Doesn’t your heart go out to CJ Stander having to face into another post match interview on the losing side after playing his heart out, making his tackles, carrying the ball, losing his shirt and being subjected to foul play? He had said (in his interview in the Irish Examiner) after the Ulster game that the recent run of losses had felt not like a “monkey on his back” but more like a skyscraper but the respite from that victory is gone again after the latest result.
Next up was Anthony Foley, the interviewer seemed to be hoping for a breaking news story as to the changes that would be made but Foley was not going to oblige him with a resignation. You can see the strain he is under and how much Munster means to him – as Gerry Thornley had written about in the Irish Times. If the sheer will power of CJ and Axel were enough to ensure success then Munster would have won the group but there are serious issues which need to be addressed.
Former player, Munster legend and now pundit Alan Quinlan was upset and frustrated. As he said on Sky Munster have “no divine right to win.” However, the legacy of the teams who established the tradition of Munster in the ERC deserves better. Munster of old did not steam roll through the pool stages, often needing a last minute piece of drama, a drop goal, a try by Wally at the death if not a full-blown miracle to qualify for the knock-out stages but they always went down fighting and very often snatched at least a losing bonus point to keep in contention. Often times in those good old days the French team in the pool had raised the white flag long before arriving in Thomond Park
John Broderick was equally passionate on the TG4 highlights program and like plenty of Munster supporters across social media after the game he was waving a literal red card at several within the Munster set-up – players and management – out of frustration and disappointment.
It’s hard to get your head around what happened in the second half in Paris. How did a team with 14 men outplay 15 and outscore them by 17:7?
Well they started with a statement of intent – a scrum from a knock-on and they kept the ball at the feet of Parisse as they marched Munster back to win a penalty and clear the danger. Down a back, Stade kept the ball in the pack as much as possible, happy to scrum and maul and suck the life out of Munster as the clock ticked down. Robin Copeland gave away a penalty when he did not come through the gate to pick up a loose ball and Steyn made it 13-0 after 52 minutes.
Finally on the hour mark Munster got an opportunity to exploit the space on the far side with O’Donoghue feeding Saili who passed to Rory Scannell and we were delighted for the young player on his first European start but unfortunately it was called back for a forward pass from Saili.
A few minutes later came the try of the game as almost from halfway another young player, 20 year old Sekou Macalou handed off and stepped around three or four tacklers to score in the 66th minute. A bonus point still did not look likely until full back Hugo Bonneval scored their third try after getting through some weak tackles in the 70th minute.
Munster’s only score came a few minutes later, Zebo kicked ahead down the sideline, Niall Scannell was there to keep the ball alive and Conor Murray touched down. While Scannell may have had a toe in touch surely Zebo had been held back so I think it was deserved, albeit too little too late. Rory Scannell stepped up for the difficult conversion and his low kick went between the posts. Stade were still hunting for a winning bonus point and almost got it too before time ran out.
The early injuries to Andrew Conway, BJ Botha and Tommy O’Donnell obviously disrupted the team but they rallied well in the first half and were unlucky not to have scored the first try through Ian Keatley after some lovely offloads from Scannell to Earls and onto Keatley who was just beaten to the chase after his kick ahead was grounded by #11 Raisuqe. A subsequent penalty kick went to the left and wide. A second good opportunity came when Earls chased Murray’s box kick to win back possession. Stander charged into their half and the ball was quickly recycled to the backs where Zebo, Saili and O’Mahony combined well to get into the opposition 22 before being penalised for holding on. Instead it was Stade Francais who scored twice in the last ten minutes- a try by Paul Williams converted by Steyn who added a penalty in the closing minutes of the half to go in 10-0 up.
Earlier in the first half Nigel Owens had told Dupuy to stop play-acting when he looked for a penalty after a trip but since he had been playing offside Nigel was having none of it. However just before half time Zebo sent a pass which Stander failed to collect on his knees. As both he and Raisuqe went for the ball the latter pushed CJ back with his hand – making eye contact – so he was shown a red card to the noisy disgust of the Parisians – disgust at the card not the offence it seemed.
