It was a very thoughtful and symbolic gesture by Leinster to wear the red tee shirts with #8 on the back and AF on the front during their warm-up, as they had done for their second-round European Cup game, and it was appreciated. Their gesture did not stop repeated calls to “give them nothing” as the clock ticked down and their focus was on trying to rescue a losing bonus point in the final quarter of the game. The season of goodwill did not extend that far! It was appropriate that another number 8, CJ Stander, was awarded the man of the match for the final home game in Thomond of 2016 as the influence of Anthony Foley continues to be felt across the province.
The two teams went at each other from the start and provided an enthralling contest for the record attendance. Much had been made by the media about the Leinster selection but the boys in blue showed great hunger to demonstrate their quality and from the start their defence was impressive. Their lineout had a few wobbles and gave Munster early advantage when Peter O’Mahony secured possession and set up a Munster attack after Scannell had cleared the ball to touch.
Darren Sweetnam chased the high ball and Zane Kirchner seemed to slap it away as he scrambled to claim it. While Munster had the throw into the lineout in a good position near the 22m it could have been a penalty or even a card for a deliberate knock-on in our view. Munster went through 15 phases but the Leinster defence held firm. Eventually CJ fumbled and the first scrum in the 4th minute allowed Leinster to clear the ball towards halfway.
Rory Scannell’s grubber kick ricocheted off a Leinster player, giving them back possession Leinster which they kicked into the Munster 22 to set up their first serious attacking position in the seventh minute. This time it was Leinster who stole the opposition lineout ball but Munster turned over possession and CJ was there to put in a super clearance kick to the halfway line – is there anything he can’t do?
After getting some on field attention from the medics James Cronin jogged down the tunnel for a HIA and Dave Kilcoyne came on to take his place in the front row after 14 minutes. Conor Murray passed to Darren who seemed to be tackled high by #11 Barry Daly – (chest high only per Nigel) – and as CJ Stander cleared him out he pinned Daly with his forearm which the Assistant Referee brought to Nigel Owens attention. A penalty was awarded and Leinster spurned the kick at goal to kick for touch. Donnacha Ryan stole the lineout and justice was done in our minds except there was a knock on and Leinster got to put in to the scrum.
From that platform, Leinster got the ball quickly out to the backs. Jaco Taute got a hand to Ross Byrne but not enough to stop him getting the pass away while an untimely slip by Ronan O’Mahony gave Kirchner a clear run to the line. Nacewa converted to make it 0-7 as James Cronin returned to action.
Munster responded immediately, a lineout won gave them possession in the Leinster half. A crossfield kick chased by Sweetnam was taken by Barry Daly but when he failed to release as Munster piled in they were awarded a penalty which Peter O’Mahony opted to kick for touch. The maul was impeded by bodies on the ground so they went around and Tyler seemed to have scored, but Munster recycled the ball one way and then the other out to Zebo on the wing. The grounding was good but Nigel asked the TMO to check his feet were not in touch as he fell backwards over the Leinster scrumhalf and winger. Nigel could not hear the TMO and the crowd grew impatient waiting for the decision which made it even more difficult for him to hear! Eventually he awarded the try and Tyler had a difficult touch-line conversion which bounced in off the crossbar to tie the scores after 23 minutes.
After play resumed, Niall Scannell lost his jersey in the tackle, bringing back memories of CJ and BJ at this fixture 2 years earlier!
It was worth watching the game back to hear Nigel say to Cian Healy: “The hands out law changed 3 years ago, where have you been” as he awarded a penalty to Munster before the TMO called his attention to a neck roll earlier in the play by Jean Kleyn. Isa Nacewa stepped up to put Leinster back in front with his successful penalty kick after 25 minutes.
Jean Kleyn showed his strength again as he drove through the Leinster tackles. We enjoyed seeing that display of power! Shortly afterwards we howled in protest at another perceived high tackle but it was deemed to be fine.
A super counter-ruck when Leinster were threatening was appreciated by the red army, especially when it was rewarded with a penalty and Munster got back into the Leinster half. Kleyn won the lineout and the maul was set up and made good ground. Jaco took it on, then Kleyn, Zebo, Donnacha, Zebo, Kleyn again got the team over the gainline but Leinster plugged the gap.
A backwards pass out between his legs by Cronin had us gasp in shock and fear of a turnover but Rory tidied up and still Munster kept possession until a cross field kick was cleared by Leinster and it was disappointing to see them pushed the home team back to halfway. However Cian Healy was penalised from coming in the side of the maul and with the clock edging towards half time there was time for a last effort before the break.
