Leaving the grounds on Saturday night I wondered what I would write about this week but after watching the game back I did not have to dig too deep to find my glass remains half-full. It was Electric Picnic weekend and with the 18C temperature and blue skies I was glad I had brought my shades to the season opener in Cork. The sun sank behind the West Stand before kick-off, while the breeze seemed to be blowing across the pitch towards the Dolphin clubhouse judging by the flags. The PA system was playing summery tunes – Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and the catchy song “Cool Kids” by Echosmith – which made me think of the young Academy centre partnership of Rory Scannell and David Johnston (albeit Rory did get some league experience last season) plus lock John Madigan making his league debut in the week of Donncha O’Callaghan’s departure – what big boots to fill! If you have not read my tribute to Donncha I would love you to check it out here and add your own personal highlight of his contribution to Munster.
On the big screen they played a video promoting the “Stop, inform, rest and return” protocols to raise awareness of the appropriate response to any suspected concussion which was good to see. I was delighted to catch up with my photographic collaborator Daryl who was home for the weekend and to have his photos to incorporate into this weeks blog. His full set of 63 pictures is here. Eoghan was in touch from the posh seats to let me know he was looking forward to the blog so Eoghan I am looking forward to your comment! Later I was amused watching the video clips of the team announcement to see that both CJ Stander and Shane Buckley were sporting black eyes the day they were filmed!
Oscar came by and gave me a big hug, maybe he recognised me since he has been retweeting my blog for the past few weeks. Shout out also to his “minder” Ian who in his shades looked the part of a Secret Service bodyguard. Later Oscar seemed to be in high spirits as he chased one of the flag bearers from the guard of honour halfway down the pitch.
I wondered what that was about so I asked him on twitter and he said he had been squirting water at them, hence the evasive manoeuvres. Oscar was busy again at half time escorting the Munster based Special Olympics athletes from the recent World Games in LA onto the pitch. They got a great warm welcome and were interviewed about their experiences and their superb medal haul.
The match itself had some great moments – Rory Scannell made a super break in the 4th minute to take Munster out of their own half up towards the Treviso 22. While the follow-on phases did not yield a score Treviso did infringe and Ian Keatley put Munster 3-0 up with the subsequent penalty in the 6th minute in what was a fairly positive start. However Treviso then tested the Munster defence as they maintained possession, eventually earning themselves a penalty from a high tackle which they kicked to the corner. Their maul was repelled but they went wide one way and then back the other, stretching the defence to score a try by #7 Dean Budd which was converted by #15 Jayden Hayward to put Treviso into the lead 3-7 after just 11 minutes.
In another promising move Ian Keatley made a break before popping up a lovely pass to David Johnston who unfortunately could not control it. Andrew Conway continued his impressive form from last week and was hungry for work, coming in off his wing and making some good breaks and defensive efforts throughout. it looked like CJ Stander would score on 22′ but the referee instead penalised Munster for illegally taking out a defender and Treviso cleared their lines. From a sloppy lineout the Italians recovered possession and Sam Christie was about to break through midfield but Jack O’Donoghue just managed to tap his ankle to give Munster another turnover and a chance to counter attack. Rory Scannell carried it into their 22′ but when the move broke down the Treviso fullback took a quick throw and caught his own winger napping forcing him to touch down behind his posts giving Munster a 5m scrum.
Treviso nearly paid dearly for that as they conceded a free kick at the scrum and then went offside so Munster took the penalty and moved the score to 6-7 on 25 minutes and so it remained for the rest of the half.
Scannell missed touch with a penalty kick but he made up for it in the second half with a super touch-finder. Munster did have an opportunity to take the lead with a third penalty when Treviso collapsed a scrum but it went to the right of the posts. There was a lovely break by Jack O’Donoghue down the west wing, his pass bounced off a Treviso player and back into his arms! And it wasn’t only the youngsters making the breaks, BJ Botha showed an impressive burst of speed too. When Treviso kicked from their own 22 to the Munster 22 Scannell who was covering suddenly realised that he was being chased down so he stepped up the gears to get back in time. A penalty was conceded in the following phase however and Treviso launched a cross field kick which Shane Monahan had to defend. Treviso kept possession to try to force their way over the line but the ball popped free and Duncan Williams was there to save Munster’s blushes just before half-time.
There was a welcome increase in intensity at the start of the second half and it paid dividends. An offside against Treviso was penalised by a fine kick deep to their 5m line by Scannell. Madigan claimed the lineout, O’Donoghue came on an arc around the blindside taking the ball before passing to Sherry who was just pushed into touch. Treviso were not allowed to clear however and Duncan Williams won back possession by forcing them to touch down behind their own line. The 5m scrum yielded another penalty and lineout and from that another penalty with a warning for Treviso. The maul was repelled so Munster took it wide and after good carries by David Johnston and Dave O’Callaghan, CJ Stander popped over the line to put Munster into the lead after review by the TMO. The conversion attempt failed.
The TMO was again called into action to look at a potential foul by Dave Foley on #11 but it was deemed to be just a penalty for a high tackle as he had cleared him out. Munster turned over possession and Andrew Conway sprinted through a gap and got our hearts racing momentarily.
The second Munster try was very much a team score, started off by Conway collecting a kick deep in his own half, carried on by Scannell, Stander, O’Donoghue, Sherry, Cronin, Madigan, O’Callaghan, before a neat inside pass from Keatley to Shane Monahan who offloaded to Stander, giving him an easy run in at the end. There were other hands involved in keeping the momentum going including Keatley and Williams on many phases while others protected the ball and cleared out rucks as required. Great work! Keatley converted before being replaced for his league debut by Tyler Bleyendaal while Robin Copeland also came on for John Madigan.
With 25 minutes left a bonus point win looked feasible. Munster were nearly over the line again when Tyler got through a gap and passed to CJ before Conway nearly put Jones in and then Dave O’Callaghan came close but Munster conceded a penalty at the next phase for holding on and the opportunity passed.
A penalty kicked to the corner seemed like the perfect launchpad for another try but the lineout was not secured. A few minutes later Dave O’Callaghan made a great break through and popped up the pass to Duncan Williams in support who in turn laid it back for Bleyendaal who was tackled by #14 who did not roll away and was yellow carded for his trouble.
Again the ball was kicked to touch and this time the maul was deployed but defended although another penalty was conceded. Munster came close from the subsequent play through Sherry and O’Donoghue but Treviso managed to turn over possession again. Indeed Treviso went on to finish the stronger, scoring 2 penalties both converted by Hayward. One from a tackle without arms when Treviso were still down a man at 71′ and the second with the last kick of the game when they destroyed the Munster scrum which earned them a losing bonus point. They also laid down a marker in their first of four encounters between the sides this season but Munster will be ready for them in November and they will find a very different intensity both on the pitch and on the terrace when they come to Thomond Park for the European Cup round 1 game.
There was a pre-season feeling to the game, mistakes were made but there were also flashes of what could be when it all clicks. It felt like a bonus point lost as scores were definitely left behind but given the losses experienced by Glasgow at home plus those of Ospreys and Leinster away it is good to have our first win of the new campaign with this young team. Jack, Rory, David and John (Madigan) were all born in 1994 while Conway is just 24 and CJ, James (Cronin), Tyler and Dave O’Callaghan are just 25 – maybe kids is a bit of an exaggeration but their best is yet to come!
I also noticed when checking dates of birth a milestone was reached by captain CJ Stander whose brace of tries brings his total to 100 points scored from 61 appearances! Congratulations CJ!
As I prepared to cross at the traffic lights the driver of the ambulance that had just pulled up beside me rolled down his window to ask what was the final score. Considering potential blog titles in my head I was a bit distracted but it was fairly indicative of the game that I could not immediately reply with the score. “Oh they got a losing bonus point at the end” I told him,” I think it was 18-14..”. and then as I did the maths in my head I realised it had been 18-13. So much for being observant! If you have read this far let me know if you think it was worth my while writing this blog despite my initial misgivings.
Match stats are here and show why the game felt stop/start with 24 penalties and 30 turnovers conceded between both teams.
Munster: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, David Johnston, Rory Scannell, Shane Monahan; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha; John Madigan, Dave Foley; Dave O’Callaghan, Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander – capt.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Stephen Archer, Robin Copeland, Shane Buckley, Cathal Sheridan, Tyler Bleyendaal, Cian Bohane.
Benetton Rugby: Jayden Hayward, Ludovico Nitoglia, Tommaso Iannone, Enrico Bacchin, Andrea Pratichetti, Sam Christie, Chris Smylie; Alberto De Marchi (c), Roberto Santamaria, Rupert Harden, Duncan Naudè, Tom Palmer, Robert Barbieri, Dean Budd, Braam Steyn.
Replacements: Luca Bigi, Matteo Zanusso, Simone Ferrari, Filippo Gerosa, Jean-Francois Montauriol, Marco Barbini, Alberto Lucchese, Simone RagusiI
If you recorded the game the end of the post match interview from Anthony Foley is funny as he was interviewed by Marcus Horan and found it hard to stop smiling at his friend! Going through Daryl’s photos I love this action shot of Duncan Williams
Special mention also to the suberb Treviso beards especially of their backline – 14, 15, 22! They are ready for Movember already!