As I write it is the winter solstice so every day for the next six months there will be a few more minutes of brightness. Could it be a metaphor for Munster also? There were certainly some glimmers of hope yesterday on an unseasonably warm day in Leicester which ultimately ended in disappointment.
It’s not always easy being a Munster supporter, or indeed a supporter of any team as they go through ups and downs – Kilkenny hurling being the possible exception to that rule! Two other clubs with great European pedigree, Leinster and Toulouse, also suffered back to back defeats in the Champions Cup, while Man United and Chelsea prove than massive budgets can’t guarantee permanent success either. Does that mean we become fair weather fans looking for a different bandwagon to jump on or are we in it for the long haul? I can’t answer for anyone else but I will be there cheering and singing from the terrace again next weekend, hoping that the team will finish off those chances they are making and get back on track.
Match stats are available here and the turnovers proved costly to Munster, undoing some of the good work done to get into attacking positions, especially in the second half.
An early penalty opportunity was successfully converted by Ian Keatley to put Munster into the lead after 7 minutes. However a superb break by man of the match #15 Veainu resulted in Leicester winning a penalty after a high tackle by Keatley. Leicester kicked for touch to the 5m line and from that lineout they drove the maul before a few phases of pick and goes resulted in a try for Slater which Freddie Burns converted. Burns kicked a penalty to increase their advantage before a cynical infringement by #19 resulted in a sinbinning for Barrow and a penalty which Keatley converted just before half time.
At 10-6 down with a man advantage there was room for hope during the interval. The Fields of Athenry could be heard at times trying to lift the team and each other.
In the opening minutes of the 2nd half Saili made a great line break but without support Leicester were able to just take the ball out of his hands. They kicked to touch, giving Munster possession via the lineout, allowing them to keep the pressure on in the Leicester half and we thought Cronin was in for a try but the pass from Murray was unfortunately forward so it was disallowed. Munster won a penalty from the scrum but the kick went astray as the sinbin finished and Leicester were back to 15 players.
James Cronin was a hero a few minutes later at the other end of the pitch, winning a penalty when the Tigers held on while they were threatening the Munster line. Freddie Burns missed a penalty kick and it remained 10-6 heading into the final quarter.
A ball squirted loose near the Munster 5m line and Saili responded fastest, scooping it up and tearing down the field. I was sure he was going to score as it was hard to judge how far he was from the line but as he was about to be hauled down by Veainu he got the pass away to Zebo in support but fair play to the Leicester defence they scrambled back and won the turnover for not releasing. The adrenalin was pumping for those few minutes but shortly afterwards there were scenes of jubilation for the home supporters when winger Goneva scored after a good break by #13 Betham who had gotten the pass away despite Conway’s tackle.
Munster had some more opportunities to score at least a losing bonus point in the final quarter hour but could not convert pressure into points. It is so frustrating for the players, management and supporters alike.
View the Match highlights. I only had TG4’s highlights to go by and my own memories to write the blog this week so there is more about the social side than the match this week. I did like Gerry Thornley’s review in the Irish Times which you can read here
Leicester Tigers: T Veainu; A Thompstone, P Betham, M Smith, V Goneva; F Burns, B Youngs; M Ayerza, T Youngs, D Cole, M Fitzgerald, G Kitchener, E Slater (capt), L McCaffrey, B O’Connor. Replacements: H Thacker, M Aguero, F Balmain, D Barrow, T Croft, S Harrison, T Bell, S Bai.
Munster: A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; J Cronin, M Sherry, J Ryan, D Foley, M Chisholm, R Copeland, CJ Stander (capt), D O’Callaghan. Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, M Sagario, B Holland, J O’Donoghue, T O’Leary, R Scannell, L Gonzalez Amorosino
It was my first visit to Welford Road and despite the result I was glad I went. Before the game the announcer was encouraging the crowd to engage on social media to pick the next Christmas themed song to play over the PA and sending birthday greetings. They also reminded people about their traditions and respect, saying that only the coaches were exempt from their bad language ban! The home supporters were very friendly and we had good banter with them. The big screen was hard to see from where I was standing. The walkways were kept clear behind where we had stood leaning against the barrier which meant that if people needed to go out to the bar or toilets they had a clear walkway once they got out of their section. There were empty seats as you can see from the photo below but the scheduling so close to Christmas did not help. They are expanding their capacity further, I expect they can fill it for the big Premiership games.
