass out of the tackle by Ian Keatley found Pat Howard running an excellent support line which sucked in two defenders to give Felix Jones plenty of space to score. Ian Keatley converted to make it 0-10.
The second try was scored by man of the match CJ Stander who took a free kick awarded from a 5m scrum to barge over the line driving by through two defenders (#6 and #12) to claim his 5th try of the season. Keatley again converted to make it 0-17 approaching the half hour mark.
It was only a few minutes later that the third try came. After a lineout and maul had set up good position, the ball was taken up by Hanrahan and then by his midfield partner Howard. Conor Murray darted for the line and as he was tackled he seemed to bang into the post or maybe the defender as he scored the try. It was worrying to see Felix Jones immediately signal to the medics and Murray had to go off for a head assessment so Duncan Williams came on. Williams’ defensive abilities were tested quickly as Zebre launched their own attack. Indeed if their handling had been better they would have scored when they had a 3:1 overlap with only Zebo to beat but the ball went behind them. Another attack also came close but Duncan Williams put in the necessary tackle and danger was averted just before half-time.
It was good to see that Conor Murray was fit to continue playing after the break. Zebre started the 2nd half well, retaining possession and making Munster tackle for the first few minutes. Deep in the Munster 22, the ball came loose thanks to the tackles of Ronan and Peter O’Mahony. CJ Stander reacted first and charged up the pitch before passing to Ronan O’Mahony who raced down the wing. Before he was forced into touch near half-way Ronan put in a great kick ahead into the centre of the pitch. Stander and Zebo were chasing up and it was Zebo who collected the bouncing ball to score under the posts. Bonus point secured in the 44th minute!
James Cronin came on for the last half hour, replacing Eusebio. Credit to John Ryan who has done well at loose head in the absence of Cronin and Dave Kilcoyne and was on the bench as tight head cover for this game. Shortly afterwards Niall Scannell replaced Kevin O’Byrne as hooker while a few minutes later Keith Earls was launched into action for his first appearance of the season after surgery on his knee in September. He replaced Ronan O’Mahony on the wing and was quickly into the action.
Zebre continued to push for a score and eventually Fabiani crossed the line. The TMO had a long hard look at the grounding and at any off the ball infringement (possibly holding back Dave O’Callaghan) but the try was awarded and converted by Orquera. Surprisingly it was the last score of the game with 23 minutes remaining! Both sides were guilty of handling errors and there will be plenty to work on this week as they prepare for European action. In the final quarter there were more substitutions including Johne Murphy coming on with Keatley withdrawn, resulting in Earls moving into the centre and Hanrahan into outhalf. We thought Dave O’Callaghan had scored just before the end but the referee penalised him instead for crawling over the line! Dave has been playing well since his return from injury last month and has definitely put his hand up for inclusion in the 23 for next weekend with impressive ball carrying and tackling stats. Job done, with plenty to work on as the team ramp up their preparations to take on Saracens on their artificial pitch next Saturday.
After the game Fernando Oliveira -visiting from Brazil- came over to chat to some fellow Munster supporters. He looked well in his Munster jersey and had enjoyed the game while his wife did some final shopping before they head back to Rio on Sunday.
Official Pro12 Highlights
Full game on YouTube with Italian commentary:
The detailed match stats here show a busy day for Holland and Dave O’Callaghan with 14 tackles each while Zebo and Stander lead the metres run list: http://www.espn.co.uk/scrum/rugby/match/233355.html
Zebre- D Odiete; G Venditti, T Iannone, K Haimona, L Sarto; E Padovani, B Leonard; A De Marchi, A Manici, L Redolfini; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt); F Cristiano, Mauro Bergamasco, A Van Schalkwyk
Reps: O Fabiani, L Leibson, D Chistolini, V Bernabo, J Sarto, L Orquera, Mirco Bergamasco, G Palazzani.
Munster – F Jones; R O’Mahony, P Howard, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; E Guinazu, K O’Byrne, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony (capt), CJ Stander.
Reps: N Scannell, J Cronin, J Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, P Butler, D Williams, K Earls, J Murphy.
Fernando, check out this half hour documentary about Thomond Park and some of the great occasions witnessed there (starts about 90s in for some reason). Hopefully you will get to experience it yourself sometime 🙂