Coulda, shoulda, woulda..and throw in a few “if only’s” … if only Simon Zebo had managed to score one or both of his early opportunities, if Francis Saili or Stephen Archer had not given away kickable penalties. (Or Donnacha Ryan but since he was concussed in that incident Olive has an interesting suggestion below that the penalty should not have stood.) There were 11 penalties conceded in total which gave momentum back to Leinster throughout the game. Or if only Donnacha had not been injured or Robin sin-binned.. Or if only Ian Keatley had been successful with his one kick at goal, or if Dave Kilcoyne had not taken the quick tap and go penalty.. Or if only the referee had insisted on the time limit for Sexton’s penalty and not awarded it…
No one player is to blame for the loss – they all put their bodies on their line for the red jersey and played to the final whistle. Now it is time to regroup, recover from the physical and mental toll of the game and prepare to take on Connacht in Galway. The western province have a European quarter-final next weekend so the extra rest week may stand to Munster but Connacht have been in great form. I am sure the Clan there will have a warm welcome for the Red Army. Would it be too much to hope for an appearance by Peter O’Mahony on the bench by then, which would give us all a lift? If not then maybe he will be ready by the key Edinburgh game on April 29th. In the meantime Leinster can do us a favour when Edinburgh come to the RDS in 2 weeks.
This game was there for the taking and what a difference 4 points would have made to our end of season aspirations. Would a draw have been enough if Killer had not taken the quick tap in the dying minutes? Time will tell but there were other points left behind during the season which all add up and have us in this precarious position in the league table.
Munster got off to an ideal start. Rory Scannell’s great kick allowed the chasers to put Kirchner under pressure. Munster won possession and probed for chinks in the defense until James Cronin got isolated and driven backwards by Toner and Sexton. Leinster were awarded the scrum from which Reddan cleared the danger up almost to the halfway line.
When Rory Scannell was turned over he won possession back almost immediately after a great wrestle on the ball with Reddan. He also put in a big tackle on Kirchner which lead to a knock-on giving Munster the put in to the scrum. His technique is very impressive and it is a good thing he likes the physical side of the game (according to the article in The42.ie this week) as he made the most ( 17) tackles according to the ESPN match stats.
Shortly afterwards when Munster were awarded a penalty Johnny Holland put in a great kick down the line. The pack took it on through the maul before it went wide to Zebo who unfortunately could not take the pass and knocked it on but it was positive play. Zebo had another chance shortly afterwards but when it came to naught (Sexton got a hand to it I think) the referee brought it back for a penalty which Johnny Holland converted to make it 0-3 after a lively opening 13 minutes.
Leinster had a period of possession also and when Munster collapsed the maul the referee awarded a penalty to Leinster and a warning to Munster.
Munster put the Leinster lineout under pressure, an overthrow on the 5m line was gratefully collected by Tommy O’Donnell and the danger was averted.
The intensity we had hoped to see was there, another example was the turnover when Holland’s clearance kick to touch was taken quickly by Nacewa only for the chasing trio of Murray, Cronin and Archer to get to Kirchner and hold him up to win the turnover.
Donnacha Ryan was penalised for not rolling away after tackling Sexton but watching the game back I was impressed by how quickly the referee reacted when he realised that Donnacha was in trouble. He had a cut on his face which was bleeding but he also seemed to be concussed. After receiving treatment he was able to walk off and Robin Copeland replaced him. Sexton kicked the penalty to tie the scores approaching 28 minutes. However from the restart Munster won a scrum, Scannell made a good break to put them on the front foot and from the next phase Munster won a penalty which Holland converted to make it 3-6 on 31 minutes.
Murray was penalised for a high tackle which was kicked to touch. From the lineout Toner collected and they set up their maul. An illegal side entry by Copeland led to a yellow card for him and another penalty for Leinster which again was kicked to touch.
After an athletic take by Ruddock, Cronin nearly made the line but the next phase got the ball to Sexton in space – Saili got across the test the elasticity of his jersey but could not haul him down and Sexton managed to score the try despite colliding with the posts. He converted it to move Leinster into a 10-6 lead.
Holland’s restart went out on the full and from the scrum in midfield Leinster went searching for another score before half time. A clever kick through was being chased by Nacewa and Zebo who pushed the ball out over the line. The Leinster players protested that it was a deliberate knock-on but the referee had blown for half-time and did not opt for a TMO review as requested to the displeasure of the blue army.
An early Munster lineout throw in the second half was secured and mauled before Murray put in another high box kick. Earls chased and caught it – despite the efforts of Nacewa – to put Munster back on the front foot. From the next Murray kick Earls danced through a few defenders before going to ground.
Copeland was just back on the pitch and secured a lineout. The defense by both sides was impressive and opportunities were few and far between. Munster went through phase after phase and eventually Johnny Holland spotted a gap and slipped through it to score. His conversion was also good, maintaining his 100% kicking record in the league and Munster were back in the lead 10-13.
However shortly after the restart, from an offside position Saili kicked the ball giving Sexton a straight-forward opportunity to level the game again.
The main talking point after the game in the media was the decision to substitute Johnny Holland after 56 minutes. When asked about it in the post match interview Foley’s response did not make that much sense given he had taken the decision to start the less experienced player. Holland’s performance was not perfect but it was very good and I was delighted to see him score his first senior try while his goal-kicking was flawless. Unfortunately for Keatley by comparison he had just the one kick at goal shortly after his introduction from around the 10m line which went to the left of the posts and wide.