Planes, trains and automobiles
This was my original blog title until solstice popped into my head this morning. A strong contingent of the Red Army turned up at Leicester. I took the train arranged via MRSC London.
It’s been nearly a year since I met Rob (who lives near Manchester) at the Saracens game but he had been in touch to let me know he was going to Leicester and with the help of mobile communications we found each other in the centre of town. It was great to catch up with him and hear about how his wife had arranged a surprise meeting with Peter and Debbie Stringer to get Peter’s autobiography signed for Rob for Christmas! They say you should never meet your icons as it can be disappointing but I was delighted (not surprised) to hear how that had not been the case with Peter.
Rob and Rebecca hope to get to Dublin for the Leinster game in April and the plan for next season is to attend a “home” European game so it will be great to meet them on this side of the water then.
Long time reader and commenter on the blog Peter had travelled to the game from Wales – 7.5 hours on a bus each way as he wanted to enjoy the local hostelries during his stay. It was lovely to meet him for a chat before the match. As a former front row player and referee, he remains involved in the sport he loves, coaching locally as well as supporting Munster, especially when they are playing any of the 4 Welsh teams in Wales. He highly recommends a trip to the Dragons home ground.
Last week I mentioned meeting folks who know me through the Munsterfans forum. Before the game one of them recognised me from the blog and came over to say hello and as we were chatting he asked me to guess what his username is on the forum. His hints were not that helpful as I went blank and eventually he had to give up and explain to me about a certain character in the Simpsons from which he took his name (now you can guess along also) He was much less “angry” in person than he can sometimes appear on the forum and I was a bit surprised to discover that he actually reads my blogs. He also pointed out a few other people to me by their user names, including “Glorob” who has built up a lot of experience on how to get to games by ferry and train all over France and the other exotic locations Munster have visited on their European adventures over the years as he will not travel by air.
Through the forum I had pre-arranged to share a taxi to East Midlands airport after the game for the 21.10 flight to Dublin. Thanks to Steve for providing details of a reputable taxi company. It turned out one of the other passengers, Paddy, lives just a few miles away from me in Dublin but the other two were on a 24 hr trip from Cork! Kevin and Edel had taken the bus in the early hours of Sunday to Dublin airport and they were not due to arrive back in Cork until about 3am. That’s one hell of a road-trip and demonstrates the level of commitment there is amongst supporters! As we travelled to the airport there were plenty of stories shared about various trips taken over the years. On the logistics side the taxi to East Midlands cost £29 and once we got out into the buslane it took less than half an hour, in hindsight we should have arranged a meeting place on the other side of the ground but we made our flight with plenty of time to spare.
On the plane another day-tripper Ciaran kept me company while his friend John took a power nap but heard enough to follow me on twitter. I hope Ciaran survived the scrum at Dundrum shopping centre today to watch the new Star Wars film with his young son.
Munster supporters have great expertise at figuring out ways of getting to various venues and to source tickets and readily share information to help each other out. Within two hours of the European fixtures being released this season Joe had tweeted me his travel arrangements to all 3 away European games to help me plan my trips. However you don’t have to travel the most extreme routes through volcanic ash clouds or high seas to prove your credentials as a supporter. Let our actions speak to that, after all the media coverage of actions by a minority at the last home game. I hope to see some of you at Thomond on the 27th – including Luke after 3 years of views and comments from the Middle East!
In the meantime keep the faith. Thank you for your encouragement over 2015, I hope you and yours have a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas, and on the 27th we cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war to get our Pro12 campaign back on track.