On first viewing on the big screen it looked like the Leicester player would be in serious trouble for impeding Andrew Conway chasing his garryowen but as various replays were shown by the TMO I noticed the role of James Cronin leading up to that incident. Cronin had been pushed by Dan Cole which resulted in him pushing into Fitzgerald. It still looked like Fitzgerald saw exactly what he was doing and intentionally blocked Conway but the referee awarded the penalty against Cronin, saying Fitzgerald was off balance and Leicester were back in the Munster half. You can see the analysis of the incident from The42.ie here
Was it a turning point in the game? Absolutely but not the only reason for the defeat. Instead of being awarded the penalty Munster conceded it and the result was the first Tigers try, despite not having really threatened the Munster line in the previous half hour. As the stats below show Munster had 66% possession in the half but went in 6-18 down at half-time.
The match Stats also show that opportunities were created but the execution was not precise enough to capitalise on them.
In the opening minutes Leicester scored a penalty through Owen Williams when Murray’s box kick had hung up in the wind to put Munster under pressure trying to exit their half. However, they responded well. A great break by Robin Copeland nearly led to CJ Stander getting the opening try. When they won a penalty instead they kicked for touch. The maul was repelled but when James Cronin charged into contact with it the ball was lost and Munster had to build the phases again. They continued to apply good pressure but maybe the baltic conditions from the NE wind led to a few balls being dropped in promising positions before James Cronin made a great break to win a penalty which Keatley converted to make it 3-3 after 13′
Botha won another great turnover when Munster were under pressure in their own 22. Dave O’Callaghan did the same a few minutes later keeping on his feet while contesting for the ball to force the penalty for not releasing. From the lineout Zebo chased a great kick by Keatley and arrived in time to tackle the receiver and who arrived second to the ruck but BJ Botha to challenge for the ball and as more arrived in support it led directly to another penalty which Keatley converted to take the lead, 6-3. Approaching the half hour mark Leicester won a penalty directly in front of the posts when Hurley was penalised for not releasing and with the wind behind him Williams again converted with a superb kick from the half-way line to tie up the scores again.
Conway chased the restart and was taken out by Slater to give Keatley another opportunity to kick at goal but it went to the left and wide. From the restart came the incident mentioned above with Cronin. Conway received the deep restart and ran back before lofting a garryowen which Copeland received. The crowd reacted to the Conway incident and Poite signalled advantage. He called on the TMO to check the late charge and awarded the penalty from where the push happened. From the lineout the Tigers mounted a fantastic maul.
When Munster collapsed it they spun the ball wide to #11 Goneva who shrugged off the low tackle of Keatley to score in the corner. The conversion came off the post and Munster were 5 points behind.
As Munster pushed for a score before half-time Tigers pounced. Conway had attempted the thread the ball behind the defensive line but it bounced off a defenders leg and up into the grateful arms of Matt Smith who took off downfield with Conway in pursuit. We roared Conway on as he gained on Smith before making a try saving tackle but Tigers still had possession. Their cross field kick went out and it felt like we had survived the danger only for the short lineout to go long beyond the reach of the despairing Ryan and into the arms of Fitzgerald who only had to charge 5m to score the try, undoing so much good work and effort put in during the first half. BJ Botha was injured in that phase and went off for a HIA so John Ryan came into the action.
The half time score of 6-18 looked ominous but I was hopeful of a second half revival given the fact that Munster had dominated (other than the scoreboard) despite Leicester having had the wind advantage in the first half.
While the minis were playing at half time the one millionth European Rugby attendee at Thomond Park was brought onto the pitch with her daughter to be presented with a five year season ticket before Donncha O’Callaghan was interviewed which was a lovely opportunity to say farewell on both sides.
He reiterated that he is a supporter of Munster first and last regardless of where he plays and stressed to the crowd the impact they can have as they get behind the team for the crucial start of the second half.
Munster started well, Keatley put in an excellent kick to the corner and Munster attacked the Leicester throw, driving them back. As they were behind the line James Cronin was entitled to stretch over and touch the ball down to bring Munster to 11-18.
The tempo was definitely up – Earls chased a box kick to put the Tigers under pressure. Zebo kicked deep and we cheered when Veainu fumbled the ball into touch to give Munster the throw-in. The noise levels rose as we sensed the urgency and drive of the team. When a late tackle on Murray resulted in a sinbin for #1 Ayerza momentum seemed to have turned in our favour. Keatley added 3 pts and we were back in the game at 14-18!
