23 Comments

Diehards: Munster: 31 – Scarlets: 15

So now I know what a relegation playoff feels like!  The last few weeks/months have been tense and it has not been a vintage season but to finish up with two bonus point wins at home and secure the required Top 6 finish is a relief and there are positives to build on for next season.  The single training base and new Director of Rugby plus the return of injured players such as Peter O’Mahony and the emergence of the next generation of talent certainly give grounds for optimism.  Being the lowest placed Irish province means the only way is up, right?

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After 22 games of the league season Munster are 6th and qualify for the champions cup along with the other 3 Irish provinces, Glasgow, Scarlets and Zebre.

It was not a day for fair weather fans with heavy rain on Saturday making the pitch quite sodden.  While it was not too wet during the game (feel free to correct me if you experienced otherwise on the uncovered north or south terraces) it did not really stop for long and it would not encourage the casual punter to walk up to the ticket office, unlike the lovely weather from the previous or the following day.  However the diehards as CJ referred to them during the week did come along to Thomond to encourage the team to end the season in a positive manner, securing Champions Cup qualification and ensuring we went home not just relieved but with seeds of hope for next season to take us through till August. 

Many of the people I spoke to who had renewed their season tickets did so to show their solidarity with the team and with the province.  They know they can generally get tickets to any game on the day but signing up for the season ticket shows a level of commitment.  As Patrick who also lives in Dublin said, “sure who else would we support?”   If I add up the distances travelled to 5 games in Cork, 12 in Limerick (including August friendlies) and the trip to Galway this season I have driven 7,130 km to support Munster this season.  That doesn’t include the trips to Leicester and Treviso or my trip to Paris for the original cancelled game.  I missed one home game as it clashed with a wedding and I am lucky that I can get out of Dublin early on a Friday afternoon so I got to the Friday night games.  I guess diehard is one way to put it and I am not alone!  Twitter buddies Sean and Marsha both travelled from Kildare while Carmel came via public transport from Wicklow and too many to mention came from Dublin.   After the game in the MRSC bar I met Andy who travelled from Antrim while Kathleen and friends (met in Leicester and Treviso) were over from London.  Kathleen was delighted with the new option of an overseas members season ticket for 5 games.  Not everyone can get to every game, I am sure there were family events like First Holy Communions on around the country on Saturday which impacted some folks so the new option to transfer tickets for games you can’t attend to another game and therefore bring a friend is another good innovation for next season.   

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BJ Botha interviewed pitchside (photo of big screen) pre game – it was great to have an opportunity to thank him for his contribution to Munster.

The S4C recording failed so I just had the TG4 highlights to refresh my memory for this weeks edition. Scarlets were keen to secure a semi-final place and came out of the blocks, putting Munster under pressure in the opening exchanges.  Scarlets took the lead after 8 minutes courtesy of Steve Shingler when Munster were penalised for not releasing.  Munster barely got their hands on the ball and when they did they kicked possession straight back to the Scarlets – who had 66% possession and 74% territory in the first half according to the folks over at ThreeRedKings (no stats on my usual source ESPN this week).  On a positive note though the defence was up to the task.  The tackles took their toll with first Niall Scannell and then Tommy O’Donnell being withdrawn for Head Impact Assessments – Mike Sherry and Jack O’Donoghue being introduced earlier than planned to the action.

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An early lineout (before Tommy went off for a HIA)

It was Jack O’Donoghue who made the key tackle to kickstart the try-scoring.  His tackle knocked the ball loose, Dave O’Callaghan dived in to secure the turnover and Conor Murray was there to whisk the ball away to the back line. Saili took the pass practically standing on the Munster try line.  He threaded a grubber through 3 oncoming Scarlets players and it bounced up perfectly for Keith Earls to collect at full pace.  He raced past us towards half way as we yelled him on, showing his nifty footwork as he found an angle between 2 more Scarlets players before committing their fullback as he timed his pass back to Saili perfectly, just before he reached the half way line.  Saili turned on the gas and touched down without anyone getting a finger to him.  His celebrations were exuberant as he showed his appreciation to the supporters and pride in the jersey.  Johnny Holland converted to make it 7-3 after 14 minutes.

It looked like Steff Evans was in for a try on 18 minutes.  Nigel Owens had awarded it but before the conversion was kicked the protests from the crowd and the TMO in his ear advised him that the final pass from Hadleigh Parkes had been forward so he reversed his decision.  Munster did not manage to clear their lines from the subsequent scrum and were penalised for not releasing so Shingler stepped up again to reduce the gap to just a point (7-6 on 22 minutes)

Dave O’Callaghan’s line break got Munster onto the front foot and when they won a penalty they kicked to touch.  When Scarlets closed the gap in the lineout Owens awarded a free kick.  CJ Stander charged forward and the noise levels rose again as they attacked the Scarlets line – Killer on his 100th cap for the province, followed by his front row team-mate Mike Sherry before Killer took it on again.  Archer got in on the front row action with Billy Holland driving him on, then CJ before Killer had a third attempt (Holland also driving him on.)  Murray passed to Rory Scannell who managed to duck and swerve his way from a few metres out between the defenders to score his third try of the season.  Johnny Holland again converted on 26 minutes.

Shingler converted another 2 penalty kicks after 29 and 38 minutes to keep the scoreboard ticking over for Scarlets; 14-9; 14-12. 

At half time there was a lively adapted rugby display with Mallow Barbarians playing Garryowen Lions and all seemed to have a ball judging by the waves and big smiles as they ran off the pitch past us at the end.  We were also busy checking half time scores from the other games to see that Ospreys were behind but Edinburgh were ahead in their games as all 6 kicked off at the same time for the final weekend of the season so qualification was still up in the air.

A great chase of the restart by Earls gave Munster the perfect start to the 2nd half when he won a penalty for Munster but unfortunately the resultant kick went wide.  The next major incident was when Shingler chipped ahead in the Munster 22.  There were chants of “TMO, TMO” from the visiting supporters when he appeared to be tripped.  The TMO reviewed the incident to see whether he had been taken out but there was nothing conclusive.

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Murray gets the ball away to the backs

Approaching the hour mark the score was still 14-12 but when Barclay failed to gather a pass, Evans flicked the ball up to Parkes.  When he could not secure it Scannell was there to take advantage.  Rory scooped the ball up and set off with Ronan O’Mahony (on for the injured Andrew Conway) in support.  As Parkes tackled him Rory got the pass away to Ronan who raced clear from the half way line to score the 2nd long distance try of the day and the third for Munster.   

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Three try scorers and both outhalves (Ian on for Simon) as a set piece is organising itself upfield.

Shingler converted another penalty opportunity just minutes later to keep Scarlets in touch (19-15) when Munster were penalised for not driving straight in a scrum.  However, a super maul on 68 minutes – Duncan and Ronan even joined in – earned the bonus point try scored by CJ Stander when the maul was taken down and he surged forward again, driven over by Copeland and O’Callaghan.  The TMO had to check it but was happy with the grounding. 

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CJ drives for the line with reinforcements en route from Dave and Robin

Bonus point secured and the good news kept coming as Edinburgh were beaten at home by Cardiff and Ulster romped to victory in Swansea while Connacht took the lead in Galway.  There was still time for more in Thomond Park though.  CJ broke from the ball of a scrum and passed to Scannell who again managed to score despite the efforts of three Scarlets players to stop him getting through.  Johnny Holland converted it to bring the season to an end. 

CJ Stander was named Man of the Match again :-).  What a great end to a great week for him personally as he was recognised by the Irish supporters and his Irish team mates alike scooping both the IRUPA players player of the year award and the supporters player of the year award!  That try also brought him to 7 for Munster this season confirming his position as joint top try scorer with Mike Sherry and Simon Zebo.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Ian Keatley ’64); Andrew Conway (Ronan O’Mahony ’24 to ’31, permanent ’38), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’58); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’56), Niall Scannell (Mike Sherry ’3), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’71); Dave Foley (Robin Copeland ’62), Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue ’8), CJ Stander (captain).

SCARLETS: Liam Williams; Gareth Owen, Steff Hughes, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans (Aled Thomas ’72); Steve Shingler, Aled Davies (Gareth Davies ’53); Rob Evans (Dylan Evans ’75), Ken Owens (captain), Peter Edwards (Rhodri Jones ’68); Jake Ball, David Bulbring (Morgan Allen ’55); Lewis Rawlins (Tom Price ’64), James Davies, John Barclay.  Replacements not used: Ryan Elias, Jordan Williams.

After the formalities were over the players showed their appreciation for the diehards and we said farewell to each other until next season!

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Is that Billy acting as photographer when the actual photographer wants a photo with CJ?

How cute does Keith’s daughter Ella May look?

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Keith Earls thanks the supporters with his daughter enjoying the occasion

Up the Deise – the Munster Monster Quiz Final

On Friday I got a text from Dee to ask if I was available to join her Waterford team for the final of the MRSC 6 counties quiz as 2 of the original members could not travel to Thomond.  As there was a team of players taking part – Duncan Casey, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley and Dave Kilcoyne – it took a while to get underway.  When they arrived they were besieged for photos and autographs but eventually we were down to business.  It was great to have the electronic voting for instant results and feedback after each round.  There were prizes on offer for the top 4 teams of the 20 competing, including the MRSC London team who had qualified from the heats around the province (and London).  The players had an advantage in the question as to which player was youngest and I suspect it may have been they who choose Duncan Casey as MOTM from the previous game v Edinburgh as one team had selected him  even though he was not on the team!

