The cheer which greeted the whistle as Connacht held out to deny Scarlets a losing bonus point was louder than that which had greeted full time when Munster had beaten Zebre about 40 minutes earlier. There was much to admire in the second half we saw of the game in Galway and it provided more evidence, along with the Pro12 league table that Munster have slipped down the provincial rankings with a battle on our hands to qualify for the top tier European competition next season. Sixth place as the table currently stands would suffice as long as there is one Welsh and Scottish team also in the top 6 but as Glasgow have 2 games in hand it is too tight to call currently. The Six Nations will impact Glasgow and Leinster the most so this is a key period to pick up points.
I was in the River Bar with some of the Dublin based supporters (and Mark visiting from west Cork), at least some of whom were of the glass half empty philosophy. It was good to have their company though I wonder if one of them spilled some of my drink when I wasn’t looking as I can’t find many highlights to write about tonight 😦
The weather in Italy was not as good as we had enjoyed the previous weekend, a fog had descended on both Parma and Treviso where Ulster were playing. I joked that it could be like the game in Bosnia where no one saw the goal being scored by Walters in that “foreign” sport!
Of the 7 Munster players gone to the Irish camp only James Cronin was released. The others were missed and it was interesting to read in the Examiner about how the influence of Felix Jones is also missed by the team. Zebre had lost 13 of their squad to the Italian camp.
Match highlights show how foggy it was there!
Munster got off to a great start, winning a penalty from a Zebre scrum and when they mauled the resultant lineout the Zebre hooker Fabiani dived in with a dangerous tackle. Munster kicked that penalty up to the 5m line where Zebre captain Marco Bortolami conceded another penalty for pulling down the maul which was again kicked to touch. Dave Foley secured the ball, the maul split into two and Mark Chisholm was pushed over the line by both props and Copeland. The TMO had a look at the grounding as Fabiani had seemed to knock the ball out of Chisholm’s grasp but it did not go forward and he fell on it to ground it.
Darren Sweetnam showed a nice touch of pace and skill with a deft kick ahead. The Zebre full back did very well to claim the ball as he chased back. Munster lost momentum, conceding penalty after penalty allowing Zebre keep the scoreboard ticking over, 3-7 after 12′, 6-7 after 15′ and 9-7 after 19′ all kicked by Kelly Haimona.
Ronan O’Mahony was down injured for a period, he had landed heavily after he, James Cronin and Zebre #12 Pratichetti had all jumped for a high ball. Fortunately he was able to continue. Munster regained the lead through a penalty to make it 9-10 after 21 minutes.
A side entry earned Munster a team warning and Haimona stepped up to convert the penalty and make it 12-10 on 28 minutes. Zebre were next to commit that same offence. A lineout, a maul, Fabiani dived in again with no arms, hurling himself at the maul to bring it down. He was sinbinned and Munster went for the maul again but after going wide a poor pass to O’Donoghue was knocked on just metres from the line. However Munster did get 3 points during the sinbinning when Keatley converted another penalty to make it 12-13 as half time approached.
We hoped for more scores in the second half, or even the final quarter when traditionally the Italian teams have tired but there was just one score in those forty minutes, a drop goal by Keatley.
Other talking points were the yellow card for Dave O’Callaghan after a high tackle on Kelly Haimona, at least Munster did not concede any points during his absence after Haimona missed the resultant penalty. I was amused to see Sweetnam packing down in the scrum during O’Callaghan’s binning as he has such a slight frame. Marco Bortolami was lucky with the camera angles that his push on Niall Scannell was not picked up by the TMO when the assistant ref asked for it to be reviewed. Keatley also missed two kicks at goal. At least the Zebre shirts got less white as the game went on it, making them easier to spot through the fog in the long range camera shots. Duncan Williams came on for O’Leary to speed up the Munster attack.
Zebre’s #7 Johan Meyer was awarded Man of the Match. For Munster the maul was potent until Zebre conceded penalties to nullify that tactic and the lineout worked better. The backs did not see much ball but Darren Sweetnam on his senior debut carried the ball for 39m – the most metres by any Munster player – and he put in several key tackles like in the photo above.
Some of the Stats on ESPN are surprising, particularly the 2nd half possession stat of 68% for Munster. Maybe I am so surprised because they only had 3 points to show for it.
Munster: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Tomás O’Leary; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Dave Foley, Mark Chisholm; Billy Holland – capt., Jack O’Donoghue, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne, Mario Sagario, Dave O’Callaghan, Shane Buckley, Duncan Williams, Cian Bohane, Gerhard van den Heever.
Zebre: Kayle Van Zyl, Dion Berrman, Tommaso Boni, Matteo Pratichetti, Michele Visentin; Kelly Haimona, Luke Burgess; Andre De Marchi, Oliviero Fabiani, Pietro Ceccarelli; Gideon Koegelenberg, Marco Bortolami (captain); Emiliano Caffini, Johan Meyer, Jean Cook.
Replacements: Emiliana Coria, Bruno Postiglioni, Guillermo Roan, Federico Ruzza, Filippo Cristiano, Guilio Toniolatti, Mils Muliaina, Ulrich Beyers.
Oisin gave us a laugh when TG4 switched to the studio and he asked why Maire Treasa was wearing the Zebre colours!
The Connacht 2nd half which we watched had some great moments – highlights outside of the bonus point tries scored by Connacht and their committed defence at the end included when the referee said to the Scarlets #12 that he thought he had heard a Scarlets player saying that the referee was “having an f’ing laugh” and he was not impressed.
Later he gave the Connacht captain John Muldoon a team warning for conceding too many penalties and John asked if he had time to tell the team. Ben Whitehouse agreed and John went back to the pack but was not seen telling anyone anything as he seemed to be a bit winded at the time… and just wanted a breather we suspected!
It was a busy week on the contract front with Keith, Conor and Billy all signing extensions to stay at Munster. The bloggers ThreeRedKings have a summary of the contract status of all the squad if you are curious to see who is contracted till when.
The Pro12 takes a break next weekend (other than Ulster who play their game in hand). Munster will resume on Valentine’s day in Cork against Ospreys. Hopefully the fog will have cleared, handling and discipline will have improved and I will get a refill for my glass as we Stand Up and Fight in the Red Shed.