CJ again led by example, tirelessly carrying the ball into the Leinster blue wall, 18 times for a total of 50 metres according to the stats while on defensive duty he made 9 tackles (of the 87 in total made by Munster) as he put his body on the line for the team. Hopefully his contribution will be rewarded by the Irish selectors. I wonder if he feels like he is caught in groundhog day as he faces up to another post-match interview as the losing captain? What can he say that he has not already said? Maybe I have a little something in common with him as those recurring themes arise in this blog also. The challenge of writing a glass-half full blog on the back of a 5th successive defeat is daunting but all I am doing is writing up a thousand or two words which may be viewed a few hundred times. The players must be feeling a lot worse, thinking about the “what if’s” and “if only’s” as they again created plenty of opportunities but their decision making, execution or handling let them, their coaches and supporters down at crucial times. Possession and territory were all dominated by the team in red but don’t result in any league points.
Stats can be seen here
The biggest cheers of the night were reserved for Tommy O’Donnell on his return from injury – when his name was called out during the team announcements, when he was warming up on the sideline during the first half and again when he entered the fray approaching the hour mark. That was not to show any disrespect to Jack O’Donoghue who has worked really hard to convert himself from an 8 into a 7 but we have missed Tommy’s physicality especially when up against man of the match and Irish international #7 Sean O’Brien. Playing three number 8s in the backrow was always going to be a compromise but the experience will hopefully benefit Jack who is one of our brightest hopes for the future. It seems odd that the specialist 7 Sean Doyle (interviewed pitchside before the game) was only involved in the A team’s efforts in the B&I Cup for the past few weeks.
Many of the best backline moves involved Andrew Conway who put Munster on the front foot, sometimes at great personal danger as he launched himself into the air to contest a high ball or tried to find a chink to jink through, another player who has put his body on the line for Munster and I hope he will sign a contract extension.
Young Academy player Rory Scannell took on a lot of responsibility, I assume due to the ongoing quad concerns over Tyler Bleyendaal who did not take any of the restarts or kicks for touch or goal. I had noticed in the warm up that both Simon Zebo and Lucas Gonzalas Amorosino were practicing penalty kicks and apparently if Conor Murray had started he was going to take on kicking duties but when he failed a late fitness test the responsibility passed to Rory. It was unfortunate that his opening kick at goal was carried wide by the wind but I thought he acquitted himself well otherwise, taking on the ball often (15 times) and looking to make ground (making 74m according to the stats). A superb kick to the corner in the second half to pin back Leinster stood out in my memory (48th minute I noted when watching the match back).
If I was a Leinster blogger* I would of course be delighted with the Scrooge-like defensive performance of the men in blue, their tackling, their line speed, cutting off the space to put Munster under pressure. Garry Ringrose who had been very impressive in the Junior Rugby World Cups, playing with Jack in 2014 and also starring for Ireland U20s in 2015, proves that if you are good enough you are old enough. It was a piece of magic from him that got Leinster onto the scoreboard. Munster had started well, pressing Leinster back into their 22 but when Tomas O’Leary was engulfed by Jamie Heaslip, Dominic Ryan secured the ball and Leinster counter-attacked getting the ball out to the far side where Ringrose (carrying the ball in both hands) had McFadden outside him putting Jack O’Donoghue in two minds facing a 2:1 on the wing. He stayed out and Ringrose stepped inside, showing great composure to pass before being tackled by Conway for Isa Nacewa to touch down beside the posts. Ian Madigan converted to make it 7-0.
From the restart Munster won back possession and a penalty when Sean O’Brien went offside. Rory Scannell stepped up but the breeze took the ball to the left and wide for the left-footed kicker. It was probably just as well that it was Saili and not Scannell wearing the player microphone for the game if my lip reading was accurate :-). If you watched the Sky broadcast with the player mic was it interesting / worthwhile?
Updated Dec 29 as I found this (not sure I would like to listen to a whole game like this!):
— Sky Sports Rugby (@SkySportsRugby) December 27, 2015
The Leinster maul was strong, winning them a penalty when Munster went in from the side which Madigan converted to make it 0-10 after 14 minutes.
A high tackle on Scannell went unpunished, another Leinster player got away with not rolling away but the referee was happy to just give a warning for the high tackle. Then Tomas O’Leary pushed Eoin Reddan after he had fed the ball into the scrum right in front of the referee giving Leinster another opportunity to clear their lines.
James Cronin required attention for his ankle and was an early substitution on 19 minutes but we are lucky to have a player of the calibre of Dave Kilcoyne to bring on in his place.
On 24’ Conway made a break and got back into the Leinster half before being pushed into touch near us. Sean Cronin’s throw was snatched by Donncha Ryan to put Munster on the front foot.
Munster went through the phases, Kilcoyne was prominent, with Earls coming in off his wing several times to keep the attack moving before Dave Foley was penalised after hitting a ruck with his shoulder and again Leinster were able to clear the danger.
Munster were then penalised when Leinster drove the Munster pack backwards in a scrum at 30’ but the momentum shifted again shortly afterwards when Luke Fitzgerald was penalised for a side entry to a ruck to give advantage back to Munster. From that lineout, O’Leary was nearly caught in possession but the team scrambled well. O’Leary’s garryowen was chased hard by Conway who challenged for the ball in the air and it came back to Saili in support. He set Bleyendaal free and Munster kept up the pressure, Scannell made a break, Earls got a beautiful offload away to Saili, Stander drove into the 10m, Jack and later CJ again took it on and we thought Mike Sherry had scored but the TMO was happy that the Leinster player got under him so it was held up. In the meantime, the medics had been treating Earls who had stayed down injured after getting that offload away. There was a worried silence as we saw the stretcher being called for. It was good to see him give the thumbs up as he was taken off the field, to be replaced by Amorosino.
