The crowd in the stand took to their feet for a sombre standing ovation as the stretcher party carefully carried Francis Saili off the pitch. He had gone down injured between the 10 and 22m lines in the London Irish half near the stand shortly after the hour mark and the medical staff had gone straight out to him as play moved to the far side of the pitch in the Munster half. When there was a knock-on the referee stopped play as the paramedics and more of the Munster staff came to Saili’s assistance. I had seen him move his legs and arm in the initial minutes but they spent maybe fifteen minutes immobilising him, putting on a neck brace and securing him on the stretcher before getting him off the field. It did not look good but in those situations every precaution has to be be taken and the post-match comments of Anthony Foley mentioned a possible concussion so we hope it is not as serious as it looked. Get well soon Francis. Update Sat 1pm: Great to see him tweeting and on Instagram Instagram saying that he is not feeling too bad. 😊
It was the low point of what had been an entertaining evening as a decent crowd of over five thousand gathered for the first game in Cork of the new season. A few drops of rain fell during the warm-up and at times the clouds were threatening during the game but the sunshine also came out, warming and blinding us at times on the east terrace. There was a strong breeze also which seemed to be with London Irish for the first half. Listening to the players names being called out before the match there was a big cheer for Conor Gilsensen on the London Irish team (formerly of Leinster) as I assume his family and friends made the trip to Cork. Donncha of course got the largest cheer of the Munster players continuing to push up his record number of appearances before his home crowd!
With only Dave Foley and Gerhard van den Heever retaining their starting places in all three pre-season games there were plenty of players making their return to action including Andrew Conway and Rory Scannell and I was interested to see how young Bill Johnston and newcomer Francis Saili would get on in their first start for the senior team
In the opening minutes you could see that the intensity levels were up on last weekend as London Irish probed the defence. Rory Scannell playing at 12 made some fine tackles in the early exchanges near me and throughout the night he showed the value of playing an out-half at 12, providing additional distribution skills and an alternative kicking option as he took a few of the penalty kicks down the line, working well with Bill Johnston. Andrew Conway who played on the wing last season was impressive at full back and I had noted that before he scored his first try of the night as he came into the line a few times in the early exchanges and made some promising breaks, including getting on the end of a tap and go quick penalty from near the Munster try line which he carried well into the other half. He was first to score a few minutes later after a good initial break through the defence by Dave O’Callaghan who popped up the ball to him. Conway put in a great chip ahead to get past their fullback and won the race to the touchdown giving Johnston an easy conversion and his first points for Munster.
London Irish counter attacked from the restart and it looked like they would score in the far corner but Conway had it covered and forced the player into touch. Munster secured the ball from the resultant lineout and cleared the danger. In the same corner later in the half there was another good break which was again forced into touch. Without a big screen I could not see who managed to save the day but I believe it was Conway again. The half time score was just 7-0 but it had been an entertaining game and a definite step-up from the previous week.
At half-time I walked over to the stand as Joe had let me know there was a free seat beside him and Dee. The tickets for the game were general access so you could go anywhere in the grounds. Joe was one of the lucky 23 members in the Lifestyle sports competition and his family crest was embroidered on the #10 jersey for the game. I was delighted to recognise the names of several of my other twitter followers who had also won in that competition. Hope Damien it is ok to include your tweet here!
The second half saw London Irish get on the scoreboard within a few minutes as a result of a penalty (for not rolling away I believe, the Munster player was getting a right shoe-ing for his troubles).
When a London Irish player was sinbinned Andrew Conway reacted quickest to the penalty and taking a quick tap he scored under the posts. Bill Johnston added the conversion.
Another kick out by London Irish was gathered expertly by Andrew Conway this time running backwards as he kept his eye on the ball and his counter attack from just inside his own half set up the first try in the Munster jersey for Francis Saili who broke through a gap in the defensive line and sprinted clear to score under the posts to great cheers from the crowd. Ian Keatley who had replaced Bill Johnston converted.
Andrew Conway’s confidence was so high that shortly afterwards he made a decent attempt at a drop goal from his own half. Ah the memories of Paul Warwick come flooding back!
Lots of substitutions were made in the final quarter including Tom Cruise, well actually Tom Cruse. However the injury to Francis Saili and the long delay as a result seemed to lower the energy levels. It was London Irish who got their second wind and scored in the corner on the east side through Christian Lewis-Pratt as the clock ran down. It was not converted. James Cronin was then shown a yellow card and with the final play of the game London Irish got a second try in the same corner through Alex Lewington which was converted by Brendan McKibbin to bring proceedings to a close with a scoreline of 21-15.
Highlights from Munster Rugby:
It was also a big night for some junior members of the MRSC including young photographer Alannah Brennan seen below with Linda Molloy capturing the Jack Wakefield trophy presentation while I also saw Isaac Dunlea working as Oscar’s assistant before the game.
Munster: Andrew Conway; Stephen Fitzgerald, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Gerhard van den Heever; Bill Johnston, Cathal Sheridan; John Ryan, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer; John Madigan, Dave Foley; Dave O’Callaghan, Jordan Coghlan, CJ Stander Capt.
Replacements from: Niall Scannell, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Robin Copeland, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Shane Monahan, Shane Buckley, Matt D’Arcy, David Johnston.
London Irish: Andrew Fenby, Alex Lewington, E Griffin, Dominic Waldouck, Topsy Ojo; Theo Brophy-Clews, Scott Steele; Tom Court, Gerard Ellis, Richard Palframan; Eoin Sheriff, Matt Symons (Captain), Luke Narraway, Conor Gilsenan, David Sisi.
Replacements: Tom Cruse, Tom Smallbone, Geoff Cross, George Skivington, David Paice, Ollie Curry, Brendan McKibbin, Ross Neal, Christian Lewis-Pratt, Johnny Harris, Jimmy Stevens, Conor Murphy, Johnny Williams.
I have saved more photos on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/wtview so if you are on Facebook be sure to “like” the page!
After the game the players were signing autographs and taking photos while the lucky 23 from the crest competition got to meet their heroes after the game.