After the drama of last weekend it was fantastic to have both Irish Captains – Niamh Briggs and Paul O’Connell with their Six Nations trophies – on the pitch at half-time to show our appreciation and admiration. They were interviewed over by the East Stand so we watched it on the big screen but afterwards they walked over to exit under the West Stand so we had an opportunity to see them a bit closer, although with all the photographers surrounding them on the pitch it was difficult to get a good photo ourselves! See the interview
It seemed appropriate that the half time mini’s included 2 girls teams – Old Christians and Richmond Girls – plus Kanturk and UL Bohemian. After the recent successes of the Irish Women in winning the Six Nations twice in three seasons plus their brilliant win over New Zealand in the WRWC last summer there has been a great increase in interest and participation in the sport.
Two hours before kick-off queues had formed in the Fanzone to get photos with the trophies and I was delighted to meet the Hogan family there and gatecrash their photo. Patrick is my most frequent retweeter and posts a link on Boards.ie so has contributed greatly to my readership! As members of the Supporters Club we could have queued for a viewing in their bar but as terrace ticket holders we did not want to get delayed there and miss out on securing our usual vantage points, they on the East Terrace and me on the West. Enda Lynch was doing a great job, taking photo after photo, with a variety of cameras and phones and kept the queue moving along as a band entertained the crowd. When Enda noticed that Patrick’s phone was connected to the internet he asked if he could use the photo on twitter so it was tweeted out from the Munster Rugby account and retweeted by the Irish Rugby account giving us our moment of fame!
After a 9 week absence, it was good to be back in Thomond despite the blustery, showery weather. Given the high scoring draw at the RDS which had earned 3 league points apiece for both Glasgow and Leinster, plus the bonus point win for Ulster at Ravenhill it was important to secure at least four points in the league table to keep our campaign to secure a semi-final place (hopefully at home) on track.
Tony and Imelda were there before me so I slipped in between them and Mark who had checked out the blog since we last met in January, he complimented it as being surprising comprehensive! I moved back a step as kick-off approached to let young Ciara in front to have a better view of proceedings. She did not have a favourite player but did enjoy her visit to Thomond. Two Connacht supporters who had also come early were behind us and we enjoyed the banter with them. Stephan and Sean were loud, proud and green, and were equally vocal cheering as the Munster team was announced to my surprise. Like us they were cheering on their players by name throughout the game, shouting encouragement for both good attack and defence. We had a good chat at half time about the ethos of rugby as Stephan was telling me about his U/14s team and their trip to Racing Metro two years ago, when Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton gave them a great time. As Connacht go to Gloucester next weekend for the Challenge Cup we wished them well and they may be interested in checking out my blog from my visit there in August for our pre-season friendly.
The wind definitely had an impact as on several occasions the ball kicked ahead by Connacht crossed the end line and in the second half one of their penalties missed touch, blowing out over the try line. It was a difficult night for players, especially with the showers which made the pitch and ball slippery while late in the second half we noted that while the flags were blowing west to east, several items blew across the pitch from east to west, including a plastic rain poncho. At times the rain blew into the west terrace but the stand provided decent shelter.
It was a low scoring, closely fought first half. Jack Carty got Connacht onto the scoreboard first with a well taken penalty when Simon Zebo was pinged for holding on. Munster responded through the forwards, with good carries by CJ Stander, Tommy O’Donnell and John Ryan who took them to the line but the referee said they were held up. From the 5m scrum awarded, CJ broke from the back and sucked in the defenders allowing Billy Holland to emulate Paul O’Connell from last week by scoring a try beside the posts from about 4m out which Ian Keatley converted to make it 7-3 and so it remained for the rest of that half.
Memorable moments included CJ Stander winning a turnover from a Connacht maul and an unusual restart when Ian Keatley kicked to the wing which Earls stooped to gather before setting off. He took the tackle and got the pass away to Smith who made ground. On another occasion Tommy won a turnover after great work by Donncha holding up the ball carrier and when Simon Zebo kicked ahead all Matt Healy could do was dive on the ball and carry it over the side line as he slid almost into the hoardings on the wet grass. Fortunately he was not injured. Munster took a quick throw-in but did not get the ball out to the backline who were calling for it and the opportunity was lost. When Kieran Marmion knocked on at the base of a ruck, his opposite number Duncan Williams came through the centre to push him off the ball and win the turnover, setting Felix Jones free down the wing, his kick ahead was also claimed by Healy who kicked to touch. Denis Buckley won a penalty to relieve more pressure on Connacht when Zebo was pinged again for not releasing. A high tackle awarded Connacht another penalty but their second attempt at goal went astray.
Munster at one stage had conceded 6 penalties to 3 from Connacht which made for a stop start half and we were wondering if the recent controversy between referee Leighton Hodges and Connacht coach Pat Lam was having any influence on the game…
Mark was impressed by the Connacht # 5 and asked me who he was. I was able to tell him it was Aly Muldowney but could not answer where he was from so we enquired of Stephan and Sean who told us he was English.
The atmosphere seemed a bit muted, we missed Kevin to start some singing during the breaks. I suggested to George who also has a good strong singing voice that he take on that role and when he was not too enthusiastic I asked if he would join in if I started. I think I probably owe him an apology for a dig in the ribs when he did not join in immediately when I launched into “Low, lie..”
