“Thou shalt not pass”!! The Munster defence was impressive throughout, pushing the attack back again and again, while their superior scrummaging and terrorising of the Scarlets lineout especially in the crucial final quarter of the game were the cornerstones of this “unexpected” victory. Munster had failed to win in Llanelli since April 2011; there were 11 internationals included in the home team and when you factored in that the weather was dreadful I was more hopeful than confident of a victory. A losing bonus point would realistically have been an “ok” result. After watching the pre-season friendlies I was optimistic that the team would put in a solid performance to build on for the coming season and they duly delivered.
In the opening quarter Munster hardly had their hands on the ball, the stats flashed up by Sky showed 88% possession to Scarlets in the opening 5 minutes. By 16 minutes Munster had made 42 tackles to Scarlets 2. That physical effort would be expected to take its toll as the game went on but the tough pre-season paid dividends with the players looking fit while the bench contributed also, bringing on fresh legs when necessary.
On Friday some of you might have heard me on the “Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show” kick-starting the nation. (I put the audio link on my WTView facebook page) My pitch was that I wanted to kick start the new rugby season and of course it was an opportunity to promote my blog to his audience. The song I choose for its optimistic message was Nina Simone’s “Feeling good” – it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day… As you know I take a glass half full approach and of course it is early days yet but after going along to both pre-season friendlies and watching the game today it is great to see the team step-up. Of course there are things to work on but credit where it is due to the players and management and best of luck to all for the coming season.
The wet weather in Dublin did not deter a decent crowd from making their way to the River Bar in the city centre to watch the game with MRSC Dublin. The atmosphere and the banter were great and all were delighted with the performance and the win, plus the bonus of the players doggedness in denying Scarlets a losing bonus point at the end. It is always a bit confusing to watch Munster play a team wearing red – leading to some banter when someone in error would cheer a steal by a player in red – which all added to the craic.
Scarlets had the vast majority of possession in the opening quarter but the scramble defence worked well while the wet conditions also made the ball somewhat of a liability. Scarlets nearly scored the opening try through #11 Steff Evans in the fifth minute but Simon and Rory managed to get back just in time to ensure he could not ground the kick-ahead and the line was not breached. Simon took a knock to the ribs but managed to play on till the 17th minute when he took another knock to the same area. Ian Keatley came on as full back in his place.
Scarlets had missed an early penalty kick and as the first quarter came towards a close it was Munster who finally managed to string some phases together to score the first points of the game. From a lineout Dave Foley secured possession and the maul was deployed. It was not able to make any ground so Duncan Williams made a break. Jack O’Donoghue picked and went, then James Cronin injected pace with his great pass to Dave Foley on the charge who made vital ground. Dave O’Callaghan and Billy Holland were next to take it on, then John Ryan before Duncan switched the point of attack to the other side for James Cronin and Niall Scannell to charge over the line, grounding the ball against the post padding. It was a great try by the pack, not just those mentioned as ball-carriers but also those who cleared out the rucks to ensure Munster kept possession and got quick ball. The TMO had a look before the try was awarded. Scarlets must have wondered what hit them as to that stage they had enjoyed over 80% possession! The conversion straight in front of the posts was converted by Tyler Bleyendaal.
Munster continued to be in the faces of the Scarlets players, harrying and hounding them, chasing them down and getting up to do it all over again. Duncan Williams almost got away for an intercept but the referee had indicated advantage for Scarlets so Rhys Patchell had another opportunity and this time he converted the penalty to make it 3-7 after 26 minutes.
A crooked Scarlets lineout gave Munster a scrum which in turn led to a free kick. Jack charged forward. When he was tackled Ronan O’Mahony, realising that there were no defence pillars in front of him broke through from the 10m line to score a wonderful opportunistic try. A simple conversion made it 3-14 approaching the half hour mark to our delight.
We were not so happy a few minutes later. Rory Scannell collided with the Scarlets #8 Josh MacLeod in the air and while we were wondering if there would be any repercussions such as a card their scrum half Gareth Davies took the penalty quickly and raced from his own half to score in the corner. Jack O’Donoghue had seemed to get to him in time to get underneath the ball but the TMO was happy with the grounding and it was 10-14 when Patchell converted the try. A penalty to Munster before the break was kicked between the posts by Tyler to re-establish their 7 point lead.
The penalty kick to extend the lead further after the break was off target while Patchell did convert his opportunity to bring it back to a 4 point game but that was to be their final score of the game in the 46th minute. Tyler made no mistake with his next penalty in the 54th minute while Ian put in a great kick to make it a 10 point lead when a penalty was reversed after foul play at 66 minutes. Tyler was injured in that phase and was replaced by Cian Bohane, with Ian moving to outhalf and Ronan to full back. Hopefully it is nothing serious.
Scarlets needed to score twice to win and we knew they had the players to do that so every tackle, turnover, break or lineout stolen was greeted with cheers. The fatigue from all the tackles did not become an issue, being able to launch internationals like Dave Kilcoyne and Donnacha Ryan from the bench along with new signing Jean Kleyn gave the pack some fresh legs. As the clock ticked down we knew the chances that Scarlets could score twice were diminishing. Patchell had a last penalty kick to secure a losing bonus point but it drifted wide. The final whistle was greeted with cheers and there were plenty of smiles and positive tweets around.
During the game Mark Robson kept mentioning Tommy missing the June tour due to his wedding so they had to ask him about that in his MOTM post match interview As I read during the week they had booked the hotel 18 months before the wedding thinking the tour would start and finish a week earlier! If he keeps up this form he will surely be in consideration for the November internationals and Lions selection. It is great to see so much backrow talent in Munster like the good old days! (When Tommy won MOTM -and it must have been a tough decision -Declan and I wondered if it was a good omen for Tipperary in the All Ireland hurling final the following day and so it proved to be! On the pitch celebrating after the game I spotted Denis Leamy involved in the backroom team for Tipp hurling while Ian Dowling is physio for the Tipp football team!)
The highlights video:
Daryl was at the game and has posted all his photos on Flickr. Thanks Daryl for the use of some here.
I remember watching Dan Goggin play in the 2014 JWC where he played alongside Garry Ringrose in the team captained by Jack O’Donoghue. Since then he has played for the Ireland Mens 7s team and it was great to see him making his Pro12 debut for the senior Munster team now. Alex Wootton was also on those U20s and 7s teams and will be hoping to make his mark also. It is great (and essential) that the Academy provides as many players as possible given the higher wages available in England and France.
Match stats are available here and show that while Scarlets decreased from their opening 88% possession they still retained the majority of the ball but could not convert it into scores in the face of Munster’s obstinate defence.
The spirit of Munster was alive and well in Llanelli today and I’m “feelin’ good”
It is worth checking out this blog detailing the tweaks to the rules for this season so we are up to date and not incorrectly giving out about some refereeing decisions! I heard Ben Whitehouse at the Leinster game advising a player not to be patting the opposition player on the head for conceding a penalty and I think it is good to drive out unsportsman-like behavior and “diving” as mentioned in the new laws.
Munster: Simon Zebo (Keatley 17); Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal (Bohane 66), Duncan Williams (O’Leary 62); James Cronin (Kilcoyne 55), Niall Scannell (O’Byrne 77), John Ryan (Scott 77); Dave Foley (D Ryan 48), Billy Holland Capt.; Dave O’Callaghan (Kleyn 69), Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue. Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Jean Kleyn, Donnacha Ryan, Tomás O’Leary, Ian Keatley, Cian Bohane.
Scarlets: Liam Williams, DTH van der Merwe, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies, Dylan Evans, Ken Owens [c], Werner Kruger, Jake Ball, Lewis Rawlins, Aaron Shingler, John Barclay, Josh Macleod. Replacements; Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Peter Edwards, David Bulbring, Tadhg Beirne, Jonathan Evans, Dan Jones, Jonathan Davies
Sport can bring you to the heights of jubilation and to the depths of despair. As supporters we are used to players being injured and we wish them well, sending encouraging messages that they will be back better than ever, but many of us have no clue what they are going through, emotionally and physically. Nor can we comprehend what pain barriers they are willing to push themselves through to get back to playing the sport they love at the highest levels.
That level of commitment and single-minded determination to succeed is a feature of many of our sportstars, (amateur and professional), a trait which sets them apart. Even if they don’t have to contend with injury they still have that attitude to drive them on, to “pull like a dog” through the pain barrier, to practice and practice to prove practice makes perfect. We have seen players have to retire before their time before and probably will do more frequently as the contact nature of rugby exposes players to significant g-forces. I remember reading of Ian Dowling wanting to get his hip replaced and continue his rugby career. Jerry Flannery and before him Keith Wood did everything possible to get their bodies right for their World Cup campaigns. Many players have had to retire too soon, including Felix Jones whose retirement I wrote about 10 months ago, Barry Murphy, Denis Leamy…
I was in Cork at the B&I Cup game in November 2014 when Johnny Holland was injured. We did not know at the time the extent of his injury or of the long road to recovery that he would travel. It was so disappointing to learn that after coming back from that horrendous injury and finishing out last season in possession of the #10 jersey that he had to accept the medical advice to retire. Thanks Johnny for helping Munster secure 6th place in the Pro12 to qualify for the European Cup. Your performances lit up the end of last season, lifting some of the gloom and doom that had set in. Best of luck for your future.