“He’s a Welsh ref!” “Oh no he isn’t!” Not according to the program anyway which, Paul advised us stated that Dan Jones was with the Scottish Rugby Union. Just as the two assistant referees consult before raising their flags Imelda and I looked at each other to confirm we had seen the same thing on the big screen where Dan Jones had been listed with WRU after his name. Turns out the program was wrong, “Oh yes he is!”
Supporters have a natural bias. We will complain about penalties NOT awarded against the opposition quicker than those missed against our own, or we protest that he’s holding on versus the referee’s interpretation that the tackler didn’t release! Our frustration is often vented on the match officials and even the best are not exempt as Twitter was full of arm chair critics of the Six Nations refs over the weekend.
That train of thought reminded me of another recent “villain” – Paul Kimmage – whose articles about the rugby residency rules – focused on our beloved CJ Stander – raised a backlash through social media. In response Mr. Kimmage called out some as “one-eyed Munster tools” MRSC tweeted the perfect response to Mr Kimmage on Valentine Days:
My initial views on the residency topic were changed by CJ as I wrote in this piece last year after witnessing his commitment and contribution to Munster. Putting his body on the line for a cause he believes in, he is far from a rugby tourist or journeyman!
Maybe it was Donncha O’Callaghan who put the pantomime theme into my head as he stole the show at the Newstalk “Off the Ball” event at the Olympia on Thursday. Playing to the crowd he started casting his fellow panelists, Woody, BOD and ROG as the Ugly sisters and Cinderella! Check him out in full flow at the link to their podcast here. The earlier part of the show is captured in this link and features anecdotes from Brian and Woody about Ronan and Donncha whose arrival had been delayed by Storm Doris!
Speaking of the weather, Munster had the wind advantage in the first half but it was not the sole reason for this ending up as a “game of two halves”. I did not know what led to the opening penalty for Scarlets as I only saw a knock-on but must have missed something. As a result the other Dan Jones on the pitch, wearing the blue number 10 jersey put the ball between the posts to give the Scarlets an early lead.
A lineout near halfway led to a great break by Duncan Williams who passed to Darren Sweetnam in support. Unfortunately Darren’s offload did not go to hand and Scarlets won a penalty which they kicked to touch. Munster won back possession through a super choke tackle by Billy Holland. From the scrum on their 10m line Munster went wide through a great break by Ronan O’Mahony. Conor Oliver was in support to take it into contact. From the next phase Tyler Bleyendaal put Dave O’Callaghan through a gap. As we roared him on Dave charged to within a few metres of the line, presenting the ball well for the support arriving in his wake. Saili acted as scrum half and passed to Oliver who flung it out to Jaco Taute. Jaco touched down uncontested as the Scarlets player had rushed up looking to intercept. An excellent conversion by Tyler put Munster 7-3 up. Minutes later an offside offence was costly as Dan Jones again put the ball between the posts to make it 7-6 after 16 minutes.
Shortly after it was Scarlets turn to concede a penalty which was kicked to touch to set up an excellent attacking platform for Munster.
Dave Foley collected the lineout throw and the Scarlets tried to disrupt the maul. Playing with advantage Dan Goggin burst forward with the ball and came close to the try-line. Another penalty was awarded and again kicked to touch. This time Billy secured possession in the lineout and the maul edged very close to the line. Munster were told to use it, so Goggin again brought Munster close before they went wide through Tyler to Jaco. Darren Sweetnam managed to gather and juggle the pass without knocking on before he scored in the corner. The TMO confirmed that the pass from Jaco was not forward and the try was awarded in the 22nd minute. An excellent conversion made it 14-6.
Before the half-hour mark Darren Sweetnam gathered a box kick and counter-attacked from the 10m line. Dan Goggin accelerated through a gap and offloaded to Ronan O’Mahony in support who charged forward. When he was tackled Conor Oliver was there to take the pass and score his second senior try. It was great to see the younger players doing so well, making the most of their limited opportunities with the senior team. Three tries scored within a half hour it should have been just a matter of time before the bonus point was secured but Scarlets tore up that script!
The rain started just before the second half to make handling more difficult. Dan Jones missed an early penalty attempt but was successful with his second to make it 21-9 after 51 minutes. The penalty count at that stage was 11-4 hence our feeling on the terrace of being hard done by!
Andrew Conway came on at full back and had to make a try saving tackle almost immediately. The referee insisted the medics check the flanker Davies was OK to continue which was good to see.
From the next Munster lineout Scarlets won a scrum and that was the turning point of the game. A well executed chip over the defence was gathered and touched down beneath the posts by Hadleigh Parkes. The successful conversion by Jones made it 21-14 after 56 minutes and it was game on! A break by Andrew Conway resulted in a scrum in the Scarlets half when he ran into his own team-mate. From that scrum Scarlets broke quickly down the wing through Aled Davies who passed to Johnny McNichol. A slip by Tyler gave them a gap to exploit and the scrambling defence could not get back to prevent McNichol scoring. Dan Jones put Scarlets into the lead with his successful conversion in the 59th minute 21-23.
Another penalty for tackling a player in the air gave Scarlets excellent field position just minutes later deep in the Munster 22. They went one way and then a clever switch in direction caught Munster napping as Tom Williams scored in the corner. In mere minutes Munster had gone two scores in arrears and the bonus point on offer became a potential losing bonus point, or maybe two if we could get one for scoring a fourth try.