Copeland won the next penalty when Goneva did not release. Intensity levels were definitely higher but little errors crept in, Keatley missed touch, Earls’ chip ahead went out on the full. When still down to 14 men, Earls had gathered a chip by Bai, but Bai followed up to tackle him and Leicester support arrived before the red jerseys realised the danger. Ben Youngs sniped from the base of the ruck, through the grasp of Copeland to score beside the posts making it an easy 7 pointer on 53′.
It took till the 66th minute for Munster to score again, when after stringing 13 phases together, Mike Sherry crossed the line after Keith Earls had made a great break down the wing. That brought the score to 19-25 before Leicester (Bell) converted a penalty to make it 19-28. Under pressure now, chasing the game mistakes were made and another penalty conceded was again kicked by Bell, as Leicester opted to extend their lead by kicking the points rather than seeking a 4th try for a bonus point. At 19-31 it was Munster who were chasing a losing bonus point.
Andrew Conway who had been busy all night had one more go at it, running an excellent line to get behind the defence with Zebo in support but when he popped up the pass expecting Zebo on the wrap around loop he was not where expected and the chance was gone. CJ Stander had a final break down the west with Amorosino in support but Leicester scrambled back and prevented any further scores to take the spoils.
MUNSTER: A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; J Cronin, N Scannell, BJ Botha, D Foley, D Ryan, R Copeland, D O’Callaghan, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: M Sherry, D Kilcoyne, J Ryan, M Chisholm, J O’Donoghue, T O’Leary, R Scannell, L Amorosino.
LEICESTER: T Veainu; A Thompstone, M Smith, S Bai, V Goneva; O Williams, B Youngs; M Ayerza, T Youngs, D Cole, G Kitchener, M Fitzgerald, E Slater (capt), B O’Connor, L McCaffrey. Replacements: H Thacker, M Aguero, F Balmain, D Barrow, T Croft, S Harrison, T Bell, G Camacho.
When you arrive on the terrace 2 hours before kick-off it is easy to be entertained by any distraction! A few groundsmen were busy driving forks into the pitch to ensure it was in good condition despite all the rain. We serenaded Ger and Fiona who will be married when we see them next with “I’m getting married in the morning“
Then there was the warm-up routines of the match officials! Some folks were singing “Hokey pokey” as one of the Assistant referees was warming up with hip movements more reminiscent of “Patricia the stripper” while the other two were encouraged with cries of “giddy up” as they took it in turns to hold the reins (see picture below). Former Irish international Geordan Murphy, now on the coaching staff at Leicester was warning us to watch out as he worked with his players kicking for touch near us. I also chatted to the Buckleys whose son Luke was playing with Richmond in the mini’s at half-time so they were on the west terrace to get a good look at his Thomond debut! Who knows, maybe some of the minis we see run out each week will be back in the future as professional players! Remember we saw Keith Woods’ son score there last December!
Also wanted to say that I appreciated CJ Stander bringing the team down to the half-way line on the West side to lead them off the pitch at the end of their warm-up to give us the chance to roar them off and not just to see them in the distance being roared off by the East side folks!
I thought that the 16th man were in great voice, the “Fields of Athenry” and “Stand up and fight” rang out regularly as we tried to lift the team throughout the game. There was frustration also and one “expert” behind me reckoned he would do a better job taking the penalty kicks. There was a lot of talk in the press about a cheer when Keatley was subbed, personally I was clapping to encourage young Academy player Rory Scannell on his European debut but there is a “soccer-like” element creeping into the game on and off the pitch, despite the best efforts of Nigel “This is not soccer” Owens! For sure this is a game we should have won but the players do not go out to lose a game. Hopefully things will click soon and they will convert the opportunities they are creating into some exciting scores.
The atmosphere after the game in the MRSC bar was understandably a little subdued but it was nice to meet some folks there including a few of my forum friends. It felt like being part of a secret society as I (Dearg Doom) introduced “Blackwarrior” to “Mr Chips” 🙂
On Thursday I am going to see “The Force Awakens” and will be hoping the team can “awaken” a force within themselves to go to Welford Road and follow in the footsteps of the team which engineered an away win in October 2006. It won’t be easy but it is not impossible. I will be there and I know many others who are making the trip, travelling not just from Ireland but from the continent and across the UK, (including regular commenters Peter and Rob from Wales and Manchester) while MRSC London have booked a train carriage.
Santa knows all I want for Christmas is…