From the restart Munster were back on the attack and I felt Tommy was harshly penalised for crawling forward when tackled. However, following on from that penalty, Copeland ripped the ball back from Leinster and Dave O’Callaghan charged forward.
Stephen Archer who had a great game was caught holding on in possession when Rhys Ruddock was on his feet challenging for the ball, giving Leinster a kickable penalty to regain the lead and Sexton made no mistake. However watching the game back the referee had told him to hurry up and that he had 10s left to take the penalty. He took 20 or 21s – if the referee had followed through on his warning then that penalty would not have stood!
Wave after wave of red players hurled themselves at the blue wall but it held firm and Leinster kept their discipline, eventually winning a penalty when they isolated a player. From the resultant lineout, Conway and Keatley combined to halt a flowing Leinster attack down the west side. Conway subsequently had an aerial duel with Nacewa chasing a box kick and limped away from that encounter before being replaced by Darren Sweetnam.
The sinbinning of Cian Healy for his tackle on Dave Kilcoyne with just 4 minutes remaining gave fresh impetus to the team. In slow motion the tackle looked bad as Kilcoyne practically flipped over when Healy tackled him with no arms. Keatley kicked to touch inside the Leinster 22m. Lineout was secured and the maul was set and got close before being pulled down conceding penalty advantage.
As the ball spun wide Zebo was injured as he landed heavily on his back. Tomas O’Leary was readied to come on in his place but Zebo was able to continue after some medical assistance. The penalty was again kicked to touch and the noise levels rose as both sets of supporters urged their team on for the final minutes of attack and defense. O’Donnell secured the ball and the maul was set but so was the defence. Sherry almost got there but Munster instead won another penalty when Heaslip was adjudged to be trapped and unable to roll away. The clock was stopped again as the scrum required bringing back on Jack McGrath so Zane Kirchner was sacrified rather than a forward with just 1 minute and 12s remaining on the clock.
Darren Sweetnam took the pass from Murray and made a few metres. It was frantic stuff as player after player launched themselves at the line. Another penalty conceded, this time much closer to the posts and rather than taking the kick to get a draw Kilcoyne went for a quick tap only to be pushed backwards immediately. Sherry was next to charge forward but when he knocked on it was all over bar Leinster setting the scrum and kicking the ball out to end the game…. Small margins, with a huge impact on the league standings.
LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner (Jack McGrath ’79); Isa Nacewa (c), Garry Ringrose, Ben Te’o, Dave Kearney (Fergus McFadden ’69); Johnny Sexton (Ian Madigan ’77), Eoin Reddan (Luke McGrath ’69); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’69 – YC ’77), Sean Cronin (Richardt Strauss ’51), Tadhg Furlong (Mike Ross ’64); Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs (Ross Molony ’64); Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy (Josh van der Flier ’51), Jamie Heaslip.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway (Darren Sweetnam ’76), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland (Ian Keatley ’57), Conor Murray; James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’47), Niall Scannell (Mike Sherry ’47), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’74); Donnacha Ryan (Robin Copeland ’27 (YC – ’36 to ’46)), Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan (Jack O’Donoghue ’65), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (c). Not used: Tomás O’Leary.
Thankfully the forecasted rain held off. The flame throwers gave a great burst of heat as Leinster were welcomed to the pitch. There was a live band entertaining the crowd before and during breaks in the game. Leo the lion walked around the side of the pitch throughout, banging his drum to encourage the Leinster supporters to cheer for their team. When some lads near me started chanting “Munster, Munster” back at him he wagged a finger at them before moving away.
The photos used here are mine but there are over 200 professionally taken photos from Sportfile of the game here while there is a smaller number on the Munster site including a good one showing how Zebo was injured at the end here
La maglia rossa – the red jersey
Earlier in the week – through the MRSC Dublin Facebook page – I was put in touch with Enrico Bianchini who was in Dublin for the Easter holidays with his wife and three children. His son Edoardo is a big Munster fan so all of them were going to the game to support the men in red. Gareth who had sent the initial request had asked if MRSC could make their visit special so I had gathered some Munster items for them – flags, keyring, car sticker, program, poster, gloves, baseball cap and a black and white photo of the Maka – and called over to see them on the Friday. I was curious to find out how a boy in Florence knew about Munster.
As you can see from the photo below Edoardo has a Munster jersey which he received as a birthday present from his friend and team-mate. As a result he wanted to find out more about the team.
Edoardo plays scrumhalf for Firenze U14s, the local club which he joined at the age of 5. His team wear red also. They presented me with a Firenze tee-shirt as a souvenir. Younger brother Andrea plays with the U8s while sister Caterina plays 7s. They were delighted to meet another Munster supporter and had plenty of questions for me about the team including why Munster play in both Cork and Limerick, and why New Zealand played a game against a provincial side. After reading about the All Blacks game in my blog – Enrico had to do a lot of translation for Edoardo – he enjoyed watching the game on YouTube. Hopefully they will get to Thomond or Cork for a home game some time when we can try to arrange for them to be in the guard of honour to welcome the team onto the pitch.
On Saturday morning Enrico send me the piece below from the Florence Rugby website: