Three shrill blasts of the whistle had my heart in my mouth as it indicated a serious injury close to the Treviso try line. Impossible to tell who was the cause of concern as the pile of bodies, attackers and defenders hauled themselves up and medics rushed to provide assistance. Last man lying was CJ Stander grimacing in pain and as we switched our attention to the replay on the big screen there were gasps as we watched him being driven over backwards by his pack while a Treviso player dived in behind him, giving him nowhere to move as they sought to defend their line.
I thought he must have badly twisted his leg which seemed to have been trapped as he was forced over, if not a dreaded spinal injury. The pessimists on the terrace thought his season was finished and I was fairly sure he would not be able to continue the game as I spared a thought for his family watching anxiously. It must be so tough to watch your loved ones put their body on the line for the sport they love week after week. Fortunately on this occasion after receiving treatment CJ was able to continue and indeed was straight back into the action as he packed down at the back of the scrum. You can view the incident here
The gladiatorial nature is part of the attraction of rugby, although a high tempo game with offloads and sidesteps as players exploit space and show their pace is more exciting it is becoming less frequent as defences cancel each other out. With all the focus, rightly, on concussion in recent times the ruling body are looking at their protocols and rules as they have a duty of care to the players. I would hate to see players I loved to encourage from the terrace suffering long-term ill effects. Hopefully the players, management and referees will ensure the welfare of our heroes and of the sport we all love.
There was a mini (Thomond) west terrace reunion on the East Terrace as I slipped into a space with John and his daughter Sinead who had travelled the shorter distance for them from Waterford on one side while Imelda and Tony making the longer trip for them from Limerick were on my other side. Further down I spotted Joan and Kevin braving the elements by the fence. Given the showery blustery day that was in it we opted for the protection of the Red Shed. Another twitter buddy Eamon was in touch from the North Terrace which was uncovered so he was caught in a few showers there, apparently in his shorts but no photographic evidence of that claim has been provided 🙂
It was a special day for Tommy O’Donnell, making his 100th senior appearance for Munster since his debut in Cork in September 2008. There was also a minute’s silence to pay our respects to Jim MCarthy who had played for Dolphin, Munster and the Ireland Grand slam team of 1948, making 28 appearances in green. May he rest in peace.
The game was not the romping “home run” try extravaganza we had hoped for, Tommy O’Donnell’s try – the third for Munster – was probably the pick of the bunch but it did not open the floodgates as Treviso showed why they have defeated Munster in Italy in prior seasons. Ian Keatley converted an early penalty to put Munster 3-0 up after 4 minutes.
A great lineout steal by Peter O’Mahony who leapt across the gap to ensure the ball came back on the Munster side setup phase after phase of Munster attack. O’Donnell came close, then Kilcoyne before the ball came back to the wing where Zebo got his 8th try of the season and there was no need for a TMO this time. The conversion came back off the post but at 8-0 after 10 minutes all was proceeding to plan. The Munster scrum was dominant throughout, winning free kicks and penalties while both props (Kilcoyne and Archer) were prominent ball-carriers also.
Rory Scannell playing at 12 will learn a lot from the game also but showed no fear pushing the huge Treviso #8 Matthew Luamanu back at a ruck. Rory has had a great season mainly for the A team and is nominated for young player of the year along with Jack O’Donoghue and Darren Sweetnam. When Rory went off in the 2nd half I saw Donncha the elder statesman of the team welcome him off the pitch and give him a slap on the back.
CJ equalled Zebo’s try count for this season when he scored his 8th try nearing the 20 minute mark, after a sustained period of pressure when Munster probed the Treviso defence first one way and then the other. The conversion went astray in the strong breeze. Earls showed his strength chasing the box-kick from the restart when he tackled the catcher, lifted him and pulled him down to the ground. However when Kilcoyne went offside and Treviso took the penalty quickly, Munster were not back 10m. Treviso kicked that penalty to touch and from the lineout their maul was impressive and won them another penalty when O’Mahony came in from the side. Referee Ben Whitehouse warned him not to do it again and Treviso kicked to touch. It was no surprise when they opted to maul again and this time they scored through their huge #8 Matthew Luamanu. The conversion was good and it was game on with a score of 13-7 after 24 minutes.
It was a worrying sight to see Donnacha Ryan going off as we approached the half hour but thankfully (after all his injury problems) it was just a blood replacement and Donncha O’Callaghan got a warm welcome as he sprinted onto the pitch. From that scrum Zebo launched an exciting break down the wing and while it was knocked on it did get Munster out of their own half and they won a penalty from the subsequent scrum to move to the 5m line. Again the maul was repelled but first Stander and then O’Mahony came close before Treviso won the turnover and kicked the ball deep. Munster came back and won a penalty. However Treviso stole the Munster lineout forcing them to launch a fresh attack from their own half. A knock-on by Scannell gave Treviso a scrum as the clock ticked on. O’Mahony knocked back a box kick and Kilcoyne charged into the Italian half before CJ cleared out and O’Donnell carried next before the backs got into the action. Treviso intercepted a pass but their clearance kick only got to the 22m line and from the lineout O’Mahony won the ball, Murray gave O’Donnell a lovely pass as he accelerated through a gap and scored on the stroke of half time. Keatley added the conversion to make it 20-7.
Treviso scored a try within minutes of the restart, a great midfield break off a lineout to #10 Sam Christie who offloaded to #12 Andrea Pratichetti. Those missed tackles will not make for pleasant viewing in the reviews and when Hayward converted it was back to a 6 point game.
A subsequent knock on into touch gave Munster the choice of scrum or lineout. “Take the scrum” urged Tony – and when the scrum was chosen I heard the lady in front joke “he has more influence than Paulie!”
Side entry by O’Donnell when Scannell went to ground gave possession back to Treviso but this time it was Munster who won an intercept, through Keatley, who chased his kick ahead with Felix and Conor, doing enough to force the defender to slice his kick and set up good position for Munster. The sprint took a lot out of the trio with Murray (who may have taken a knock tackling the defender as he got his kick away) and Jones taking time to recover. Jones managed to play on for another while before being replaced by Ronan O’Mahony with Zebo moving to full back.
A cross field kick by Keatley nearly got Keith Earls on the score sheet again but the bonus point was not to be on that occasion. Peter O’Mahony seemed to have injured his shoulder again but he played on. In the subsequent action we were convinced Murray had scored but when reviewed by TMO he had just knocked on before the line so our celebrations had been premature. However Munster had advantage for offside and Keatley put the penalty between the posts to move 9 points clear.
Munster’s mistakes – including a crooked scrum feed and a ball kicked out over the end line, – kept them under pressure but a superb scrum on the Treviso put in won them an important penalty and brought them into the Treviso 22. However the lineout wasn’t controlled and Treviso poured through. Achoke tackle won Munster another scrum where their dominance earned another penalty and a warning for Treviso. A throw to the front of the lineout set up the maul. Treviso pulled it down to concede advantage. Smith drove for the line, then Peter O’Mahony took it on, and it was in the subsequent phases that Stander was bent backwards by his own team, as the Treviso defender prevented him being able to move.
When play resumed the scrum was chosen as Munster were dominating there. The first attempt was reset for a bad hit, the second won Munster a penalty. On the third scrum the referee asked for another reset but the 4th time a penalty try was awarded and converted to make it 30-14 on 67’
A penalty gave Treviso a lineout on the Munster 5m line. Munster defended the maul and from the opposite terrace we could see a boot fly over the hoarding. Watching the game back on TG4 I saw it came off #5 Cornelius van Zyl who played on without it till there was a break in play and it was BJ Botha who had thrown it out of his way!
Treviso kept up the pressure in the Munster 22 until winger Simone Ragusi scored in the corner while Simon Zebo was getting treatment on the far side line. Munster came looking for another score but the ball was turned over. There was time to admire the skill of Keith Earls as, racing back to retrieve the ball he swooped, picking it up one-handed as he turned and without stopping passed the ball to Hanrahan. Treviso were desperate for a losing bonus point as they attempt to win the Italian place in the European Cup next season but there were no further scores.
Match Stats: http://en.espn.co.uk/scrum/rugby/match/233437.html – show Treviso had 67% possession in the 2nd half
Don’t forget to vote for your supporters player of the year sponsored by the Irish Independent before the deadline Monday April 27th (http://competitions.independent.ie/munster-rugby-player-of-the-year-2015.html) – the three nominees are Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander.
The final 2 rounds of the Pro12 league approach and while we know the top 4 the issue of home advantage is very much up for grabs with some key head-to-head games coming as Ospreys host Glasgow and Ulster host Munster before on the last day Ulster have to travel to Glasgow while Munster and Ospreys have to overcome Dragons(h) and Connacht(a) respectively.
It’s too tight to call but I suspect Glasgow will remain top while the other 3 fight it out for 2nd place. Neither semi-final will be easy but home advantage can be a key factor. Munster will need to raise their game. I have a ticket for the west terrace in Ravenhill and after watching the Ulster game versus Leinster on Friday night I am looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere there for myself. The sold out bus journey organised by MRSC Dublin may give me some material for that blog also 🙂
Thanks to Linda Molloy for permission to use her photos this week, see more of her photos here
If I can manage to free up Wednesday afternoon I hope to get along to Naas RFC for Munster A v Ulster Ravens. As Munster had no European action this month I have been using my “free” weekends to make some progress on my other blog – memoirs of my 2 years in Nepal with VSO in the 90s. I had written during the week about feeling a slight tremor when living there in 1993 but when the news broke over the weekend of the massive devastation there I was very worried for the safety of my friends and their families. Such tragedies put things into perspective. Raamro sanga basnus la!