It was good craic, I made some valuable contributions to our team effort, including knowing Paulie’s middle name and recognising the Lotus temple from Delhi which I had visited in 1993.  We moved up the leaderboard and with one round to go there were 4 teams tied in 3rd place so it was all to play for in the final round.  We ended up joint 3rd and in the play-off the man representing Clare was very quick on the buzzer and edged out Bruce but we were delighted to get a One4All voucher each presented by Ian Keatley.  See Linda Molloy’s photos from the evening here    Thanks to the organisers for the quiz and to MRSC for their efforts throughout the season.  As I know from the time I spend on the MRSC Dublin committee lots of volunteers give their time willingly and it is nice to be appreciated.

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Dee, Bruce, Gayl & Kevin with Ian Keatley who presented us with our prize. Photo courtesy of Linda Molloy

One of the Limerick teams won the top prize.  That team included James who teasingly calls me the Blog Queen as that was how we met, when a mutual friend Eddie suggested I write a blog about James and his wheelchair rugby 7s team (see here).  His fiance Sinead was on another Limerick team on the night so there was plenty of banter between them during the quiz but all remains on track for their August wedding.

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Selfie taken by James of the 2 of us after the quiz final when I called over to congratulate him on being on the winning team and to wish him and Sinead all the best for the nuptials.

A reminder to subscribe to get future editions by email and to check out https://www.facebook.com/wtview/ for links to interesting news articles, podcasts, this blog etc over the summer.

Finally I wanted to pay tribute to Joanne Brennan who sadly passed away on May 1st.  I enjoyed her company at the 7s event last August and her tweets over the past few years from her own account and the @RugbyIre account.  May she rest in peace.

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Joanne and I at the Limerick 7s, 2015

 

 

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23 comments on “Diehards: Munster: 31 – Scarlets: 15

  1. Great blog. Yes, it was fantastic to finish on such a high and to gain the all-important qualification. Wouldn’t have missed it. Roll on next season

    • You definitely qualify as a diehard Imelda, with your 100% attendance record and arriving for this game on your crutches! That is what makes the Red Army a special community, we will be there through thick and thin and hopefully we’ll have plenty to cheer next season

  2. Well done G. You can take the rest of the season off now.

  3. Gayl,

    Just wanted to again say thanks for the great Blog , it really is a joy receiving these every week as you know I don’t get to see many of the games here but your blog has made up for that on numerous occasions. I did thankfully get to watch the game this weekend thanks to TG4.ie and must admit the future does look a bit brighter , some great defensive displays and great commitment by the younger lads like O’Donoghue,O’Mahony , Holland and the ever improving Scannell .

    Plans are afoot for the annual trip home this Christmas and hopefully it coincides with a match. I promise this time I will make sure we meet up so I can personally thank you.

    As the previous poster mentioned ” roll on next season ”

    Luke

    • Thanks Luke, always great to see the views coming in from your part of the world – for 4 seasons now! – especially when I get a bit discouraged by the rugby or by a drop in my overall views. Great to know that I have my own diehard supporters too and I am delighted to count you in that number! Hope all well and hope to eventually meet in person! .

  4. Thanks again for the report Gayl … I had my train journey booked and backpack packed, when a ‘family issue’ arose and changed my plans at the last minute : [

    But I’ve renewed and will see ye in the fall!

  5. Thanks for the blogs, Gayl, I have really enjoyed them over the season. Like all the other posters above, and I am sure most Munster fans, I am really looking forward to next season.

    There have been a number of green shoots which have appeared this year – O’Donoghue, Scannell x2, J Holland – which bode well for the future. On Saturday, I was particularly impressed with R Scannell – his strength in the tackle. Looking back on his second try, he had two Scarlets men tryiong to hang on to him and failing. There were a number of other occasions during the game when he broke throuigh tackles through sheer strength. I hope he doesn’t now spend time “bulking up” as that seems to slow players down when they do it.

    Also, we all know that there is a view of Munster being a very forwards-oriented team. During the English commentary on S4C they remarked on the rolling maul which eventually led to CJ’s try “It wouldn’t be Munster without such a try”. Yet, four of Saturday’s tries were from backs, ok Scannell’s first was made by the forwards, but Saili’s and O’Mahoney’s were pure backs’ tries. Also last week against Edinburgh ALL the tries were scored by backs. This is why I am so looking forward to next year. As Axel and others have been saying for so long, just some tweaks needed, a little more accuracy, making the right decisions under pressure and then it starts to come together.

    Anyway, onwards and upwards to next season.

    • Thanks Olive, I agree with you, and am also impressed by Rory’s strength and ability to swerve / duck whatever.. – is it a low centre of gravity or what – but he did very well to finish off both tries. There is plenty of potential there, hopefully next season it will all come together and
      maybe we will get 4 Irish teams into the play-offs!

  6. From Twitter: Donal: Thanks for all your blogs this season Gayl. You’ve a natural writing style, continued success to the blog next year
    From Facebook:
    James: Awww great job as always Gayl. Getting the feeling of the fans down to a tee.
    Geraldine: Fab blog as always. Another success that I enjoyed reading. So alive as always
    George: Am in London and watched it here. Job done by the lads so next season can’t come quickly enough. Have a great summer and see ya for the first match next season.
    From MF.com:
    After a difficult season the one constant was reading the latest blogs , Posted by people who care. Not a journalist with an agenda.thanks for taking the time..
    Great Blog… Enjoy your summer holidays… keep up the good work next year..
    +1 And I predict you will be blogging about more victories next year!

  7. Gayl’s,

    That’s another great write up and Saturday was tinged with sadness when I think of lovely Joanne .

  8. So glad we finished the season on a high and qualified for the European cup. I’m feeling a lot more optimistic for next season and just hope things can get sorted off the pitch. The highlights of the season has been the form of CJ and the young players who have shown up so well in difficult times. Thank you so much for your wonderful blogs and highlight clips etc Gayl they have kept me updated with things I could not see here in Wales. Enjoy the summer break will see you next season in Limerick.

    • Thanks Peter, I enjoyed meeting you in Leicester and your regular comments here to keep me going! I think you follow the page on Facebook also as I put up news articles and clips there that you would find of interest. All the best for the summer, see you next season

  9. Well done gayl – keep up the faith – maybe next year we’ll be the underdogs and in true Munster fashion that’ll spur us on to greater heights!!!

    • Thanks Patrick, the way some of the media were writing us off this season we were underdogs but I believe the building blocks are there for next season and I look forward to seeing how some of the young guys develop and the new direction from Erasmus. When I watched back the highlights I was very impressed by Rory’s 2 tries – not the same drama as the 2 long range strikes by Saili and O’Mahony which were very exciting breaks – but very effective ability to get through a tight space in both cases. See you there next season with the rest of us diehards!

  10. Thanks so much for joining our Quiz team on Saturday and for your valuable contributions, it really was a fun evening :). Great blog once again, plenty to build on for next season as you say and like our quiz team, we only needed to get a couple more things right to finish on top of the pile :).

    • My pleasure Dee. Our quiz team definitely overthought a few questions – like spot the odd one out between pics of 3 fruits and a baseball! Maybe the team suffered similarly at times during the season, a few different decisions/options taken and we could have closed out a few more games and made it into the top 4. Hopefully they will learn from it and we’ll reap the rewards next season. Up the Deise (except when hurling v Tipp!)

  11. Hi Gayl great blog as usual. you correctly highlighted Munster are putting good structures in place for next year. Last season’s Munster Stats: 577 points, 71 tries, 13 new caps and more http://www.munsterrugby.ie/news/22605.php#.VzozMW8UXX4 show the times they are changing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7qQ6_RV4VQ . I agree with Alan Quinlan, reform or die comments in the Indo
    http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/alan-quinlan-champions-cup-has-a-choice-reform-or-die-34717653.html The journey continues.

    • Thanks Tony – hopefully we will reap the benefits in the coming seasons and be in the Pro12 play-offs and last 8 of Europe. The latter objective is going to be tough given the huge money in the club game in France and England but if we can re-establish Thomond as a fortress and maximise our points there then it is possible. It was the home loss to Clermont last season and Leicester this season which scuppered our chances there. Anyway we diehards will be there to do what we can to make the atmosphere as supportive for Munster and intimidating for visitors as possible. Enjoy the off-season and be ready to man your position come September.

      • Míle Buíochas Gayl.
        Hope to see you in Thomond Park on May 19th.
        http://www.mrsc.ie/news/22611.php
        That time of year again with these MRSC classics.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkPyR9FNb1c or

        Got my tickets and the Journey continues Up Munster

      • Thanks Tony, you know if I lived in Limerick I would love to go to that game against the U20s but alas too far of a commute mid-week! However I am delighted to read that one of the pre-season friendlies is against Worchester Warriors so we will get one more chance to show our appreciation of the legend that is Donncha O’Callaghan!

        A special edition coming soon to mark the 10th anniversary so hope you check it out!

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