“This is what you came for” was playing over the PA as I arrived on the terrace about fifty minutes before kick-off. Those who were able to be there had come hoping for a bonus point win, to see the team building on the progress made over the past few weeks especially with strong scrummaging by a different front row, to support the team and hopefully pick up no new injury concerns. The return to the field of play by captain Peter O’Mahony was worth the admission price alone and his twenty minute cameo was impressive given the length of his layoff since RWC15.
On the west terrace we were treated in the first half to frequent examples of the speed of Alex Wootton earning his first start in the league and second appearance of the season and we were impressed. You can see why he did so well in the Ireland 7’s team and he was unlucky to be denied a try. It is great to see his progress since the 2014 JWC. In the second half Darren Sweetnam who went on to deservedly win man of the match was busy down our touchline. It is great to have such options in the backline – the competition is genuinely fierce. Alex chased plenty of long balls whereas Darren demonstrated on several occasions his ability to change gear when he took possession of the ball to accelerate and get through a gap or outside the defence. It is very exciting to see the talent coming through our Munster academy.
It was also great to see Tommy O’Donnell back after his recent concussion – surprisingly he was not wearing his customary scrum cap. He put in a great barn-storming performance although there was one pass in the first half that was not out of his top drawer! Simon Zebo was also back after his rib injury, while Jaco Taute made his debut in midfield and showed plenty of promise with some good handling and carries.
Munster started well with captain Billy Holland stealing a Zebre lineout, right in front of us. Of course we take some share in the credit for the noise we made to make it difficult for them to hear the call! This is what we came for indeed!.
Tyler knocked back Murray’s box kick, CJ charged forward before the ball went wide to Simon Zebo. While Zebre got back to gather his kick ahead only to kick possession away. Munster regrouped and Conor Murray made a break to put them back on the front foot. Several phases later Jaco Taute put Darren Sweetnam through to score his first Pro12 try, despite being grabbed by the collar for his efforts.
Munster then had a bad patch conceding penalty after penalty. Zebre missed their one attempted kick at goal after one of the few scrum penalties conceded by Munster this season. However they soon returned to dominance, putting Zebre under pressure for phase after phase on their try line only for a pass to be intercepted but you had to credit the defence which scrambled back. I could not see whose pass had been intercepted but according to the twitter updates from Munster Rugby: Venditti picks off Earls pass & runs from inside his 5m line up to our 22 where Darren Sweetnam makes the try saving tackle
Only minutes later Donnacha Ryan (on his 150th appearance) secured the lineout deep in the Italian’s 22. The maul formed around him and as they edged closer to the line, Conor Murray maintained his try scoring form, breaking from the back of maul with Alex Wootton in support to score. Tyler Bleyendaal continued his excellent goal kicking form to make it 14-0.
From another scrum Conor got the pass to Simon who kicked ahead for Alex to chase. I was sure he was going to get in for his first try also but he seemed to be tackled right before the line. We felt that Wootton was taken out without the ball as he chased the kick but the referee called a knock-on. Maybe a TMO would have seen it differently or maybe we would have if given a replay from a different angle but it was another great effort that deserved more reward.
Just before the half hour mark Zebre had a lineout and passed the ball to their backline only for CJ Stander to block down the kick on the Zebre 22m line and storm through to collect the ball and touch down under the posts without anyone getting a hand on him.
Then just minutes later we were treated to the bonus point try. Good work by Bleyendaal and Sweetnam set up the attack before Murray kicked the ball through for Simon Zebo to chase and score, showing his excellent footballing skills to control the ball as he sprinted towards the line.
Zebre came on the attack again and got close to the Munster line only for CJ to win the turnover and Alex again chased the long kick. It was called back for a scrum to Zebre around the Munster 22m line and I noticed that Billy Holland had gone to 8 while CJ packed down at 6. Munster won a penalty so that strategy paid off!
The minis enjoyed their half time games. A nice touch before the game started had been when the teams lined up on the west touchline to wave flags and welcome the teams to the pitch, separate to the guard of honour on the east side. It is great to see clubs travelling from around the province and enjoying their time on the Thomond pitch. With free Junior membership of the MRSC available from next week hopefully many of those at the game will want to sign up and come regularly.
At half time smartphones were being consulted to get the latest updates from Croke Park and Hazeltine!
There was a massive cheer when Peter O’Mahony ran past the east terrace early in the second half as everyone eagerly anticipated his return to action. Tyler and Keith were taken off for Ian and Cian. Munster had a good period of possession with great interplay and offloads between forwards and backs before Darren was released down the wing only to be taken out mere metres from the line – the referee signalled T but as there was no TMO it was just indicating time out as he conferred with his assistant referee. A penalty try I speculated and that was their conclusion along with a yellow card. The lack of a big screen was another unfortunate consequence of no live TV coverage. There were four fixed cameras recording events and TG4 showed about 12 minutes of the action that evening which was a great help to me in writing this up!