From the 5m scrum, CJ picked and drove for the line, Sherry carried next, then John Ryan and Jack O’Donoghue before Saili was held up over the line and there was another scrum on the far side. From there they worked the ball back infield where Robin Copeland finished off the move. Rory Scannell converted to make it 7-10. When a Leinster player knocked on to finish the half there was a cheer. Given the strong breeze I was optimistic that Munster would take advantage of it in the second half and finish off more scoring opportunities.
Buoyed by their try Munster came out fighting in the second half and turned down penalty goal kick opportunities to go to the corner but Leinster got their defence aligned and repelled them, pulling down a maul to concede another penalty and driving back the subsequent maul. John Ryan and Jack O’Donoghue carried the fight to Leinster again before Tyler was penalised for not releasing when Sean O’Brien went looking for the ball, initially on his feet.
A kick ahead by Leinster was expertly fielded by Conway who counter-attacked up the far wing, offloading to Scannell in support. Stander was next to go on a trademark barn-storming run before getting the ball away with some quick passing to Zebo on the far wing who wrestled his way out of the tackle of McFadden (UFC style perhaps? Worth watching at the 50 minute mark) to move play into their 22 as excitement grew only for a cross field kick to go backwards and momentum was lost again as Leinster swarmed forward, eventually Conway being pinged for holding on.
Then it was Munster’s turn to defend as Leinster pushed forward, Madigan’s cross field kick to Nacewa being better executed and while Scannell dragged him down short of the line, their forwards drove on and Jack McGrath scored the try which Madigan converted to make it 7-17.
Conway gingerly got to his feet after another mid-air collision – this time with Kirchner. O’Donnell, Williams and Hurley were brought on, lifting the crowd’s spirits as Leinster were again camped in the Munster 22.
Munster won a penalty from the scrum and Scannell kicked them to just shy of the half-way line. I thought Williams increased the tempo of the game. He gave one of his trademark reverse flips to Conway. The TMO looked at the tackle which resulted in Conway and Reddan flying through the air, landing awkwardly. Of course we thought it was a dangerous tackle but the referee on review awarded just a penalty and not a card despite some chants of “off, off”. Munster secured possession from their lineout at the second attempt but the defence held firm and about 6 Leinster players engulfed Saili to hold him up and win the scrum put-in. Niall Scannell was introduced at hooker, relieving Mike Sherry who had put in a great shift in defence and ball carrying when required.
Amorosino chased back to cover a kick after a turnover, sliding down to secure the ball and in the same move regain his footing, managing to evade the chasing blue shirts and getting the pass away to Zebo in a lovely piece of skill.
Time was running out but Munster continued to attack. Rory made a good break but a few phases later Denis knocked on. John Ryan was replaced by Mario Sagario after putting in a good shift. Last year he was at loosehead and this year back to tighthead, but in the Munster calendar I got for Christmas he is shown as a centre (1 / 3 perhaps not 13!)
Cian Healy limped off so Jack McGrath had to return to action as Munster waited to put into the lineout back on the Leinster 22. O’Donnell claimed, Killer drove on then Stander, then Scannell, before Munster won another penalty and kicked for touch to the 5m line. We raised our voices to urge them on but the lineout went astray and with it another opportunity lost. Players threw themselves at the blue line looking for a chink, desperate for a score to salvage at least a losing bonus point. A final lineout as the clock headed for 80, the ball was passed out wide but Zane Kirchner picked off the intercept and scored a try under the posts to bring the final score to 7-24.
Munster: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Tyler Bleyendaal, Tomás O’Leary ; James Cronin, Mike Sherry, John Ryan, Dave Foley, Donnacha Ryan; Robin Copeland, Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander Capt.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Mario Sagario, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, Denis Hurley, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Leinster: Zane Kirchner, Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Luke Fitzgerald, Isa Nacewa, Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Tom Denton, Dominic Ryan, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: James Tracy, Cian Healy, Marty Moore, Ross Molony, Josh van der Flier, Nick McCarthy, Cathal Marsh, Dave Kearney
It was a proud night for one Munsterman, Sean Cronin, playing his 100th game for Leinster!
* The view from my favourite Leinster blogger who shares my posts on his site
So Munster slump to 6th in the table, the 4th placed Irish province, putting their European qualification for next season on the line with the daunting challenge of a trip to Ravenhill next weekend before the back to back encounters with Stade Francais. It could not be a tougher start to 2016.
There was a great atmosphere on the terrace, we sang, we cheered, we shouted encouragement, yes there was some “ironic cheering” directed at the officials when it was felt that they had missed some infringement. I was surprised to see that the penalty count was higher against Leinster (8:10) as it had not felt that way especially in the first half!
During half-time we celebrated the nuptials of Ger and Fiona who had been married earlier that day so were not in their usual place.
As 2015 draws to a close I want to thank those who have supported the blog this year, those who shared it, commented on it, provided anecdotes and photographs to make it the best year yet in terms of views and engagement. Best wishes for 2016 to you and yours and to our team who need our support more than ever. Let’s keep the faith and help rebuild our fortress.