Kicking off their 16 week run of games by scoring five tries, coming from behind twice to send Cardiff home pointless, leaves Munster sitting pretty at the top of the Pro 12 league table! It took a while for them to get going, Cardiff could have been well ahead as Munster conceded penalty after penalty in the opening quarter, but it took until his 4th attempt at goal (and the 5th penalty) before Rhys Patchell got them onto the scoreboard in the 16th minute.
His first attempt had been from inside their own half when Shane Monahan was penalised for coming around a ruck thinking that the ball was out while the 2nd arose from a player not rolling away and the third was awarded against Niall Scannell (on as a blood replacement for Mike Sherry) for holding on. A fourth penalty has been kicked to touch when BJ Botha was penalised for collapsing the scrum. Mike Sherry was penalised on his return for going off his feet leading to the first successful penalty kick and a team warning that the next offence would lead to a sinbinning.
Cardiff seemed to be able to break the gain line at will in the opening quarter and Munster were lucky to be only three points behind. Most of the action had been in the Munster half.
The referee and his team of officials were not making many friends amongst the supporters especially when they did not pick up a high tackle on Mike Sherry. The restart went dead and from the scrum on half-way Munster actually won a penalty which was greeted with an ironic cheer! Well spotted ref!
Munster retained possession for a spell, until a pass went behind van den Heever. Another promising passage of play fizzled out when Mark Chisholm was forced into touch but at least Munster were spending time in the Cardiff half. However the visitors won a turnover and found space on the wing through Garyn Smith whose pass inside to Patchell kept the momentum going before he in turn offloaded to his scrumhalf Tavis Knowle to score under the posts, making it 0-10 with 25 minutes played.
From the restart CJ collected their kick back, and carried well into the Cardiff half. A few phases later he turned up to carry again when Keatley had been tackled to get into the 22. Gerhard van den Heever found space on the wing and nearly got to the line. Their patience paid off when after keeping it tight for a few phases, Francis Saili put in a long pass from midfield out to Mike Sherry on the wing who scored. Ian Keatley converted the try to make it 7-10, coming up to the half hour mark.
More pressure from Munster looked like it would pay dividends but Dave Kilcoyne was penalised letting Cardiff clear to touch. From the resulting lineout Mark Chisholm managed to get a hand to it and while the ball went out giving Cardiff another lineout maybe it put off their hooker as his next effort was crooked, giving Munster a scrum. They put pressure on Cardiff to win another penalty which was kicked to touch on the 5m line. The maul was collapsed so Stander took it on, then Kilcoyne before Ian Keatley slipped through the defence to score the 2nd Munster try.
It looked like Munster would take a lead in at half time but Cardiff had other ideas and when Richard Smith scored in the corner and Patchell added the difficult conversion they took a three-point lead 14-17 into the break.
The lunchtime kick-off did not suit everyone but the Red Shed filled up well as kick-off time approached. Some regulars had joined the Irish exodus to Cardiff for the rugby world cup quarter final. I expected that there would be more children there, due to the promotion of free entry for them but twins Fionn and Oisin attending their first ever Munster match did catch my eye.
I was chatting to Ian Heaslip, (originally met in Clermont last December) who told me that his grandson was competing at a blitz so was not able to attend. There were plenty of familiar faces from the Thomond west terrace gathered on the East terrace in Cork, travelling from Waterford, Limerick, Tipperary and Cork. At half time there was the opportunity to recognise the winners of the Mixed Ability Rugby World Cup – the Sundays Well Rebels.
I was chatting to my friends when hearing what sounded like the bells of the Angelus called my attention to the big screen. It turned out to be a Lifestyle sports ad which I had not seen before.
Cardiff restored their 10 point lead when scoring their third try just minutes after the restart as Rhys Patchell sliced through a gap in the Munster defence. A few phases later Tom Issacs touched down despite the efforts of Jack O’Donoghue to stop him. Patchell added the extras and it looked like Cardiff could be the team to get the bonus point win! Mistakes were made by both sides and one turnover led to a counter-attack by Andrew Conway, who kicked the ball downfield and chased after it. The bounce worked out well and he was able to hack it on again. The Cardiff defence scrambled back but it put Munster into the right part of the pitch with half an hour to go. The Cardiff clearance kick gave Munster a throw in from just outside the Cardiff 22.
There was a great cheer to welcome back local man Tomás O’Leary after his three seasons at London Irish, when he came on with half an hour remaining, along with James Cronin and Jordan Coghlan.
The intensity level increased and Munster imposed themselves physically, mauling Cardiff backwards and winning a further penalty. Chisholm secured possession and the maul was set up again. It moved at pace and intensity and enabled Mike Sherry to add his second try of the night, this one from the back of the solid Munster maul. Game on at 21-24.
Cardiff were on the back foot and conceded penalty after penalty but only received a warning – offside, taking out the legs in a maul, another offside leading to a team warning – as Munster probed to breach their defence. Munster kept kicking the penalties to touch and tried mauling and pick and goes, then going wide. Conway made a great break before needing to go off for a head impact assessment, David Johnston coming on in his place.
It looked like Cardiff would escape unpunished when the referee awarded them a scrum but the boys in red put on the pressure and drove Cardiff backward. Jordan Coghlan was quickest to react when the ball squirted out, touching it down to score his first try for Munster. When the referee called on the TMO to have a look at the score someone joked that it was like the old Rabo ad – “Is there any reason why I cannot award this try?” “Yes, they’ll win!”. Anyway the TMO could not find any infringement and when Ian Keatley converted the try Munster went 4 points ahead, 28-24.
There was still almost a quarter of the game left to play and Cardiff had an opportunity to strike back and opted to go for a penalty to make it a one-point game when Patchell was successful with his kick (28-27) on 69’. Denis Hurley, Niall Scannell and Robin Copeland were sprung from the bench for the last 9 minutes.
Andrew Conway continued to ask questions of the Cardiff defence, with another kick through which Dan Fish just managed to touch down. However, Munster had been playing with advantage so when play was brought back for it Keatley kicked to touch. The maul sucked in some defenders, then Scannell drove for the line, then O’Leary got the ball to the backs – Keatley to Saili who flicked the ball onto Conway to score in the corner. It was successfully converted by Keatley on 72 minutes.
The TMO was again in action but this time it was to look at foul play leading up to the try and a yellow card was shown to Jevon Groves. “Ten minutes too late” grumbled Kevin and we nodded in agreement as we could not understand why no one had gone to the bin earlier when Cardiff had conceded 3 or 4 penalties in a row within their own 5m line!
John Ryan came on at tight head for his 50th cap, he could have a big role to play given the news that Stephen Archer needs surgery on his neck. He did very well last season on the loose head side when Kilcoyne and Cronin were both injured. Hopefully Stephen Archer and Peter O’Mahony joining the other players in rehab will all make successful recoveries.
This week’s blog is dedicated to my father on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Congratulations Dad!
Munster: Andrew Conway (Dave Johnston 58/HIA, 75); Shane Monahan, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell (Denis Hurley 70), Gerhard van den Heever; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams (Tomas O’Leary 51); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 51), Mike Sherry (Niall Scannell 2/Blood, 70), BJ Botha (John Ryan 75); Mark Chisholm (Robin Copeland 70), Dave Foley; Dave O’Callaghan, Jack O’Donoghue (Jordan Coghlan 51), CJ Stander Capt. Replacements: Niall Scannell, James Cronin, John Ryan, Robin Copeland, Jordan Coghlan, Tomás O’Leary, Denis Hurley, Dave Johnston.
D Fish, G Smith, T Isaacs, G Evans, R Smith, R Pathcell, T Knoyle, S Hobbs, M Rees (captain), C Mitchell, L Reed, J Down, J Turnbull, E Jenkins, M Vosawai. Replacements: K Dacey for Rees (49), J Groves for Jenkins (51), T Davies for Hobbs (63), M Cook for Reed (65), D Lewis for Mitchell (78).
I came across a petition on twitter regarding the use of protective goggles as worn by former Leinster player Ian McKinney. it seems strange that some countries are not allowing it so he could not play for Zebre v Connacht in Galway but he can play in the reverse fixture. Over 12,000 have signed the petition. Check it out here
It is also worth checking out the tribute on TV3 by Keith Wood to Paul O’Connell if you missed it.
Munster will not be happy to have conceded three tries given their mean defence record of last season, nor with their penalty count and with some of handling mistakes so there is plenty to work on at this stage of the season but their ability to win tight games and come from behind has put them a point clear of the chasing pack. We’ll take that!