After Glasgow, Ospreys and Ulster all won with bonus points prior to Munster’s game in Murrayfield I was hoping for the same but would have settled for a win. The wind and rain meant that conditions were not ideal for running rugby and possession seemed to be kicked away a bit cheaply in a first half which saw Munster dominate in the maul but be penalised at the scrum to keep Edinburgh in touch. In fact the home team scored first from a penalty conceded in front of the posts by BJ Botha after Edinburgh pressure close to the Munster line in the opening minutes. Heathcote converted the points and although Munster immediately took play close to the opposite line a knock-on by Dave Kilcoyne let Edinburgh off the hook. The subsequent scrum penalty allowed them to push Munster back further.
A good lineout maul was penalised when Tommy O’Donnell came in to join too soon (offside) but the maul proved to be a potent weapon all night. O’Donnell did get the chance to make amends and show his pace and ball carrying when Munster won a turnover from an Edinburgh lineout as he charged downfield before offloading to Murray in support. Casey was next to carry before the ball got out to the backs but when an Edinburgh player went offside blocking Murray’s pass the referee put his arm out to indicate advantage to Munster. When none was forthcoming Keatley was successful with his first penalty kick to make it 3-3 on 20′.
Felix Jones did well to block down and gather a clearance kick to get Munster back into a good position but the kick ahead just beat Simon Zebo to the touchdown on that occasion!
Edinburgh struggled to defend the maul and were warned by the referee that if they continued to infringe there would be consequences, so Munster naturally kicked the penalty to touch. O’Connell secured the ball and set up the maul and the pack marched their way towards the line with Duncan Casey protected at the back until they crossed it when he scored the try. Ian Keatley kicked the conversion to bring it to 3-10 and so it remained for the rest of the half.
During the break I put on my other hat as PRO of the MRSC Dublin committee, circulating amongst the supporters gathered in Break for the Border to ask if people were aware of the bus we were trying to organise to go to the Ulster game on May 9th and I found 2 potential and 2 definite travellers plus I met Joe who had kicked off the process by asking if we would run a bus. If you are interested in the bus please email MRSCDublin@MunsterRugby.ie by Monday noon. There was a good crowd in the pub for the game which added to the atmosphere. There seemed to be a good number of Munster supporters at Murrayfield also, we could hear them sing “The Fields of Athenry” at one stage.
Excellent fielding of his own garryowen by Keith Earls put Munster on the front foot early in the 2nd half and while Murray’s box-kick went into touch Edinburgh could only slap back their own lineout ball and Munster led by Duncan Casey piled through, pushing them over the own line to concede a 5m scrum. The Edinburgh defence scrambled and eventually turned over the ball but from the resultant lineout Munster came again, this time Zebo almost got there but was pushed into touch. Donnacha Ryan and James Cronin were ready to join the action for the final half hour, what impact subs to have! Donnacha Ryan was straight into the action from the next lineout, claiming the ball and setting up the maul. Peter O’Mahony did his part, hauling an offside Edinburgh player (#16 McInally) unceremoniously out of the maul before CJ Stander scored the 2nd try.
From the restart the new boys were to the fore again as Ryan knocked back the ball to Stander who had Ryan, Earls and Cronin in support, each taking the offload and when Cronin was finally brought down deep in the Edinbugh 22 the referee indicated penalty advantage. That was a turning point as he sinbinned Tim Visser in the 53rd minute for slowing down the ball and watching the replay it seemed a bit harsh to me. When their captain Ross Ford complained he was told “if you carry on you will spend 10 minutes there talking to yourself!” and he also penalised them 10m for backchat, Keatley kicked for touch and we all knew what was coming. Edinburgh defended the maul but conceded another penalty and from it Murray broke from the back of the maul to score. Keatley added the conversion to move Munster to 3-22 with 22 minutes remaining to secure the valuable bonus point.
CJ Stander turned over the ball again and Earls did well to claim Keatley’s kick ahead but O’Donnell knocked on and gave Edinburgh a scrum in the Munster half. Eusebio Guinazu and Stephen Archer were brought into the action and Munster won the ball against the head which was a huge improvement after being under pressure in the first half. While the attack broke down with a poor pass behind Zebo he scrambled well to recover possession and with the forwards taking in on got Munster back on the front foot. Jones was running out of space on the wing and put in a great kick ahead which he and Zebo chased. It looked like it might go out over the end line but Zebo got a finger tip to it so the TMO reviewed it from multiple angles. The referee had a word with Zebo and asked him “you think you did or you did?” and it looked slightly clearer from one angle than the other but it was awarded and moved Zebo to a new Munster try scoring record of 23 in the league and he seems to be on track to overtake Anthony Horgan’s record given that he has been the top Munster try scorer in the table since the 2011/12 season.
I was surprised that Visser was still in the bin as there had been so much action and I guess the TMO delay but there was still time to score a 5th try – the third during the sinbinning – this time by Keith Earls who took advantage of a fumble by #13 Burleigh – who failed to deal with another delightful grubber kick from Denis Hurley – to score. Keatley added the two points to make it 3-34 before being replaced along with Earls who seemed to take a knock when tackled as he had scored.
While there were no more scores for the final 14 minutes there was time to admire another massive scrum against the head, Ronan O’Mahony looked lively on his wing and we were confused to see the familiar white scrumcap of Duncan Williams on the other wing as we had missed Felix Jones go off which according to the Pro12 match tracker and MunsterRugby.ie was what happened but on watching the match back it seems to be Zebo who is missing. Jones and Williams definitely on at the same time. There was another call on the TMO to check James Cronin who was adjudged to have conceded a penalty. His swinging arm looked dangerous from one angle but from the other it was fine, however he was penalised for hitting the ruck a little late.
We did have time for one of the biggest cheers of the night came when the camera showed Anthony Foley break into a smile in the 78th minute!
Conor Murray was awarded Man of the Match but there were other strong contenders, including Tommy O’Donnell who made some great breaks and topped the tackle count with 13 and Stephen Archer deserves credit for the big improvement in the scrum on his introduction with Guinazu.
Munster: Felix Jones (Williams 73); Keith Earls (O’Mahony 65), Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley (Hanrahan 65), Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (Cronin 51), Duncan Casey (Guinazu 61), BJ Botha (Archer 61); Billy Holland (Ryan 51), Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony – capt. (O’Callaghan 63), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Eusebio Guinazu, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Donnacha Ryan, Dave O’Callaghan, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.