Kevin O’Byrne came on for Rhys Marshall and from his first lineout throw Munster set up a good maul and break but were then turned over. Dan Goggin was lifted a few inches off a ruck by both legs which was deemed to be a penalty offence. Munster kicked for touch. The defence held firm against wave after wave of Munster attack. A kick through by Saili was touched down before O’Mahony could get to it. Andrew Conway chased and gathered his own garryowen and Munster were back on the attack but a few phases later Scarlets again turned over possession. After lovely interplay between Goggin and Saili on the east wing, Goggin put through a grubber kick for Saili who forced the defender to carry the ball over his own line to concede a 5m scrum. Surely this would yield a score! It was not to be, the front row collapsed straight away. When the same happened on the reset penalty was awarded against Munster and the Scarlets celebrated as if they had scored.
A great lineout steal by Billy Holland put Munster back on the front foot. Conor Oliver burst through the Scarlets line. His pass to Darren Sweetnam seemed to be knocked on by a blue hand. However, instead of a card and Munster penalty it was Munster who were judged to have knocked on and scrum was awarded to Scarlets. From that scrum it was Munster who won a penalty which was quickly kicked to touch. The Scarlets collapsed the maul so the penalty was again kicked to touch. Darren O’Shea collected the lineout throw again and the maul made progress before Dave Kilcoyne charged close to the line. The ball was recycled and taken on by Dave O’Callaghan, Killer again, Oliver, O’Byrne, then Killer came agonizingly close. The TMO reviewed and confirmed that he was held up just short so there was another 5m scrum. The ball came out quickly and Conor Oliver found Saili but he knocked on to concede a scrum to Scarlets. They cleared their lines. The clock ticked down and there was to be no fairytale ending to the evening.
Munster: Jaco Taute; Darren Sweetnam, Francis Saili, Dan Goggin, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal Capt., Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Dave Foley, Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Conor Oliver.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Peter McCabe, Brian Scott, Darren O’Shea, Fineen Wycherley, Abrie Griesel, Ian Keatley, Andrew Conway.
Scarlets: Johnny McNicholl, Tom Williams, Steff Hughes, Hadleigh Parkes (captain), DTH van der Merwe, Dan Jones, Jonathan Evans, Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Werner Kruger, Tom Price, Tadhg Beirne, Aaron Shingler, James Davies, Will Boyde
Replacements: Dafydd Hughes, Luke Garrett, Nicky Thomas, Rynier Bernardo, Morgan Allen, Aled Davies, Aled Thomas, Ioan Nicholas
Match reports from the Irish Examiner, The42.ie and Walesonline Report from the Scarlets pages – where there was confusion about whether the third try was scored by DTH or by Williams so I tweeted them and they confirmed it was Williams. The original team announcement had them on the opposite wings. Billy Holland spoke about falling asleep during the game and the plans to rectify the performance in the Examiner
Check out the blog Facebook page for interesting articles and podcasts during the week.
ESPN Stats: here show that the penalty count was a lot closer as it had evened out over the course of the game! The keystone of many successes this season has been aggressive defence. Conceding 30 points will focus the minds on the work to be done to ensure this is speed bump and not an inflection point.
We could have done with a fairy godmother in the second half to get over the line for a bonus point or two. Hopefully the failure to get any point will not bite us at the end of the season. There will be more twists and turns to come in the league and it is better to learn lessons from a league game now than during the knock out Cup rugby to come! The next game in Thomond will be the highly anticipated European quarter-final on April 1st for which I ordered my ticket through MRSC before their deadline (February 28th).
I am looking forward to supporting Munster A in Cork on March 12th when they take on Ulster A in the British and Irish Cup quarterfinal. Free entry for MRSC members! The Legends game in Dublin on St Patricks day will include the aforementioned Ronan O’Gara and other Munster legends such as Jerry Flannery, Alan Quinlan and Mick Galwey playing in memory of Anthony Foley with other Irish Internationals.
The social side…
Before the game I went up to the MRSC bar for a cup of tea to warm up. There I saw the familiar faces of Paul and Teresa with whom I have regularly watched games with the MRSC Dublin branch but I never had such a long chat with them before! I was surprised to discover that they travel into Dublin from Blessington for those games as they enjoy the ambience and the group experience. I won’t see them next weekend as I am going to Cardiff for the game. Unfortunately the other Munster match in March versus Zebre will not be televised.
I was surprised and amused to get a tweet before I left the bar to let me know that west terrace regulars Paschal and Mike would be at the game but in the stands. It was like I was taking a roll of attendance so I replied jokingly that I would mark them as “present and correct”. I was surprised that they knew how to get a friend or relative to contact me via social media!
There was good pre-match banter with Maire Treasa and John Broderick from TG4’s Rugbai Beo when they appeared above and behind us as Tony and Ger showed off how much Irish they remembered! We enjoyed the pitchside interview with Jack O’Donoghue. In honour of our Welsh guests the choir sang the lovely “Bread of Heaven” and during the second half when the team needed a lift we could hear them singing “Stand Up and Fight” We joined in of course. After the game I headed back to Dublin, stopping at the Obama plaza for a cup of tea before arriving home at 12.20. A long day with a disappointing end.
Saturday afternoon provided an opportunity to meet Francis from Racing 92 who along with his wife and 8 friends was in Dublin for the Ireland – France game. I found them without any problem in the Lansdowne hotel at the appointed time. I was surprised to discover that Sonia who had organized the trip was from Tipperary but living in France for many years. She was kept busy interpreting as Francis had lots of questions about my blog! He is planning to go to Edinburgh for the European Finals and then to take a tour of the whiskey road to see the old stills. He told me I should go also, since I am used to driving on the left side of the road, I could also then write about it in my travel blog!
Rugby pundit George Hook showed he has a sense of humour as he appreciated his suite at JJ Bowles pub in Limerick during the week on Twitter. We always liked hearing George say Munster had no chance as if he tipped us he jinxed us! Oh no they don’t! Oh yes they do!