It seems to be that time of year again, judging by the four busloads of guys in suits and girls in evening dresses I saw in Liberty Square at 7.45 a.m. on Tuesday, returning from the CBS grad ball in Meath. While the style was not quite the same at Thomond Park for the visit of Grenoble there were plenty of debutants on show, including at least 1 who is that age!
I enjoyed the game, it was played in a good spirit with the focus on running rugby, neither team taking 3 points on offer for penalties, so with 11 tries scored there was plenty of action. Without the benefit of a big screen for replays and I could not hear the PA system clearly for announcements re substitutions, scorers, etc. there are likely to be some inaccuracies in my match report. Given that this was the first outing of the season for Munster but the end of their pre-season for Grenoble – who start their Top 14 league campaign next week – I expected it would be a difficult start for Munster but a great opportunity for players returning from injury plus for the 9 debutants to put their hand up for places given that several of the first team will be involved with Ireland at the World Cup.
I have to mention how sorry I felt for Tommy O’Donnell ruled out of action last week for the next few months due to the dislocated hip injury he sustained playing for Ireland against Wales. Sport can be very cruel and all I can do is to wish him all the best for his rehab and hope he comes back stronger than ever.
Before the game Billy Holland was interviewed pitch-side and spoke of his Tbilisi Cup victory and the injury he sustained in the final game. I noticed the Junior members helping out at the event, including photographer Amelia Duggan. Check out her photos on the MRSC Facebook page, her shot of Donncha is class!
Munster started brightly, Robin Copeland back after his shoulder surgery making a strong carry but Grenoble turned over possession. Both teams had early scrum opportunities and the Munster scrum seemed to be solid. However the lineout was not so secure. Later in the half I remember being impressed by a great stretch to claim the ball by another debutant Jordan Coughlan.
Shortly afterwards Darren Sweetnam showed his athleticism, leaping high as he attempted to gather a garryowen but he took out the Grenoble player also competing for the ball, earning them another penalty which they kicked for touch. While Munster managed to repel their attack, Grenoble were shortly afterwards awarded another penalty for a deliberate knock-on. Even though it was directly in front of the posts Grenoble kicked to touch. From the lineout they launched their maul and scored their opening try via their hooker Laurent Boucher after 9 minutes. Jonathan Wisniewski converted to make it 0 -7.
When Grenoble were later penalised it allowed Munster to gain field position. Their initial maul was then taken wide. A subsequent Grenoble infringement resulted in a quick tap penalty adding to Munster’s momentum. Robin Copeland took it close to the line before giving a pop pass allowing Cathal Sheridan to dart over the line to score on 17 minutes. The conversion was missed.
Grenoble sent the restart out on the full giving Munster a scrum on halfway from which they won another penalty which was kicked to a great touch by Tyler Bleyendaal. The lineout was perfect and the team mauled over to take the lead. A simple, classic Munster move. Shane Buckley was credited with the try, Tyler nailed the conversion just before the break at the end of the first quarter. As this was a friendly the teams had agreed to a break after each quarter.
Five minutes later AIL player of last season for Clontarf Matt D’Arcy marked his Munster debut with a try showing his pace and power after a lovely offload from Tyler Bleyendaal who also converted the try to move the score to 19-7.
On the half hour mark Tyler was replaced by Rockwell College Senior Schools Cup winner, Bill Johnston brother of full back David. We were all concerned that he was withdrawn so early after his long recovery from injury last season but it was later reported to be a precaution and he seemed to be in good form acknowledging the applause as he left the field, and he also came back at the end to applaud off the Grenoble players. It was a special night for the Johnston family as they became the most recent pair of brothers to play for Munster.
When a Grenoble attack got close to the Munster line David Johnston chased back to make a great tackle but Grenoble managed to keep possession and after going backwards for a few phases they scored their second try, this time through James Percival which was again converted to make it 19-14 on 34 minutes.
Matt D’Arcy almost doubled his try count for Munster when he chased his grubber kick and touched down but unfortunately the referee disallowed the try. Apparently the ball has just gone dead before he managed to touch it down.
So it remained 19-14 as the whistle signalled half-time. I only appreciated how full it was behind me when I got up to meet my friends. There was a good atmosphere and noise levels in the East Stand but it always seems strange when three sides of the stadium are practically deserted as tickets were only sold for the East side. At halftime the minis took to the field, including my home town club as Thurles took on Old Crescent and there was a crossbar challenge like we had seen in Ulster where 3 members get a chance to kick and if they manage to hit the crossbar they win!
Donncha came on at the start of the second half while Kevin O’Byrne replaced Niall Scannell. Shortly after the restart Robin Copeland took a knock and again was withdrawn as a precaution with Sean McCarthy coming on and Shane Buckley moving to 8.
Grenoble scored their third try through Gio Aplon just four minutes into the 2nd half. It was not converted leaving the score tied at 19-19. Three minutes later Munster had the perfect response through Darren Sweetnam who burst through to touch down. David Johnston’s attempted conversion was missed leaving the score at 24-19.
A kick through by Grenoble looked ominous but David Johnston just got there to prevent Grenoble touching down. However relief was short-lived as Grenoble were again in possession. A lovely break by Gio Aplon before they shifted the ball wide for Denis Coulson to score on 53’ moved Grenoble ahead 24-26 when the conversion was successful despite Donncha leading the charge down effort. Coulson scored again just 3 minutes later after another great break by Aplon, this time the conversion was missed to make it 24-31.
Munster regrouped as they prepared for the final quarter:
There were lots of changes for both sides for the final quarter, some highlights included a lovely offload from Bill Johnston to Shane Buckley as Munster tried to get back on level par with Grenoble while #4 John Madigan made a super break before passing to Johnston (although the official reports shows Madigan was replaced by Donncha I am pretty sure it was Foley who went off). When the referee showed a yellow card to Gio Aplon (who had been very lively and a handful for the Munster defence) for a deliberate knock-on I hoped the numerical advantage would swing things our way. Another penalty was kicked to touch. Another lineout. “Heave” we roared, and they did, Shane Buckley again the man in possession for the touch-down. The conversion was missed but there was still hope of a victory when just 2 points separated the teams at 29-31.
However it was Grenoble who had the stronger finish, aided by Munster going down to 14 when Shane Buckley was shown a yellow card. They laid siege to the Munster line but resolute defence held them out and eventually they knocked on. However their numeric advantage counted as they drove Munster backwards at pace for Arnaud Heguy to touch down and Loustalot added the conversion with just minutes remaining and so it finished up at 29-38.
It was an enjoyable game to watch and will be of benefit to both teams. It was a pity we did not see more of Tyler but D’Arcy was impressive and it was great to see his midfield partner Cian Bohane back for his first appearance since his injury in last year’s pre-season.
Not quite the debutant’s style of outfit but I was happy to meet Babs in her distinctive Munster rugby dress. It may be fading but her support never will, not just for Munster but also for the former players as she told me she is looking forward to going to the Sale pre-season game against Pau, where she will catch up with Stringer, Coughlan, Butler and Dougall. She is also planning a trip to Pau to catch one of their home games and pick up some Lourdes water at the nearby shrine to keep Donncha going!
I bought a program from Dylan to keep track given that there were so many new faces making their debut for the senior side so I would be more dependent on the number on their back than usual before heading to the Munster store to check out the new season clothing. There were plenty of supporters wearing the new black away jersey which seems to be going down better than last season’s solar green! The new season polo shirt caught my eye also and the new ladies jersey looked well on Siobhan. I promised to return when I get my MRSC pack with the discount voucher.
To conclude my review of the fashion the right footwear makes the outfit as we know but in the sandals v shoes debate I had not taken into account the wind chill factor especially in the higher environs of the East Stand! I was put to shame by my more appropriately shod friends!
After the game we went to the Dugout where there was a good crowd waiting for the opportunity to meet and greet the players. The longest queue seemed to be for Donncha, who not surprisingly had also had the biggest cheer when the team names were being announced. Some supporters also got photos taken with the Grenoble players and there were plenty of selfies and autographs secured by young and old alike.
Discussion also turned to the European fixture details which had just been announced that afternoon. Hilary, Joe and Paul have already shared their travel plans with me and I am sure there will be plenty of logistic options explored by fans over the coming days. I hope to get to all 3 away games again this season.
Munster XV: David Johnston; Darren Sweetnam, Cian Bohane, Matt D’Arcy, Gerhard van den Heever; Tyler Bleyendaal, Cathal Sheridan – capt.; John Ryan, Niall Scannell, BJ Botha; John Madigan, Dave Foley; Shane Buckley, Jordan Coghlan, Robin Copeland
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Peter McCabe, Rory Burke, Donncha O’Callaghan, Sean McCarthy, Ryan Foley, Bill Johnston, Diarmaid McCarthy, Conor Oliver, Steve McMahon.
Munster posted 12 minutes of highlight videos and there are some snippets from Grenoble of the tries and their post match reaction on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/136370639
So the new season is up and running. If you are on Facebook you can now “Like” https://www.facebook.com/wtview to get my updates there, or sign up to get an email to let you know when a new post has been published. Hopefully readership will continue to grow this season.
Driving over to Limerick from Tipperary it was great to see all the blue and gold flags flying proudly (sadly Tipp lost the hurling semi-final on Sunday) while in Inch they were also celebrating the success in the Aga Khan of Greg Broderick, their local hero who jumped 2 clear rounds on his debut in that competition. Another debutant worth celebrating!