The baltic conditions combined with the disruption to squads as a result of the increased involvement of Munster players in the Irish camp meant we were not treated to champagne rugby. Instead we watched a mix of superb line-breaks, thrilling offloads, excellent touch finders and scrambling committed defence, undone at times by knock-ons, fumbles, kicks out on the full and missed tackles.
I headed into Dublin to watch the game with the supporters club. For our appetizer we enjoyed the first half of the women’s game and were delighted to track the second half on our phones to see them go on to grab the bonus point win in the final play of the game! COYGIG! The game from Myreside was of course our main course while the second half of the Under 20s provided an enjoyable dessert when they came from behind to secure a valuable away win to start their 6 Nations campaign. Meanwhile in Limerick, Bill Johnson made his return from injury with Garryowen and may see some game time for the Under 20s later in the campaign or like 19 year-old Calvin Nash who after impressing in the AIL and A team made his debut on the wing for the senior team Bill may also get game time with Munster.
The Six Nations window provided an opportunity for some of the younger players who had performed well for the A team in the B&I Cup to take a step up while others returning from injury wanted to give a timely reminder to the management of what they have to offer also.
Despite Munster doing well with their opening scrum, Edinburgh took the lead in the 6th minute arising from a scrum penalty which Jason Tovey kicked between the posts. Rhys Marshall got Munster on the front foot with a super break as both sides weighed each other up. It was interesting to see Jaco Taute at full back with Dan Goggin partnering Francis Saili in midfield. Jaco has shown great hands at centre and those skills were on display again after 12 minutes when his lovely offload out of the tackle put Ronan O’Mahony away down the wing. Ronan’s kick ahead was carried over the try line by the defence and put Munster into an excellent attacking position with a 5m scrum. Dan Goggin took it up in midfield before the forwards edged closer to the line, Stephen Archer celebrating his 100th Pro12 appearance, Conor Oliver, Dave Foley, Jean Kleyn, sucking in the defence. Then Duncan went wide, finding captain on the night Tyler Bleyendaal, whose inside pass to Ronan put him over the line. A well deserved try since it was his break and chase which had set up the attack. That was his 8th try of the season, ahead of Zebo on 6! Tyler converted to make it 3-7 after 16 minutes.
A penalty conceded for not rolling away allowed Edinburgh to get a foothold deep in Munster territory. When Duncan Williams kicked the ball out of Kennedy’s hands as he was passing it from the base of a ruck it resulted in a yellow card for Duncan and another 3 points for Edinburgh from the boot of Tovey to make it 6-7 after 24 minutes.
Dan Goggin put in a super kick to pin Edinburgh back and shortly after Tyler did the same. In previous games when the scrumhalf was in the bin Ian Keatley has stepped in as scrumhalf but there did not seem to be anyone designated this time. At times it was Stephen Archer, Calvin Nash, Jack O’Donoghue or Conor Oliver who stepped into that role.
A super line break by Rhys Marshall after half an hour of play moved Munster deep into the opposition 22 again. Unfortunately, his pass intended for Saili was gratefully received by an Edinburgh player instead and another promising attack ended but it was good to see Munster on the attack despite being a man down.
Calvin Nash gathered a long kick and ran it back but when possession was turned over a great kick by Tovey pinned Munster back as he targeted the space where the winger was missing. From the Munster lineout a knock-on gave Edinburgh a scrum in the Munster 22 as Dave Kilcoyne came on for Peter McCabe. Edinburgh put on the pressure and won a penalty which Tovey kicked to take another three points as Duncan Williams prepared to return to action. A rare sight indeed this season to see the scrum under such pressure. Plenty to work on before the Dragons visit next Friday.
Approaching half-time another Munster try seemed possible when Conor Oliver burst through the defence but the move again broke down when possession was lost. Still they were in the right part of the pitch. Tyler and Killer got close to the line but were held up. Munster had a scrum from which Goggin got close, as did both Daves (O’Callaghan and Kilcoyne) but credit to the Edinburgh defence who ensured it was the home side who went in 9-7 ahead at the break.
As one of the lads said “Munster don’t do easy” – although we have enjoyed the luxury of some big wins this year to dispel that myth! – but with just one score in the 2nd half for which we were waiting a long time it certainly made for tense viewing. The rain fell in earnest to make handling more difficult in the second half.
Shortly after the resumption Tommy and Billy added experience to the pack before Dan moved to the wing in place of Calvin as Rory Scannell made his appearance from the bench. Kevin O’Byrne and Brian Scott came into the front row replacing Rhys and Stephen with about half an hour remaining.
Strong defence of a Edinburgh maul put Munster back on the front foot and forced Edinburgh to launch an attack from their own half again but they still had a two point lead.
Duncan put up a box kick which was chased hard by Ronan but Hoyland won possession. However it did put Munster into the right area of the pitch and a turnover won by Kevin handed possession back to Munster. A late tackle on Jaco as Munster went on the attack earned Munster a penalty kick on the half way line. Rory kicked it to just outside the Edinburgh 22.
Kevin found Dave O’Callaghan in the lineout. When the maul made no ground Rory Scannell carried strongly in midfield. However when he was tackled by Phil Burley, the latter tried to play the ball on the ground to concede a penalty. “Take the points” we urged as the penalty was awarded in front of the posts. Tyler took the kick and the lead with 13 minutes remaining.
I could hear “low lie” ringing out to show that there was good travelling support at the new Edinburgh home ground on a miserable night. A bit more musical than the “you’re all offside” I heard chanted later!
As the clock ticked down both teams ensured a dramatic finale. Edinburgh went through over 20 phases of play but the Munster defence showed it is a force to be reckoned with despite missing key personnel as they drove Edinburgh back into their own half time and again, keeping their discipline. Eventually there was a mistake, a penalty conceded for not rolling away. As the clock was in the red Hidalgo-Clyne took a quick tap and Munster had to let him go 10m before he was tackled. A few phases later, Munster conceded another penalty on the half way line for the same offence and if it was not the last kick of the game there might have been a card shown as Ben Whitehouse had a word with the captain.
“We don’t deserve to win” my glass half empty neighbour said but I countered that Edinburgh had not done enough to deserve the win either! Blair Kinghorn stepped forward. Would it be a repeat of Leicester away? No! As his kick fell short we were able to breathe again and celebrate being top of the table! Winning ugly sure beats losing ugly!
Stats are available on ESPN here
Munster: Jaco Taute; Calvin Nash (R Scannell 47), Francis Saili, Dan Goggin; Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal Capt, Duncan Williams; Peter McCabe (D Kilcoyne 31), Rhys Marshall (K O’Byrne 52), Stephen Archer (B Scott 52); Jean Kleyn, Dave Foley (B Holland 43); Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver (T O’Donnell 43), Jack O’Donoghue. Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Darren O’Shea, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Angus Lloyd, Rory Scannell.
EDINBURGH: Blair Kinghorn; Damian Hoyland, Chris Dean, Phil Burleigh (Michael Allen, 78), Tom Brown; Jason Tovey, Sean Kennedy (Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 69); J Cosgrove, Neil Cochrane (C) (Stuart McInally, 57′), Murray McCallum, Fraser McKenzie, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, John Hardie (Viliame Mata, 65), Cornell Du Preez.
In the absence of CJ Stander 🙂 the Man of the Match was awarded to Ronan O’Mahony.
The start of the rugby viewing marathon weekend brought to mind that the 22 game league is a marathon, not a sprint and it is hard-fought victories like this during the international window that test the depth of our squad and can make or break our play-off ambitions. So while not easy viewing (or playing I assume) it is great to go back to top of the table. There will be plenty to work on during the week to prepare for the run of 4 games against Welsh opposition during the six nations…Dragons (H), Ospreys (A), Scarlets (H) and then Cardiff (A)
Check out https://www.facebook.com/wtview which is where I post interesting articles, podcasts etc. during the week. One worth sharing in case you missed Gift Grub during the week – Radio ROG and the inspirational Paul O’Connell – you should check it out here.
I’ll be in Cork for the game next Friday, hopefully conditions will be kinder for players and supporters 🙂