Rory kicked the ball with his left foot to touch and the lineout was won by Peter. The maul drove forward at pace and with purpose. When it halted, there were multiple pick and goes trying to get a way through the tackles, 23 phases in all before Ronan O’Mahony who had worked his way over to the opposite wing enabled the pass to skip Sweetnam and find space on his outside to score in the corner. Darren was tackled without the ball by Kirchner and Nigel was going to put him in the bin but the TMO asked him to look at it again. The TMO thought that Zane was committed to the tackle (and fooled by the skip pass) and no card was shown. We had thought the same of Zebo last weekend but at least he tackled a guy who had just had the ball! Hopefully the knee injury sustained is not serious as Darren has been in great form all season.
Tyler slotted his second touchline conversion between the posts and Munster went in at half time 14-10 ahead.
Andrew Conway replaced Darren Sweetnam for the second half. An early injury to Dan Leavy – who had a great game, especially in defence – lead to a break in play and a great rendition of the Fields of Athenry.
Play restarted with a Leinster lineout and an unfortunate knock on by Gibson-Park gave Munster a good scrum just outside the 10m. Conway chased and claimed the garryowen competing well with Nacewa to put Munster on the front foot and into the Leinster half. Niall Scannell took them close to the 22. Kirchner fumbled a grubber by Zebo to give Munster another scrum.
A feature of the Leinster defence seemed to be to try not just to take down the man but to rip the ball itself as we saw several times in quick succession – Gibson-Park off Murray, another off Cronin via a choke tackle and again a few phases later as possession switched hands time and again in the opening minutes.
Tommy made a great charge down the west wing raising our spirits and yells of encouragement. The pack went through about another 18 phases – Cronin and Murray came close and Leinster kept conceding advantage but play went on till Murray put in a cross field kick. Tommy O’Donnell who had moved to the east wing jumped above Daly to claim the ball which he had to juggle to hold onto as he turned and fell over the line in the 50th minute. Another touchline conversion successfully dispatched and Munster moved to 21-10 and there was plenty of time left to secure the fourth try and bonus point.
The hunger and intensity were very evident – CJ tackled one player and when that player got the pass away CJ changed focus immediately to tackle the receiving player. Zebo required attention from the medics but was ok to continue. Murray kicked the penalty to touch, was Tyler’s kicking workload being managed? From that lineout the pack formed a maul and secured the bonus point try in the 55th minute, scored by CJ Stander but a pack effort. The conversion was missed making it 26-10.
Munster won a scrum against the head, marching Leinster back off their ball to show they were not letting up their intensity. When the referee indicated an advantage to Munster, Zebo attempted a drop goal. It was off target but Tyler made no mistake when he kicked the penalty to make it 29-10 just after the hour mark. There was still time for Leinster to mount a comeback but perhaps with an eye to the short turnaround to their home game against Ulster they changed their front row, as did Munster.
Francis Saili after recovering from shoulder surgery, made his seasonal debut and there was a big cheer to welcome him and to thank Jaco Taute for his valued contribution as injury cover. There is speculation that he may be allowed by the IRFU to stay if his team (the Stormers) release him from his contract in South Africa but nothing confirmed yet. He has definitely been a great and popular addition to the squad.
Saili won a penalty and the kudos of his team mates when CJ and Conor made the tackle and he was straight in to compete for the ball. Jack O’Donoghue replaced Peter O’Mahony. Jack claimed the next lineout as Munster went to the maul again but Leinster defended it well and they went wide instead. Killer pirouetted out of the tackle in one phase and then made a big tackle on Henshaw when possession was lost a few phases later. I was surprised to see in the stats that Dave had the top tackle count (11) for Munster – the surprise was due to him only being on the pitch for a very active 22 minutes!
Saili and Zebo combined well to set up another attack and Ronan O’Mahony got in on the action a few phases later, juggling the ball well to retain possession as he charged towards the line but when he got isolated Leinster turned over the ball.
We urged Munster to give the visitors nothing, conscious that a losing bonus point may have a bearing on the top 4 placings at the end of the season. The Munster defence continued to worked hard and we were delighted when Conway won a turnover as Leinster pressed close to the try- line with less than 5 minutes left. Duncan Williams had to go off for a blood injury so Conor returned to the action. From the clearance kick, Leinster had a line out around the 22m line and set up their maul. Munster drove them back but then Richardt Strauss broke through a gap as Kilcoyne was taken out of the defensive line. Strauss scored a try which Nacewa again converted. With two and a half minutes remaining Leinster needed another try to claim a losing bonus point. The clock ticked down, they had a scrum and launched another attack but the defence held firm. Saili tackled Henshaw, yet Leinster kept possession. Nacewa was wrapped up by a red blanket and yet they kept going until a long pass to the wing was adjudged forward to bring the contest to an end.
The Leinster team were not second rate, they may have lacked experience in some positions but they played well particularly in defence as the high number of phases Munster had to go through to score their tries showed. They will learn a lot from their experience in Thomond which will stand to them, especially during the Six Nations when it is those players who will need to perform when the Internationals are unavailable.
After clapping each other off the field both teams returned, the Leinster team formed a ring of blue while the home team applauded their supporters. We were wondering if this was the final farewell by Jaco Taute.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam (Andrew Conway ’40), Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’63), Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’70 (blood sub – Murray ’76 to ’78)); James Cronin (HIA Dave Kilcoyne ’15 to ’19, permanent ’62), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’62), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’62); Jean Kleyn (Billy Holland ’70), Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Jack O’Donoghue ’66), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner; Isa Nacewa (captain), Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, Barry Daly (Noel Reid ’55); Ross Byrne (Tom Daly ’70), Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy (Peter Dooley ’63), James Tracy (Richardt Strauss ’63), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent ’63); Ross Molony, Mike McCarthy (Ian Nagle ’52 (HIA Rhys Ruddock ’70)); Rhys Ruddock (Dominic Ryan ’66), Dan Leavy, Jack Conan. Replacements not used: Charlie Rock.
Check out the post match thoughts of Ronan and Francis:
Stats from ESPN are always worth scanning:
There did not seem to be as much blue there as previous games. Maybe the “sold out” signs went up earlier than expected and before they had bought tickets, or when “weak”team was announced they did not travel, or in a throw back to the famous game in 2006 in Lansdowne Road, maybe the Blue Army had to prioritise the Brown Thomas sale 🙂 – photos of that sea of red still send shivers down my spine!
On a bitingly cold evening we welcomed the heat from the flame-throwers which were in use to celebrate the Munster Clubs Under 18s who had won their Inter-Provincial games, to accompany the choir through Stand Up and Fight and the hit machine and of course complete with fireworks to welcome Munster on pitch. It was a pity they could not have been on all game or that we didn’t have any marshmallows to take advantage! The coach, captain and physio of the under 18s team were interviewed pitchside and it was lovely to see and hear from Ian Dowling – last seen working with the Tipperary football team in Croke Park – back on the Thomond Pitch. It was also good to see Johnny Holland, another early rugby retiree come on to present the team with their trophy. It would be great if Munster Rugby would record such interviews and make them available on their YouTube channel.
Kevin O’Byrne and Dave O’Callaghan made an appearance on the West Terrace, I assume on their way down from the MRSC Bar. Since the early arrivals don’t get a chance to meet players in the bar before the game it was nice to see them make a visit. Meanwhile, the East Terrace enjoyed CJ’s stretching warm up as two men tried to haul him back in his harness.
At half-time Keith Earls and Dave Foley presented the Charity partners with signed jerseys. Diabetes Ireland and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland are the nominated partners for this season and received €1 from the sale of each programme on the night.
Linda has some great photos of the night on the MRSC Facebook page including some of the U18s and action shots.
I also enjoyed this interview with Rory Scannell shown on TG4 in which he talks about his match winning drop-goal in Belfast and puts it up to his younger brother in secondary school to keep the family tradition of Irish youth caps going 🙂 Sibling rivalry, much like inter-provincial rivalry is alive and well.
If you enjoy this weeks edition please share it with your friends and family, (especially any folks home for the holidays) as I am hoping to match 2015 views and need over 1000 views this week to get to the 23,886 of last year. I have to credit a blog written for the pre-season game of 2013 for over a thousand views this year as the recent full houses have had people looking up the options for tickets – east or west.. if your preference is for the North or South terrace I would love to get your comments on that blog also! I have shared additional photos taken at the game on my facebook page and regularly share content there from papers, podcasts, etc. which would be of interest. Thanks for checking out, commenting and sharing my blog during 2016. In case I don’t get out the Connacht game blog out before New Years Day I’ll wish you a wonderful 2017 now.