Playing with wind advantage in the first half meant the pressure was on Munster A to build a good lead before the break. Their cause was greatly helped by excellent place kicking by David Johnston whose 100% record on the day in difficult conditions provided 16 points including the only (3) points of the entire second half when the vast majority of the wind assisted action was deep in the other half! He got Munster on the scoreboard after just three minutes. Ulster missed their first chance to equalize but Brett Herron made no mistake from his second effort which was in front of the posts in the 8th minute.
A second penalty kick was successfully put between the posts by Johnston after 22 minutes but Munster took advantage when Ulster kicked out on the full. From that lineout position in the Ulster half they went through the phases and eventually found a gap which Darren O’Shea exploited to score the opening try.
Shortly afterwards the lively scrumhalf John Poland – who played in the Under 20 Six Nations for Ireland last season – made a great break. When the ball came out to Dan Goggin playing on the wing his pass was knocked on by Conor Joyce and deemed to be a yellow card offence. The penalty was kicked to touch and from the lineout the pack mauled forward.
Play moved infield and then back out to where centre Sam Arnold scored on the wing. David Johnston nailed the difficult conversion to make it 20-3.
Five minutes later another penalty was awarded against Ulster for not releasing and it was again successfully kicked to make it 23-3.
Several kicks got caught in the wind and sailed backwards while one of Johnston’s restarts went out on the full but the most bizarre kick was when Ulster had a penalty in front of the posts but opted to kick for touch. Greg O’Shea reacted well when the kick was well short and raced upfield, taking play away from the danger zone.
I moved to the warmer east terrace for the second half (the disadvantage was that the sun was in my eyes!) and waited hopefully for some good action photo opportunities there but given the wind there was not much action down the Dolphin end of the pitch! Ulster had one of the best scoring opportunities when their lively scrumhalf Dave Shanahan took a quick tap penalty and went flying up the east wing about the hour mark. Thankfully the cover defense managed to get to him and forced him into touch giving Duncan Casey who had come on for Kevin O’Byrne his first lineout in a Munster jersey since his knee injury. The defense was solid all afternoon and was the bedrock for the victory while the maul and scrum were also good platforms for Munster and there were some good aerial battles also under the high ball. Without the benefit of a big screen I could not see who had made that and other crucial tackles but they will be pleased by how they performed against the wind.
With stoppages due to injury and multiple penalties there was not a great flow to the game. Munster did get into the Dolphin end towards the end of the half and their pressure eventually paid off when they won a penalty.
Another successful kick by David Johnston in the closing minutes were the only points scored in the second half.
Munster A: Stephen Fitzgerald (McMahon 66); Dan Goggin, Sam Arnold (Faloon 76), Cian Bohane – capt., Greg O’Shea; David Johnston, John Poland (Griesel 64); Peter McCabe (O’Connor 62), Kevin O’Byrne (Casey 53), Brian Scott (Burke 62); John Madigan (Foley 64), Darren O’Shea; Sean O’Connor, Conor Oliver, Robin Copeland. Replacements: Duncan Casey, Liam O’Connor, Rory Burke, Bailey Faloon, John Foley, Abrie Griesel, Steven McMahon.
Ulster A Team:
(15-9): David Busby, Aaron Cairns, Jack Owens, Mark Best (C), Conor Kelly, Brett Herron, Dave Shanahan;
(1-8): Tommy O’Hagan, Jonny Murphy, Ricky Lutton (for Kane 72), Pete Browne, Alex Thompson, Nick Timoney, Conor Joyce, Matthew Rea. Replacements (16-22): Zack McCall (for Murphy 14), Ross Kane (for Lutton 52), John Donnan (for Thompson HT), Conall Boomer (for Joyce 52), Andy Magrath (for Herron 78), Mark Keane (for Boomer 74), John Creighton (for Shanahan 78).
Video highlights posted to the Munster Rugby YouTube channel
I have saved up the other photos I took at the game to the blog Facebook Page. For those of you who were also there what other incidents or performances stood out for you?
I arrived at Musgrave Park about half an hour before kickoff and there were only about 3 people on the East Terrace! The rain was blowing in there so I headed over to the shelter of the stand to meet Imelda, Bernie, Tony and Edward who had driven over from Limerick. I sat in front of them in the media seats – well I was referred to as the “resident blogger” on Twitter during the week so I am sure that is one of the perks! No one kicked me out anyway and it was handy having a table but I prefer to be closer to the action.
My former work colleague Ed – who I had not met in several years – arrived shortly afterwards so it was lovely to catch-up in person. He was there in his official capacity for the MAR. It was Ed who encouraged me to sign up for a season ticket in 2005 despite me thinking it would be a waste due to living in Dublin. Look what you started Ed! It was also nice to meet up with Patrick, Jennifer and her 2 sisters who had travelled from Clare. Patrick has been so supportive of this blog (and all things Munster) through his retweets and shares on Boards.
Seated across the aisle from us the Scannells were there to support the team. Niall and Rory cut their teeth for Munster in the British and Irish Cup and I expect several of the Academy players on show today will also make the step up to the senior ranks. Some of them have already made a good impression this season in the Maori game and during the Six Nations while others who helped Munster qualify for the quarter final were unavailable for selection due to playing with the Under 20s this weekend in Wales. The semi-final will be the weekend of April 1st against Ealing Trailfinders. Details to be confirmed but Munster will have home advantage.