Connacht also started the second half well when a penalty for not binding in the scrum was converted to make it a one point game (7-6). Munster’s attempted penalty was unsuccessful but as they went past the 50 minute mark they upped their intensity. A lineout, followed by a maul, then a strong carry by CJ Stander, before Keith Earls picked and went. Holland was in to act as scrumhalf when Earls in turn was tackled, then CJ went off on another run. His backrow partners were next to carry, Dave O’Callaghan brought them into the 22, then Tommy O’Donnell carried before Billy Holland took his turn. The front row did not want to be left to just clearing out duties so John Ryan took it on, then BJ Botha before CJ and Tommy were back in the thick of the action. Keith Earls decided he could clear out a few rucks himself and was adding his weight to proceedings as elder statesman Donncha O’Callaghan showed that age is just a number. Just days after celebrating his 36th birthday he picked up the ball and turned his back to the line to set up the maul which powered forward, helped along also by Denis Hurley. It was Duncan Casey who got on the scoreboard on his welcome return after injury but it was a great team try. It was a long time coming but it was a momentum changer.
Another maul after a lineout resulted in CJ Stander losing his shirt again! After the pack had dragged Connacht one way the ball was quickly passed the other way from Keatley, to Hurley and on to Zebo who collected it off his shoelaces and almost tripped before sliding over the line as Darragh Leader tried to prevent the try. Chants of Ze-bo, Ze-bo rang out after the TMO reviewed that he had not lost control it as he slid in over the line. An excellent conversion from the side line by Ian Keatley brought the score to 21-6 and suddenly the bonus point looked a lot more likely than it had for the first hour! However when Keith Earls failed to control a garryowen Matt Healy was there to get a boot to the ball which Miah Nikora gathered to streak past to score. His successful conversion kept Connacht in contention at 21-13.
The lineout continued to be a rich source of possession and the bonus point try came after more good work by the forwards before the ball was released to the backs. With two free players outside, Andrew Smith took on the responsibility himself and powered over between Danie Poolman and Darragh Leader. Keatley was again successful with the conversion.
Keith Earls continues to impress and his kick ahead from his own 22m bounced up perfectly for him to reclaim it out of the grasp of John Muldoon before he passed to Denis Hurley who ran in under the posts, not needing the support of replacement scrum half Neil Cronin who was on his shoulder.
Jack O’Donoghue who had been in great try scoring form himself thought he was in for another when he intercepted a pass but as it was from a penalty he was adjudged not to have been 10m behind so his impressive run was in vain. Connacht had a kick blocked down close to the Munster tryline but Ronan O’Mahony could not control it. Shane O’Leary gathered the ball and dove over to bring Connacht to 20 points. The final restart was claimed by Felix Jones and this time it was Denis Hurley who returned the favour to Earls when his kick ahead bounced up perfectly for the chasing Earls who ran in under the posts to give JJ Hanrahan a simple conversion to bring proceedings to a close.
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley – capt., Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Eusebio Guinazu, Stephen Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, Dave Kilcoyne, BJ Botha, Paddy Butler, Jack O’Donoghue, Neil Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Danie Poolman, Conor Finn, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You, Mick Kearney, Aly Muldowney, John Muldoon (captain), Eoghan Masterson, George Naoupu
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Ronan Loughney, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, Eoin McKeon, John Cooney, Shane O’Leary, Conor Finn
Stats: show that CJ Stander who was awarded Man of the Match made 11 tackles and carried the ball 21 times! It is also interesting to see the impact of the conditions as there were only 3 offloads all evening compared to 24 in the recent Glasgow game! Full stats of the game are available here
The league table is also interesting to see how close it is and how little room there is for error in the final 4 rounds. Connacht have a tough run-in but could do Munster favours as they entertain Glasgow, Ulster and Ospreys while if we could defeat Edinburgh in 2 weeks it would help their chances of a top 6 spot :
Up in the MRSC bar afterwards there was a mini reunion of MRSC Dublin with regulars Dee, Bruce, Carmel and Peadar all there. The latter who runs the @MRSC_BAC (Irish language) account was also there to promote using “cupla focail” and a cake had been donated to celebrate the occasion by Traceys- Nicholas Street, Limerick.
I was also glad to avail of the latest enhancement of free WiFi there 🙂
Prematch we enjoyed this interview by Cian Bohane with John Horgan followed by his rendition of Bright Blue Rose live in Thomond:
While it is disappointing not to be involved in the European games next weekend it is interesting to note the impact of the World Cup on the first 2 rounds of the tournament next season and the later date for the final:
Round 1: 12/13/14/15 November
Round 2: 19/20/21/22 November
Round 3: 10/11/12/13 December
Round 4: 17/18/19/20 December
Round 5: 14/15/16/17 January 2016
Round 6: 21/22/23/24 January 2016
Quarter-finals: 7/8/9/10 April 2016
Semi-finals: 22/23/24 April 2016
Finals: 13/14 May 2016
In the meantime you can already buy your RWC merchandise as I saw polo shirts at Dublin airport during the week.