There was another moment when Darren was forced into touch near us – CJ had come to help try to keep the ball in play only for the Assistant Referee to raise his flag and give the lineout to Zebre – the disgusted look on CJs face as if to say “you cannot be serious” after his efforts were not rewarded was priceless!
As the hour mark approached there was a mass change with Duncan Williams, James Cronin and Peter O’Mahony all being launched from the bench. The crowd made their presence heard to welcome them and to give credit to Conor, Killer and Darren O’Shea for their contributions. It was a big day for that Darren also as he made his first Pro12 start and the 23 year old did well. Given the injuries to Dave Foley and Jean Kleyn it is great to have him coming through also. At 6’9” he is a huge man!
As a result of those changes Billy moved into the second row but it was Peter who claimed the first lineout on his return to action. He was busy making tackles and at one stage was at the bottom of a ruck. “Get off him” I heard Ger call out, anxious that Peter suffer no damage on his first game back!
Ian Keatley made a break after some good play and his pass to Stephen Archer coming at pace a few metres from the line resulted in Stephen scoring the 6th try which Keatley converted to make it 42-0.
Sweetnam showed his defensive skills also, winning a penalty when Zebre didn’t release and I noticed Peter coming over to give him a pat on the head for his efforts. When the two sides met on a miserably wet evening in Waterford for the pre-season friendly in Waterford Munster kept a clean sheet but Zebre did manage to break through once in this encounter. They pulled the defence to the left and then attacked down the right leaving Wootton with too much to do – watching the highlights on TG4 you could see several defenders moving to the opposite side leaving a gap for Gabriele Di Giulio to exploit. The conversion was missed making it 42-5.
While we had hoped at half time to get past the half century scoreline it was not to be. However before the end Duncan Williams made a great break before passing to CJ on his shoulder who took the offload and stormed through to score beside the posts. The conversion pushed Ian Keatley’s points scored for Munster past the 1000 mark and the final score to 49-5.
The post game interview with Peter and Darren also includes the medal presentation by a couple who are 10 year season ticket holders and were married in Clare only yesterday (as we were informed at half-time). Congratulations to them.
It is great to move up to second place in the league after the fifth round but tougher tests lie ahead. There were errors in the performance which made us groan at times but plenty to build on also. Leinster away followed by Racing Metro away will test the progress made to date and show how we measure up before we return to Thomond for the European Cup visit of Glasgow, another tough challenge. Hopefully I will have plenty of positives to pick from those games. In the meantime please share this blog on social media if you enjoyed it and consider subscribing to receive future editions by email and / or like my facebook page. Comments, shares and views are the measures of success of my writing and I was delighted to receive positive comments last week including this one from a Frenchman who loves Munster rugby. Several hours are spent writing and editing every edition of the blog so all encouragement gratefully received.
Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Keith Earls (Cian Bohane ’48), Jaco Taute, Alex Wootton; Tyler Bleyendaal (Ian Keatley ’48), Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’60); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’60), Duncan Casey (Niall Scannell ’67), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’67); Donnacha Ryan, Darren O’Shea (Peter O’Mahony ’60); Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell (Conor Oliver ’67), CJ Stander.
Zebre: Edoardo Padovani; Gabriele Di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Castello (Tommaso Boni ’54), Giovanbattista Venditti (Lloyd Greeff ’54); Carlo Canna, Guglielmo Palazzani (Carlo Engelbrecht ’68); Andrea Lovotti (Bruno Postiglioni ’64), Tommaso D’Apice (Carlo Festuccia ’60), Dario Chistolini (Guillermo Roan ’50); Quntin Geldenhuys, Gideon Koegelenberg; Jacopo Sarto (Derick Minnie ’46), Johan Meyer (Joshua Furno ’65), Federico Ruzza.
Match report from the Irish Independent: http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/guinness-pro12/omahonys-return-adds-to-a-sweet-feast-for-munster-35096145.html
Also like this from the Examiner on Monday: Zebo on Sweetnam; “He’s just a class player. He has exceptional feet. He’s great in the air where his GAA background has shone through. He’s an exciting player.”
TG4 highlights link for those in Ireland for the next few weeks provides 12 or so minutes of the action: http://www.tg4.ie/ga/player/baile/?pid=5149313029001
Shorter video highlights from Pro12 YouTube channel: