Did you hear the Red Army singing? I’ve been to away games before where the supporters are so dispersed throughout the ground that it can be impossible to get any chanting or singing going, making it difficult to get behind the team and to fulfil our role as the 16th man. It is a good strategy by the home team in fairness! However, a terrace negates their control as supporters are free to congregate especially when it is not packed. Hence Peter’s message to the MRSC London and Dublin branches which they shared on Facebook and Twitter during the week, suggesting people gather near half way on the north terrace was a great initiative. I also shared that message on the MunsterFans forum to help spread the word. Whether it would have happened anyway or not I can’t say but it was great to be surrounded by fellow Munster supporters. The Sky cameraman liked the splash of colour also as I was informed by text and Twitter that we had been seen whenever there was a Munster score to celebrate!
It was a cold, blustery evening with intermittent showers, but thanks to the artificial pitch there was no mud unlike Friday night’s Pro12 fixtures in Galway, Belfast and Edinburgh when it was difficult to distinguish the teams.
Prior to kickoff there was a minutes silence in memory of Welsh international Elli Norkett who tragically died in a car accident the previous weekend. May she rest in peace.
The effect of the wind which Munster played into for the first half was clearly visible when Duncan’s box kick was held up. When Ian Keatley was kicking to touch he kept it low and got much better distance out of it as he also did kicking the first penalty up the line. Munster went through the phases deep in the Cardiff 22 until a ball was knocked loose and kicked downfield. However as Munster had been playing with advantage they took the option to kick for goal. Unfortunately the wind did not carry the ball between the posts so it remained scoreless after ten minutes of action.
From the restart Cardiff won a penalty but Steven Shingler’s long distance kick was also off target. Tom James made the first major line break before passing to Shingler whom Andrew Conway tackled to stop that threat as the Blues had a period of possession in the Munster half.
Ian Keatley pulled up when he was chasing a box kick by Duncan Williams and after some treatment on the pitch it was a shame to see him unable to continue. With no outhalf on the bench it meant that Rory Scannell moved into that position. Testing that scenario and the effect of the rejig of the backline in the pressure of a match day scenario will be beneficial to the coaching team in their contingency planning as Francis Saili came into the backline.
While Ian had been treated Robin Copeland’s tackle on Tom James had stopped another Cardiff attack in it’s tracks. From the restart Saili’s tackle of a Cardiff player in the air was rightly penalised and this time Shingler put the ball between the posts to give his team the lead. However just minutes later Munster won a penalty from a scrum and Rory Scannell took the opportunity to cancel out the deficit by putting the ball over the bar to make it 3-3.
Darren Sweetnam’s garryowen was chased by Andrew Conway from the Munster 10m line to the Cardiff 10m line. Andrew batted it down to Darren in support who in turn offloaded to Dave O’Callaghan. Dave charged deep into their 22 but when the ball went wide players got into each others way to concede a penalty for crossing.
There was nearly a score at the other end when a chip over the top was volleyed back downfield and chased by scrum half Lloyd Williams. However, a superb try-saving tackle by his opposite number Duncan Williams drove him into touch and caused him to knock on.
A fight broke out after Rhys Marshall threw the ball at Nick Williams in retaliation after being caught by him around the neck. The referee and TMO reviewed the incident and penalised Munster. Steven Shingler’s kick gave Cardiff a 6-3 lead and we responded by singing “Fields of Athenry” to lift the team.
Munster finished the half strongly with good attacking phases by Jaco Taute, Darren Sweetnam, Dave Kilcoyne and Ronan O’Mahony, forcing players like Navidi and Nick Williams to put in big tackles. When the former gave away a penalty Rory had the opportunity to draw level again but it went wide. A block down by Taute put Munster back on the attack but another penalty for crossing allowed Cardiff to clear the danger. Andrew Conway showed great athleticism to keep that kick from going into touch but there were no more scores before the break. Given that Cardiff had had wind advantage their three point lead was not much of a cushion.
I noted the swaying goalposts as Rory lined up a penalty kick early in the second half when Nick Williams was penalised for not releasing.
Duncan Williams made a super break off the back of a scrum but could not get the pass to Andrew Conway in support. Minutes later Munster were attacking again when a high tackle on Andrew Conway resulted in a yellow card for #13 Halaholo. That penalty was kicked to touch but Dave Kilcoyne was penalised for obstruction and a golden opportunity went abegging. Conor Oliver replaced Darren O’Shea so Dave O’Callaghan moved into the second row in his stead.
A slip by Darren Sweetnam seemed to throw the backline off as Rory – put under pressure by Navidi – threw a pass which was intercepted, leading to the first try of the game for Aled Summerhill. Two bursts of fireworks celebrated the try and we watched the kicking tee arrive in style on the back of a remote controlled model jet! The successful conversion attempt moved Cardiff ten points ahead (13-3) despite being a man down.
Munster were back on the attack in the Cardiff half when Conor Oliver took the ball into contact. Saili was in position to protect possession as Duncan Williams looked set to pass the ball. Saili took us all by surprise when, noting the gap in the defence in front of him he grabbed the ball and broke into open space, stepping Matthew Morgan and touching down under the posts as the rain fell again.
Rory Scannell added the conversion to reduce the deficit to three points. We were singing Stand Up and Fight in celebration. Darren Sweetnam was excellent particularly in the air throughout and his chase of the restarts in particular gave Munster a fighting chance of regaining possession. Munster’s kicking tactics helped to keep play in the Cardiff half as much as possible. An excellent kick by Saili on the halfway line had us on our toes! Andrew Conway’s chase deserved more as he raced down the wing to ground the ball after it had bounced over the try line.
However the TMO advised that he had not managed to control the ball. A 5m scrum was awarded to the Blues. The red jerseys harried and hassled them and made it difficult for them to clear their lines.
A blockdown tested Ronan O’Mahony’s reactions as he gathered it before sprinting upfield, making good ground and putting the pressure back on the Cardiff defence. An offside in front of the posts gave Munster a penalty which Rory successfully kicked between the posts to level the scores at 13-13 after 67 minutes.
When play resumed Ireland Under 20 lock Fineen Wycherley made his senior debut, replacing Robin Copeland and requiring Dave to return to the back row with Conor packing down at “8” as he had the previous week. Kevin O’Byrne also came on to replace Rhys Marshall as hooker.
As the clock ticked down Munster kept testing the defence with great breaks by Dave O’Callaghan, Dave Kilcoyne and Ronan O’Mahony but they were finding it difficult to breach the Cardiff 22m line. Rory Scannell dropped back into the pocket and took the pass from Duncan Williams to break the deadlock with a brave and successful drop goal, his second of the season and as vital as the one he scored in Belfast. It is fantastic to see such confidence and maturity under pressure!
With four minutes remaining it was crucial to keep cool heads and not concede a penalty while getting out of their own half as quickly as possible. Ronan O’Mahony duly obliged, driving Hoeata back over the half-way line. The Blues were forced to play deeper in their own half. Saili put in a big tackle and this time it was Conor Oliver who spotted the defenders were not committed to the ruck giving him a clear run to the line which he duly exploited.
Rory Scannell had a straightforward conversion to make it 13 – 23. Unfortunately, Saili had injured himself in that tackle so Dan Goggin came into midfield for the final minutes.
Jaco Taute was awarded Man of the Match for leading the defensive line so well. Unfortunately, we could not hear what he had to say but judging by the reaction on twitter he endeared himself even further to the Red Army. (I later found this summary on the Limerick Leader)
Coincidentally Munster ended up with the same points (23) as in the home fixture but this time secured a very welcome win and took all four points instead of 1. While the performance was error strewn at times with multiple good attacking positions wasted due to a lack of clinical execution you had to take account of the conditions, the impact of players playing out of position and the Cardiff defence. Their back row of Cook, Navidi and Nick Williams were immense. As Rassie said during the week the time for experimentation won’t be during the knock-out stages so I am sure that while unplanned the different combinations tested during the game will help his team selection for later in the season.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Aled Summerhill, Willis Halaholo, Steven Shingler, Tom James; Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams (capt); Corey Domachowski, Matthew Rees, Anton Peikrishvili, George Earle, Jarrad Hoeata, Macauley Cook, Nick Williams, Josh Navidi. Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Marc Thomas, Taufa’ao Filise, James Down, Sion Bennett, Tomos Williams, Garyn Smith, Rhun Williams.
Munster: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony, Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Darren O’Shea, Billy Holland – capt.; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Robin Copeland. Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Peter McCabe, Brian Scott, Fineen Wycherley, Conor Oliver, Abrie Griesel, Dan Goggin, Francis Saili.
Match stats from ESPN are here and show how Munster dominated possession and territory.
A selection of Match reports: Wales Online here, The42.ie here and from the Cardiff Blues own site here with Rassie’s post game comments included in the Examiner article here (he applauds Rory for taking the drop kick but thinks “we might start practising those because I didn’t think the flight on that ball was too great!”)
It felt quite different to a European away trip, especially at Dublin airport where I did not spot another member of the Red Army on Saturday. There were several on my flight back on the Sunday. Regular reader Olive had been in touch to arrange to meet me at Bristol airport as she and Mell were also going to Cardiff for the game and they live quite close to the airport. It was lovely to meet them in person and find out more about their love of rugby. Olive has shown her resourcefulness also to secure tickets for the quarter-final on April 1st through a friend living in France who did a day trip to Toulouse to buy tickets for her from their allocation! Now all she needs to do is to sort out how to get to Cork after the game.
Regular reader and weekly commenter Peter had bought tickets for the four of us so we arranged to meet him in a pub near the grounds. He was delighted to inform me that the tickets were on offer of “4 for the price of 3” so it only cost us £15 each. He introduced me to another Peter, Glenn and Judith – all in their Munster gear – as he encouraged them to check out my blog. Judith was telling me that she is going to the Treviso game in April. I learnt about the term “jack” for people from the Swansea area which reminded me about how some of us “culchies” would refer to the Dubs as jackeens! There was plenty of space when we went into the grounds. Peter hung his large red flag from the barrier in front of us and donned his Young Munster hat to keep warm. Olive had brought flags for us to wave also to add to the splash of red colour on halfway.
I had been to the 2004 and 2008 European finals in Cardiff along with Celtic Cup final in 2003 but all had been played in the Millennium stadium. It is now called the Principality stadium but I had to ask who were the sponsors as it sounded like a government body but Olive told me that they are a building society! I would have seen games from the Arms Park many times on TV but it was only when I was there that I appreciated how the South stand is tucked under the larger stadium. It makes for some interesting wind patterns I expect. The roof over the north terrace provided some protection from the elements.
I read that the attendance was 6,546, there was certainly plenty of space on the terrace. The Cardiff season ticket holder I was chatting to did not know who they were playing, the team were warming up at the time in their purple gear which would not be an obvious Munster colour I guess.
After the game Peter introduced me to Malcolm and they discussed setting up a facebook page or something for Welsh based supporters and visiting members of the Red Army to plan similar co-ordination next season. Or later this season if we end up with an away Pro12 semi-final in Wales. Ospreys will host Leinster on the weekend of April 8th which could be a key game for Munster and our home semi-final ambitions if we can maintain the winning habit to the end of this season!
On the walk to the railway station Peter was telling me how he had played against Phil Orr and remembered coming to Dublin to play at Bective and Wanderers RFC. He is still involved with his local club and was helping to repair the damage done by the recent storms there last week.
Super match photos taken by Daryl Feehely are on his Flickr page and a selection of them are also posted on the MRSC Facebook page. Thanks Daryl for letting me include them here also.
Next Sunday I plan to go to the B&I Cup quarter final in Cork which pits Munster A against Ulster A. It will be another good opportunity to see the younger academy prospects coming through and entry is free for MRSC members!
I had a laugh out loud moment reading Ronan O’Gara’s column in the Irish Examiner on Friday when he focused on Wales v Ireland but finished with mention of watching the Schools Cup: “I was aghast at the state of the bazzers, the creases, the combovers and coiffures. Gentlemen, control yourselves please.” Wait till his boys are that age, I wonder what the fashion will be then!