Ian Keatley had a penalty kick from the other side of the pitch for the earlier advantage but it also was off target, no thanks to the ongoing objections of the local supporters.
CJ wasn’t the only one who played his heart out – did you see Dave Kilcoyne playing with an egg sized bump over his eye? By the end of the game you would think he could hardly see out of it. Did you see the turnovers won several of which when under pressure in the first half which only served to make those missed tackles all the worse in the second half as the team seemed to disintegrate before our eyes as Stade used their powerful scrum to force penalty after penalty and suck the spirit out of the team.
STADE FRANÇAIS PARIS: Hugo Bonneval; Julien Arias, Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, Paul Williams, Josaia Raisuqe; Morné Steyn, Julien Dupuy; Zak Taulafo, Laurent Sempéré, Paul Alo-Emile; Hugh Pyle, Paul Gabrillagues; Sekou Macalou, Sylvain Nicolas, Sergio Parisse (capt). Replacements: Rabah Slimani for Alo-Emile (47 mins), Laurent Panis for Sempéré (48 mins), Jonathan Danty for Arias (51 mins), Heinke Van der Merwe for Taulafo (53 mins), Jonathan Ross for Nicolas, Julien Tomas for Dupuy (both 71 mins), Gerhard Mostert for Gabrillagues, Jules Plisson for Bonneval (both 73 mins). Sent off: Raisuqe (40 + 1 mins).
MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha; Dave Foley, Mark Chisholm; Robin Copeland, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: Ronan O’Mahony for Conway (9 mins), John Ryan for Botha (11 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for O’Donnell (23-30 and 36 mins), Mario Sagario for Ryan (58 mins), Niall Scannell for Sherry, Denis Hurley for Keatley (both 69 mins), Billy Holland for Chisholm (79 mins). Not used: Tomas O’Leary.
Highlights on Sky:
It is a shame that the next 2 games are dead rubbers. Should Munster stand up and fight next week for their pride and to start rebuilding fortress Thomond or do they blood some of the younger players? After losing to Connacht, Leicester and Leinster they need to draw a line in the ground as if to say “thou shalt not cross”, this is our field but as Quinny was saying there is no quick fix. Tearing up season tickets isn’t going to help but people are free to react how they see fit. I’ll be there bright and early on the west terrace to do my bit to help with the rebuilding process, not because I accept mediocrity but because I am a Munster supporter who despite recent disappointments is hoping that my team will challenge for the Pro12 play-offs while putting the changes required in place for next season. Peter O’Mahony is due back in April. Let’s hope we’ll still be in contention for the play-offs and qualification for Europe then. We have been talking about transition long enough, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and put the right plan in place, on the field and in the organisation overall. Francis Saili in The42.ie interview spoke about improving the basic skills starting with the Academy – “I guess that’s what I found different in coming to this side of the world, the skill level. Because back home, oh man, we work on that every time we train”
Standing Room Only
We had our biggest crowd of the season in the River Bar with MRSC Dublin, including Paddy with whom I shared a taxi after the Leicester away game. Many people turned up just as or after the game had started, so when we ran out of seating we had to ask the staff to turn on the big screen in the other area and set up chairs and tables there for folks. The Munster turnovers and penalties won were all cheered and we were holding the man beside me responsible for our woes when both times he left to go to the rest room Stade scored! Not once but twice! Coincidence or not we strongly recommended he not go again!
It was not all doom and gloom – congratulations to James and Annika- in the front row to the right – on their recent engagement.
There was a major post-mortem after the final whistle and the first time I ever heard people shushing to hear what Anthony Foley had to say. There was a lot of agreement with the sentiments expressed by Quinny and plenty of theories about what needs to be done. Jim suggested the title “at 6s and 8s”, bemoaning our lack of depth at 7, Jack continues to impress but when Tommy went off we had three natural #8s on the pitch.
A selection of match reviews / post mortems from the press: