A Good Friday kick-off against Zebre was never going to match the interest levels of the last time we had a home game on that day (against Leinster in 2010) even if it was at one of the few venues with open bars in the city. It was great to have the internationals back in red to kick-start the final push to secure Champions Cup qualification and if possible the play-offs. It was also a chance for some of the young players to stake their claim for selection for the key upcoming interpros. Andy Farrell who recently finished his 10 week consultancy at Munster singled out the younger players in his interview:
“I have been massively impressed with the age bracket of 18 to 22 years and these kids not looking out of place in senior sessions.”
Jack O’Donoghue and Niall Scannell have enjoyed a lot of first team action this season. As an aside I enjoy the honesty in Jack’s player diary in the Indo supplement. Check out this week’s edition if you missed it. Rory Scannell who is in his final year in the Academy continues to impress in midfield. During the Six Nations window several of the other up-and-coming players had the opportunity to play Pro12 rugby for a run of games. Darren Sweetnam has shown superb pace on the wing and a great work-rate as commented on in recent blogs while Johnny Holland and David Johnston have been getting regular senior action also mainly from the bench in recent weeks. I assume with Andrew Conway and Francis Saili to come back into the mix to play Leinster in the Aviva next weekend the management have some good selection headaches to finalise their starting 15.
The Leinster Academy has been more successful in recent years in the British and Irish Cup and in producing players for their senior and the international team (at U20s and senior levels) so it is good to see the Munster Academy graduates making their mark also. It will not be easy to recruit overseas star players in the future given the competition with the sterling purses of the English clubs and sugar daddies in the French clubs so being able to develop local talent supplemented with NIQs of the right calibre and character will be key to being able to compete at the top table.
The Irish Examiner estimated the attendance was as low as 6,000 and a few of the regulars were missing in our part of the west terrace. Mark sent me a tweet to say he wished he were there despite being somewhere that it was 20C! When George arrived Tony demanded that he prove he had read the latest blog – by wishing me a happy birthday. George produced his phone and showed where he had saved it off ready to enjoy at his leisure so instead he had to speed read it there and then to get to that part. He did make my night by asking if I was celebrating the big 3-0! Patrick who has become a regular commentor here also offered his birthday greetings and we had a good discussion post match about his recent experiences in the players bar.
Munster played into the strong breeze for the first half. You could see from some of the kicks to touch the power of the wind as the ball did not travel as far or straight as expected. Zebre had an early lineout in the Munster 22 but failed to secure their own ball allowing Munster escape the danger zone. A penalty kicked to touch set up the maul and when Zebre pulled it down illegally we were surprised to see the referee going straight for a penalty try instead of just awarding another penalty but he was exasperated by their high penalty count even at that early stage of the game. Johnny Holland had no problem with the easy conversion from in front of the posts to make it 7-0 after 11 minutes.
Another poor lineout from Zebre was gratefully received by Tommy O’Donnell to put Munster on the front foot. From the subsequent phase Keith Earls slipped through the tackle and made great ground. His pass to Tommy went astray but Niall Scannell was coming along behind and kept the momentum going. However, an eventual knock-on let Zebre off.
Darren Sweetnam was playing on our side of the pitch for the first half and continued his good form of late, giving us plenty of reason to shout out words of encouragement to him, along the lines of “G’wan Darren!” although some folks were asking who he was as it was just his second league game in Thomond.
Ronan O’Mahony recovered well from a slip as he gathered a garryowen to show a nice turn of pace as he accelerated into the opposition half. A penalty conceded led to another lineout and maul which Zebre defended. As Niall Scannell broke away and then Dave Kilcoyne tried to keep his scoring run going it looked like it would be just a matter of time till they breached the line but a knock-on again let Zebre off. However, they in turn conceded a penalty. Billy Holland took it quickly and Munster were back on the attack. When Geldenhuys offended as Munster got up to the line again he was sent to the bin in the 23rd minute. Munster opted for the scrum on the 5m line with Zebre down a forward. They drove the Italian pack backwards and won another penalty so went for the same again. This time they whipped the ball out quickly, from O’Leary to Holland and onto Scannell who gave a superb pass to O’Mahony on the wing to score. Looking at the wind blowing the flags across towards the east where Holland was lining up the conversion I did not think he would get it but I was delighted to see that he had the measure of it.
Just after the half hour mark the Assistant Referee called the Referee’s attention to potential foul play at a ruck. We had heard the folks on the east side yelling in protest when they saw it live and when the TMO replayed the incident we added our voices to theirs. The TMO recommended a yellow card giving the reckless nature of the use of Toniolatti’s boot on the back of Tommy O’Donnell’s calf. That meant a 2nd bright yellow chair was required.
Marcus Horan played a blinder with the kids nearby shouting helpful random Irish expressions at him as he gave his pitchside analysis for TG4 during a break in play!
Zebre were back up to 14 men when they won a penalty for Archer coming in at the side. From the resultant lineout they won another penalty. Kelly Haimona stepped up to attempt the kick at goal. I noticed Donnacha Ryan lining up opposite him with his customary glower to put him off. Perhaps it worked as the kick went wide and the score remained 14-0 through to half time although Ronan O’Mahony had gotten our heart rates up just before the break with another searing run down the far side.
Ger jokingly warned us (or more specifically Tony) to be on our best behaviour for the 2nd half as Helen O’Reilly would be on our side for the 2nd half. The first female AR at a Pro12 game in Thomond or indeed anywhere in the Pro12 according to WalesOnLine. Not that our group shout abuse but often like to offer helpful advice, like Tony’s infamous calls of “behind the kicker.”
Zebre came out in the 2nd half to play rugby and had several decent periods of possession but playing against the wind some of their kicking tactics were misjudged and did not make them much ground.
Another beautifully weighted pass from Rory Scannell in midfield put Darren Sweetnam away down the east wing. With Zebo on his outside he committed the tackler before passing to Simon who rounded their full back van Zyl to score the third try on 48 minutes. Holland converted again to make it 21-0. That try moved Zebo beyond Anthony Horgan’s record of 41 tries scored for Munster and with his new contract agreed I wonder how high Simon will go on to set the bar for those coming behind him? If you look at the top Munster try scorers stats you can see that Simon has been the top try scorer for Munster for the past 4 seasons but he is not yet the top try scorer for 2015/16 so it is great to see him in fine scoring form again after his time in the national camp.
The restart did not go 10m but Munster played it and then knocked it on to give Zebre a scrum in midfield. CJ Stander and Conor Murray got a big welcome on their arrival into the action. George took out his phone to check what odds he could get on either of them to score a try! Johnny Holland took a knock and when he left the pitch we assumed Ian Keatley came on in his place for the rest of the game, not realising that it was temporary for a head impact assessment (HIA).
Conor Murray’s defensive skills led to a key turnover when Zebre were within striking distance of the Munster line. CJ Stander passed to Keatley whose great pass to Sweetnam let him show his pace as he raced from practically his own try line to the 10m line. When the tackler was about to get to him he passed inside to Scannell who passed it on to Keatley. Ian’s pass to Zebo invited him to race clear and score beside the posts. We were then confused to hear Keatley call up Conor Murray to take the kick. Was he injured? It was Richie in front of us who figured out that Keatley must have been a temporary replacement for Holland and due to “bloodgate” the rules meant that he could not take the kick. Murray made no mistake from in front of the posts to bring the score to 28-0.
A box-kick by Murray bounced awkwardly. Sweetnam responded quickly. His loose pass was gathered by Tommy O’Donnell whose superb break took him past their 10m line. Flanked by Jack and CJ as he raced for the try-line, he considered his options as he fended off the tacklers and passed to CJ who went on to score his 6th try of the season. (Pity George had not managed to get a bet placed!) The conversion again taken by Conor had looked good but was not awarded so the score was 33-0.
Johnny Holland returned to the action as Keith Earls and Stephen Archer left it. I glanced at my phone to see I had received 3 tweets to let me know about my TV appearance celebrating Murray’s first conversion. Joe had even tweeted me a photo of me on his TV while Oisin and Martin let me know the exact time on the match clock so I could easily check it out myself. It was fun to get home and discover that Dad had actually not fallen asleep by the fire and so had seen me on TV as had our neighbour Albert while my niece Clodagh got a message from her friend Sadhbh to let her know also. A birthday present from TG4 perhaps? I am looking forward to meeting Sadhbh and Clodagh in their Munster jerseys at the Aviva next weekend.
Niall Scannell’s lineout throws were excellent in the windy conditions and he is certainly not just keeping the jersey warm for the injured Duncan Casey but will fight it out with him and Mike Sherry.
Approaching the hour mark a new front row were launched from the bench. They won a scrum against the head and a penalty as reward for their pressure. From the 5m lineout and maul Murray dummied the pass and went over to score. Johnny Holland again landed the difficult conversion with the assistance of Mario Sagario to hold the ball in place for him. Zebo was replaced by Keatley while Ryan was replaced by Foley for the last 15 minutes.
There was still time for another yellow card – this time # 16 Bruno Postiglioni was sent off. Going down to 7 forwards did not help as at the next scrum another penalty try was awarded and converted by Holland on 74 minutes.
I was concerned to see how slow Tommy O’Donnell was to get back to his feet after taking the ball into contact. He did play on for a few minutes before leaving the field. There was no one left on the bench to replace him so it was 14 v 14 for the final two minutes. Hopefully he will be fit for the trip to Dublin next weekend.
Man of the match was awarded to the high achiever in the Academy this season, Rory Scannell. In addition to some lovely passes which I mentioned above he was also joint top tackler with captain Billy Holland – made 10 tackles, missing none. He may not be the biggest centre going but his technique is very effective. At the end of last season I was a little surprised when he was included in the Emerging Ireland tour to Georgia but the powers that be had taken note of his abilities and he has certainly gone from strength to strength this season. Congratulations Rory.
Munster: Simon Zebo (Ian Keatley ’67); Darren Sweetnam, Keith Earls (David Johnston ’59), Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Johnny Holland (Ian Keatley ’52-59), Tomas O’Leary (Conor Murray ’49); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’56), Niall Scannell (Mike Sherry ’56), Stephen Archer (Mario Sagario ’59); Donnacha Ryan (Dave Foley ’67), Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue.
Zebre: Kayle van Zyl (Andrea de Marchi ’73); Leonardo Sarto, Giulio Bisegni (Ulrich Beyers ’40), Tommaso Boni, Giulio Toniolatti (Matteo Pratichetti ’40); Kelly Haimona (Luke Burgess ’58), Guglielmo Palazzani; Guillermo Roan (Bruno Postiglioni ’60), Oliviero Fabiani, Dario Chistolini (Pietro Ceccarelli ’49); Quintin Geldenhuys, Valerio Bernabò (Gideon Koegelenberg ’40); Jean Cook, Federico Ruzza, Johan Meyer.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Stats can be seen here with the main table included below. Also of note are
- 14/14 lineout success for Munster v 2/5 for Zebre
- 17 penalties conceded by Zebre (v 9 by Munster.)