Back in Thomond for our first visit of 2017 with a home quarter-final on the line and the return of Ronan O’Gara, it was fantastic to be at another sold out game! The third Irish province to take on French opposition over the weekend, would we be the first to win or would the gruelling run of three European games in a row, two on the road take their toll?
Munster made a good start but Racing 92 showed early on that they had come to play and indeed they dominated the opening quarter. We were hoping to see less of the action up our side! When Jean Kleyn went offside at a ruck Maxime Machenaud had a penalty attempt at goal after 12 minutes. With Donnacha Ryan facing him down, giving him his “look” the kick fell short. Dave Kilcoyne was introduced early when James Cronin injured his hand.
Andrew Conway chased box kicks all night and when he could not secure possession himself he made it difficult for the Racing players. Heading into the second quarter he chased and knocked back his own garryowen into Munster hands, getting the team into the Racing half. A penalty was awarded to Munster which the left foot of Rory Scannell kicked to great effect, putting Munster almost up to the opposition 5m line. The maul could not get going as Racing collapsed it but Munster had advantage. Then Racing went offside and Munster had a penalty opportunity to kick at goal for 3 points. Instead captain Peter O’Mahony opted for the scrum and it was great to see them push the heavy Racing pack back. However when the ball came out to Rory Scannell he was not able to get through their defence. Munster choose to scrum again from the next penalty awarded. Despite another great drive by the pack forcing the visitors to retreat they were told by the referee to use the ball. It went out to the backs and Rory got to within a meter of the line but again the defence held firm. Possession was retained though, and Jean, CJ, Killer, and Zebo all came close as did Tommy. Then American football style Murray tried to dive over and it looked like he had just made it. However the referee awarded a 5m scrum to Racing 92 for a knock-on after a long discussion with the TMO to our disappointment.
A few minutes later from a Munster lineout near the Racing 10m line, CJ Stander burst through the defence and almost got to the line before being hauled down.
When Benjamin Dambielle tackled Murray he was sent to the bin and Munster opted for the scrum again but despite a good burst by Stander there was no way through and a few phases later Munster knocked on to hand possession back to Racing 92. To be scoreless at the half hour mark was definitely not what we had expected or what their efforts deserved but you had to credit the Racing defence.
Typically it was Peter O’Mahony heading by example, who single-handedly stopped Racing clearing their lines by dragging down their #8 when he had tried to charge from the base of the scrum. Peter was then straight up on his feet challenging for the ball to win the turnover and keep the pressure on Racing. From that scrum they went on the attack again and even got over the line but could not ground the ball. However Marc Andreu had been offside so another penalty was awarded. Lineout secured, then the maul formed, from which Niall Scannell went on the charge, followed by Jaco Taute before Simon Zebo wrestled his way through to ground the ball despite being surrounded by two defenders who tried to wrap him up while a third was beneath him.
It had taken till the 37th minute to score and the floodgates never opened as Racing 92 were determined to redeem themselves after their capitulation in Paris. Indeed it took a super tackle by Zebo to stop Andreu scoring at the other end of the pitch and a good challenge by Ronan O’Mahony to prevent him claiming a subsequent cross field kick to keep the Munster try line intact. Instead a penalty for not releasing earlier in the play allowed Racing 92 to put 3 points on the board before half-time.
During half time there was a tribute to the team of 1967, marking the anniversary of their famous victory by 11-8 on January 25th over Australia. The minis had a good run out. There was a lot of support near us for the team from Crosshaven but I am sure family and friends of each of the four teams (Dunmanway, St Senans, Clonakilty and Crosshaven) enjoyed seeing their youngsters playing in Thomond. I was also delighted that Dee who was in Paris and Glasgow with Joe over the past two weekends supporting the team won the “selfie” competition sponsored by SnapParcel.com, who had won the Bank of Ireland competition to have their business’ name on the jerseys for the game..
Munster started the second half well and when Nakarawa was penalisd for a high tackle on Tyler he was able to make it 10-3 within minutes of the restart.
Another great kick by Rory pinned Racing back inside their own 22. Peter capitalised on the position to steal the lineout but as play went wide a fumble by Zebo handed back possession. Racing lost the ball and Munster took advantage. Ronan O’Mahony was nearly in the corner but the defence just got to him in time.
However minutes later he did score after the pack had done some damage through the maul, then carries by Niall, CJ, Donnacha and Tommy supported by Killer sucked in the defence before Tyler and Rory moved the ball wide. Ronan collected the pass and almost tripped but he managed to control his fall to get over the line. The conversion made it 17-3 but resistance had not been broken. Indeed the visitors were back on the attack and approaching the hour mark Teddy Thomas and Henry Chavancy combined, the latter just got to the whitewash with Simon Zebo on his back. The TMO had no reason not to award the try and the cameraman was right there to capture the reaction on the west terrace where Pascal and Francis were so delighted and excited that in the spirit of friendship Joan celebrated with the former by giving him a kiss on the cheek. No need to kiss and tell in this instance since her husband Kevin was right behind her smiling at their excitement. That clip, featuring me beside her made it into both the TG4 and the official Sky highlights and will probably not surprise anyone who knows her as the very first time we spoke – on a bus going to watch Northampton v Munster – she was being called “Sky Sports Joan” by her family due to her frequent appearances on TV! It was all part of the joie de vivre and bonhomie we were enjoying with our guests although we told them (and they jokingly agreed) that that was enough now – no more French scores please!
Ronan O’Mahony had another close call after 68 minutes but could not finish off the score after his excellent chase. Two minutes later we were celebrating for real when Tyler and Rory again combined to move the ball wide at pace. When the pass went between Ian Keatley and Andrew Conway, the latter did well to gather it and make ground down the wing. Fending off the defence he made space for Keatley running in support to collect his pass and score his first European try! The smile on Ian’s face was priceless! His contributions to the team this season whether at outhalf, centre or full back have demonstrated his versatility and I was delighted for him to get on the scoreboard and for Munster to move the crucial 12 points clear of Racing 92. The visitors kept up the pressure while Munster were also hunting for a bonus point but there were no more scores.
Munster had the benefit of playing later than the other contenders for home quarter finals – Clermont had sealed top place, while Leinster’s draw had opened the door for Saracens or Munster to claim second place. Saracens had kicked off mid afternoon and won but only by 10-3 and hence Munster just needed to beat them on points difference – the bonus point was not essential. When Rory Scannell kicked the ball out some felt he should have set up an attempt to go for the fourth try but he knew it was not necessary. After three gruelling European games in three weeks it was great to celebrate the win, second place and a home quarter-final with the team.
Pity Connacht could not make it four Pro12 quarter-finalists! Munster are in the same side of the draw as Saracens so if both win their home games the semi-final will be in Ireland. However if Glasgow win in Allianz Park (where the 4G pitch will not pose a challenge to them) then they would have home country advantage. Quarter final dates will be confirmed later this week. The last visit by Toulouse was a great day in Thomond and the first European MOTM award for CJ Stander.
Munster: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: D Kilcoyne for J Cronin (12 mins), F Saili for J Taute (47 mins), B Holland for J Kleyn (51 mins), R Marshall for N Scannell (58 mins), T du Toit for J Ryan (67 mins), I Keatley for S Zebo (69 mins), D Williams for C Murray (70 mins). Not used: Jack O’Donoghue
Racing 92: Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Henry Chavancy, Etienne Dussartre, Marc Andreu; Benjamin Dambielle, Maxime Machenaud; Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Ben Tameifuna; Manuel Carizza, Leone Nakarawa; Yannick Nyanga, Matthieu Voisin, So’otala Fa’aso’o. Replacements: C Gomes Sa for B Tameifuna (30 mins), Julien Brugnaut for E Ben Arous (54 mins), F Pourteau for B Dambielle, A Vulivuli for E Dussartre (both 63 mins), C Masoe for Y Nyanga (64 mins), A Williams for L Nakarawa (65 mins), J Hart for M Machenaud (74 mins), B Tameifuna for C Gomes sa (76 mins).
When I had read Ronan O’Gara’s column in the Examiner on Friday I wondered if he was playing mind games with Munster or with his own team – daring them to prove him wrong! At the end he was pleased with their performance. They did him proud. It also did Munster and Thomond Park credit. Munster will learn more from that tough test of our defence than the facile bonus point win that some had predicted. The fact that the team are disappointed with aspects of their performance shows how much hunger and determination they have to continue on their upward path.
The detailed stats are on ESPN
Post match thoughts from Ronan, Simon and Billy on the Munster Rugby site – click here
There are several interesting video clips on the Sky site including the highlights (including this weeks kiss on the terrace!!), MOTM CJ’s post match interview with some scenes of the team celebrating with the crowd and their interview with ROG including his views of the current Munster team and his future plans.
SOCIAL SIDE: bonhomie:
Thanks for the positive feedback on last weeks social section, it is what makes this blog unique:-)
I wrote after the Leicester game that the fear factor is back, after this weekend the “awe” factor is back too. Some lovely tweets from the Racing 92 players about the atmosphere and below from Sky analyst Will Greenwood while Thierry Dusasatoir of Toulouse remembers their visit in 2014 when he was injured so did not play. He is looking forward to experiencing it himself in April.
I arrived in Limerick before 3 so I popped into the MRSC bar to see the recording of the Sky sports studio chat during the break between the Clermont and Saracens games. Representatives from both the Racing 92 and MRSC Supporters Clubs were interviewed about the special bond which has developed between the two as a result of the tragic death of Anthony Foley in Paris in October. May he rest in peace. I had a word with Sinead, Pascal, James and the “other” Sinead before heading down to join the guard of honour to greet the team buses. As I passed the entrance to the west terrace the regulars had started to queue so I said hello and reminded them to keep a place for me. Over in front of the east stand I met Denise and Judi with the Racing 92 supporters they had gotten to know at the game in Paris two weeks earlier.
Well done to the MRSC who had gathered a large crowd to line the drive from the road up to the entrance where the players enter the stadium. It was much better than the previous times when we lined the main road only for the bus to pass in the flash of an eye! I gave my flag to young Odhran who had travelled up with his dad from Dingle to his first game in Thomond. Credit also to the various businesses in Limerick who welcomed the visiting fans also with banners and special offers. It was great to have the opportunity to greet Racing 92 and repay their warm welcome, support and hospitality two weeks earlier and in October (as detailed here). Regular contributor John recorded the Racing bus arrival to give you a sense of the crowd gathered there.
I headed over to the west terrace where a good crowd had already gathered. We were delighted to meet Pascal and Francis from the Racing 92 Supporters Club who were seated in front of us as they were to participate in the flag bearing group to welcome the teams to the pitch.
Their English was great and we made an effort with the cupla focal francais (a few words of French) especially Paul who had met them in Paris and Tony who likes to be multi-lingual as he frequently demonstrates in his comments on this blog. They asked where Axel was buried and how far away it was as they were thinking about visiting the following day. (Francis emailed me the following week and told me they went there and left a Racing 92 flag on his grave after paying their respects.) Francis was also asking how much we pay for our tickets. When I showed him my season ticket he asked about my surname and what it meant. He gave me his card so I sent him the photos and link to this blog and he enjoyed reading about his visit and the previous one about the Munster visit to Paris.
As kick off approached I was looking forward to the welcome heat of the flames as it was a bitingly cold evening. I should have worn an extra layer! Tony asked if anyone had brought the toast and I think it was Pascal (from Limerick not Paris) who replied he wanted French toast, in honour of our guests!
We were a bit bemused by the footwear of the Racing 92 tight head prop when he came out for a look around before changing for the warm-up!
There was a big cheer from the east as Ronan O’Gara took to the pitch to participate in the warm-up. It was a special day for him even though he was disappointed his team were not in contention for the play-offs. Keith Earls who picked up an injury during training was not on the team so he was interviewed pitchside pre-game. When asked about Ronan O’Gara he said that it was thanks to ROG and his team mates that we have such a great stadium as Thomond to enjoy days like this.
Speaking of guests, Darren Sweetnam was passing by – maybe returning from media duties or meeting the minis. Ger asked him and Francis to go over the Gayl… I just heard my name being taken in vain and looked up to see what he was talking about. I don’t think either of them knew who Gayl was! Then he told them to turn around to face me and I was still looking at them blankly to see what was up, when it was revealed he wanted me to take a photo of the 2 men! So I duly obliged. It would have been nice to get one of Darren with the gang of us behind him also but maybe next time there is a player visiting we could arrange that. It will be great to see Darren back playing next month hopefully.
More great photos from the day captured by the MRSC Official photographers Ivan and John on their facebook page here
After a rousing rendition of “Stand Up and Fight” we were ready for action. The teams entered the pitch with the French captain carrying a beautiful bouquet of red and white flowers in memory of Anthony Foley, another lovely tribute from the team.
Outside the stadium it was nice to see Kathleen from MRSC London who had taken an early morning flight over for the game and hopes to return for the quarter-final. Bernie and Ed stopped to say hello also before I went up to the MRSC bar which was busy. The Downtown Dixieland band were entertaining the crowd and folks were in good spirits.
We got talking to some Flemish visitors who were over for the weekend, Marc Van de Peer, Walter Lambrechts and their friends from the RC Nijlen rugby team. Marc was in Cardiff for the 2008 final and has been supporting Munster ever since! They told us that they come over for the last home European pool game every year since. No one had a pen to write down the name of the blog so I was searching for WTView on Marc’s facebook app – which was a challenge as the keyboard had W on the bottom row not the top! We got there eventually and he liked the page so he can find it again.
Also over for their annual visit were members from the MRSC USA branch, many of whom were wearing shirts with “8” on the back. As I was leaving Andy called me over to say hello to him and Steve who introduced me to Fiona. Steve was telling me his mother was from Nenagh and how it was the posh side of Tipperary. I felt obliged to defend my home town of Thurles even though I am not sure I want it to be described as posh! Steve lives near Leicester now and very helpfully provided advice and taxi numbers to Munster supporters heading there for the last two seasons. For some reason, he was very keen to have his picture included in this weeks blog so the ever camera shy Mr Chips took this photo for us.
Also in the bar I met Dan who told me that he is a regular reader and had recognized me at Glasgow airport last weekend but did not want to disturb me. It is always lovely to meet my readers, it’s not like there are thousands of you although hopefully there will be a few more views from France and Belgium as a result of the new friends made this weekend. Au revoir!
A week later Christophe sent me this photo of the tribute they left at the grave of Anthony Foley, may he RIP.
A late addition from a friend of Johns: