The withdrawal of Keith Earls with a hamstring niggle left the midfield light on experience, with Colm O’Shea making his Pro12 debut alongside Academy player Dan Goggin on only his third league appearance (none of which show on his official record on the Munster rugby website yet!) It is also hard to believe that Rory Scannell amassed 26 appearances last season alone. No wonder his absence was felt this weekend. When you add in the limited league experience of Tyler Bleyendaal playing for the first time I believe alongside Conor Murray – who himself would not be fully match fit on his first game of the season, – my optimism pre-game was misfounded. It will be interesting to see how Jaco Taute settles into Munster and the experience he will bring to the team.
A win is a win is a win, they say. We’ll take the points and get back to home comforts next weekend. The team certainly made us sweat for the four points and the cheer at the final whistle was mainly relief. It had all started more positively with a great cheer when the first Munster scrum of the game completely dominated the Dragons to win a penalty after about 5 minutes. That was followed in quick succession by a maul and another strong scrum in the 9th minute which drove Dragons back to win Munster a penalty in front of the posts. Tyler Bleyendaal put it over the posts to take a 0-3 lead. However a penalty against Munster for not releasing gave Dragons the opportunity to level the score and Angus O’Brien did exactly that to make it 3-3 after 13 minutes.
Jean Kleyn made his debut and scored his first try in the red jersey. That move started from a lineout he secured in the 18th minute. A maul helped move play closer to the Munster 10m line before it was passed out wide where Conway and O’Mahony combined well before going to ground. John Ryan made some hard yards before Dan Goggin brought play into the Dragons 22. Munster probed one side then the other before quick hands from CJ Stander gave Jean Kleyn a gap to charge through and he just had the scrumhalf Pretorius to batter aside before touching down beside the posts.
Tyler Bleyndaal added the conversion to make it 3-10 and all seemed well with the world but the floodgates never opened. Indeed it was Dragons who scored next off an intercept. Hallam Amos picked off the pass from Colm O’Shea and sprinted in to score the try, converted by O’Brien to tie the scores again after half an hour. Cian Bohane came on for O’Shea as a HIA replacement.
Niall Scannell was unlucky not to score a few minutes later when a kick ahead by Murray was almost gathered by Ronan O’Mahony but the referee checked with the TMO and ruled Ronan had knocked it on so Niall’s touchdown did not count.
There was a great outburst of applause on 37″ as a tribute to someone (Player or supporter?) but I could not catch the details on Sky. Maybe one of you can fill me in? There seemed to be a good crowd there but according to Twitter the attendance was less than four thousand.
James Cronin stripped a ball to claim a turnover when Dragons were pressing for a score at the start of the second half. The sun could have been to blame for Goggin dropping the restart which had given Dragons the field position to put on that pressure.
Penalties were exchanged to make it 13-10, 13 all, 16-13, 16 all and there was a real stop-start feel to the game that given the excellent weather conditions was a disappointment as I had hoped for more running rugby.
A shrill blast of the whistle indicated that Andrew Conway was in trouble after a heavy collision with the Dragons lock Nick Crosswell. Both players were taken off for head injury assessments; it was good to see Conway indicating he was OK via a thumbs up as he was replaced by Ian Keatley.
A Munster scrum led to the best backline move of the game. Murray looped well with Bleyendaal before putting O’Mahony into the gap with a reverse pass. O’Mahony got the pass to Darren Sweetnam on the wing and we were almost celebrating his try before we realised he had not grounded the ball! When Felix Jones said, ‘if Sweetnam gets the ball all the other players have to expect an off-load‘ – according to Andrew Conway in the Indo, – I don’t think he meant it quite the way it transpired for Cian Bohane. Sweetnam’s inexperience also showed perhaps as his eagerness to make the conversion easier could have backfired totally when Amos managed to get to him after he had crossed the line but before he had grounded the ball. Fortunately the referee adjudged that the ball had been knocked backwards and hence Bohane’s supporting run and grounding of the ball gave him his first league points also.
The conversion made it a 4 point game so a penalty or drop-goal would not suffice for Dragons but both team had time to close out the game. Kilcoyne made some great charges with the ball; Conor Oliver got a few minutes experience at 7; Dan Goggin made 11 runs as did CJ Stander according to ESPN stats, available here which also show that Billy, Jack and Donncha led the tackle count with Tyler making 12. Jack made one memorable tackle to single-handedly drive a Dragons player into touch. The final minutes were tense as Dragons had a lineout deep in Munster territory and attempted to maul over the line. Thankfully the defence held firm until the Dragons knocked on to loud cheers of relief in the River Bar.
John Ryan won Man of the Match – not just for his excellent scrummaging but he made some great ball-carrying breaks and tackles also. The post match interview with Rassie Erasmus left us bemused and looking for subtitles! It was hard to hear over the noise in the pub, especially as he was speaking so quickly.
So three games into the new league season and there is plenty to work on, not least the penalties given away too cheaply. Munster conceded 10 penalties in Newport and will be keen to reduce that number, especially around the breakdown area, where they were frequently pinged for not rolling away or for going off their feet. With two home games at Thomond to come starting with the visit of Edinburgh next weekend followed by Zebre hopefully we will build some confidence and momentum before the annual trip to the Aviva followed by the start of the European campaign.
Munster: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Colm O’Shea, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Donnacha Ryan; Billy Holland Capt., Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Cian Bohane.
DRAGONS: Carl Meyer, Pat Howard, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon (Adam Warren 77′), Hallam Amos, Angus O’Brien, Sarel Pretorius (Charlie Davies 68′), Sam Hobbs (Thomas Davies 52′), Rhys Buckley, Brok Harris (Craig Mitchell 52′), Nick Crosswell (Cory Hill 55′), Rynard Landman, Lewis Evans (captain), Ollie Griffiths (Nic Cudd 58′), Ed Jackson (James Thomas 71′). Replacements not used: Darran Harris.
Interesting read if you did not see it on Friday – Tommy O’Donnell’s diary in the Indo about dealing with the return to play protocols and the need to avoid tv, reading, phones etc.
As mentioned I was bridesmaid at a wedding last weekend and while most of the attendees were Leinster residents I got in a few plugs for the blog as you never know who they might meet who would be interested. A man was chatting to the other bridesmaid Caroline and myself after the meal. As he had already mentioned Lansdowne a few times in the conversation when he asked me what I did I replied that I was a rugby blogger! We had a great chat then as it turned out he was Mick Quinn who played outhalf for Ireland in the 70s. He was full of anecdotes about beating England in Twickenham and his great friend and team-mate at Lansdowne Moss Keane. Mick also spoke passionately about his work with the IRFU Charitable Trust for injured players and their fundraising trip to Chicago to co-incide with the Ireland v New Zealand game there in November. I hope it goes well for them and for the injured players they are supporting.