Congratulations to Munster A who secured a home final in the British and Irish Cup. A try by Sam Arnold and two from the in-form Conor Oliver plus a penalty and conversion apiece by Bill and David Johnston secured the win but an injury to Bill in the first half was a real lowlight. With the score at 10-3 Bill Johnston raced into the Ealing 22 and when he was brought down Robin Copeland who was running a support line quickly changed focus to a different support role as the stretcher was immediately summoned. Bill’s brother David and captain Cian Bohane went over to support him as the medics arrived to work on Bill. When David walked away his team mates offered him a comforting arm around the shoulder or pat on the back and he did really well to compose himself to move into the number ten role and play on. As Bill was stretchered off it was good to see him give us the “thumbs up” and he even clapped in acknowledgement of the heart-felt applause from those present who were so disappointed for him. He had just come back from injury to play in the latter rounds of the Under 20s six nations and this looked to be serious. According to Munster’s report he was taken to hospital to get his ankle injury checked. We all wish him a speedy recovery, hopefully in time for the JRWC. (Update April 3: Bill has a fractured fibula)
It took a while for either side to dominate the game. Penalties at scrum time and for offside kept Munster A from stringing phases together but there were some great moments including some wonderful fielding of high balls and offloads which drew applause from those watching in the stand. Robin Copeland took a free kick quickly and set Conor Oliver off with John Poland in support. When the latter was tackled we appealed that it was high but to no avail.
Ealing lost possession at a lineout some minutes later and Munster quickly albeit unorthodoxly moved the ball to the opposite wing with some interesting basketball type moves!
The strong breeze made some box kicks a negative territory gain! Dan Goggin and David Johnston excelled under the high ball, showing great aerial skills. There was a particularly excellent take, dummy to evade the onrushing tackler and burst of acceleration by David to set up an excellent attack with Alex Wootton in support only for the latter to be called back for a forward pass.
The first points were on the board after 16 minutes when Bill Johnston kicked a penalty between the posts. Four minutes later from a lineout Conor Oliver burst through and while he was brought down short of the line a quick recycle saw Sam Arnold in to score.
The Munster scrum was repeatedly penalised when they tried to get the shove on and the referee issued a warning to Peter McCabe. It was the 26th minute before Ealing scored – a penalty kicked by Rory Clegg when Munster pulled down a maul.
After the aforementioned injury to Bill, play resumed with a scrum to Ealing as Bill was deemed to have knocked on in the tackle. When their clearance kick went into touch it gave Munster the attacking platform of a lineout. From the subsequent phases suddenly Kevin O’Byrne charged forward. His pass set up Conor Oliver for a try which David converted to make it 17-3.
Rory Clegg scored three penalties in the first half for Ealing, two of which came in quick succession in the final minutes to keep them in contention at 17-9.
It was great to meet Niall at half time as I had not seen him since an A game a few seasons ago. He was impressed by Conor, Dan, David and Darren and like me and probably all present or following on Twitter so disappointed for Bill.
I was glad I moved to the other end of the stand for the 2nd half as most of the action was there including shortly after the break a super intercept and race to the line from his own 10m line by the excellent Conor Oliver who showed great pace over that distance to keep clear of the chasing defenders. The conversion attempt was just wide.
Stephen Fitzgerald was excellent in the air and on counter-attack to help keep Ealing pinned back in their own half. Robin Copeland, another who had a good game especially with ball in hand, infringed as Munster kept pressure on in the Ealing 10m. Due to repeated Munster penalties the referee showed him a yellow card. Munster managed to remain in the Ealing half despite being down a man and even won a penalty which David kicked to make it 25-9. It was great to see Mark Chisholm take to the pitch shortly afterwards after over a year out, recovering from concussion.
Ealing came close to scoring but were held up. From the five metre scrum they won a penalty. However the defence held firm and eventually Ealing knocked on. By now with the changes on both sides the Munster scrum began to dominate and won a penalty as they drove Ealing back. A great kick brought Munster from their own 22 back into the Ealing half. Ealing had a final opportunity late in the game but Munster denied them any score in the second half and were worthy winners.
Munster A: David Johnston; Dan Goggin, Sam Arnold, Cian Bohane – capt., Alex Wootton; Bill Johnston (Fitzgerald 31), John Poland (Stafford 74); Peter McCabe (O’Connor 60), Kevin O’Byrne (Casey 60), Brian Scott (Burke 70); John Madigan (Chisholm 53), Darren O’Shea; Sean O’Connor (Coombes 75), Conor Oliver, Robin Copeland. Replacements: Duncan Casey, Liam O’Connor, Rory Burke, Mark Chisholm, Gavin Coombes, Jack Stafford, Stephen Fitzgerald.
Ealing Trailfinders: 1 Will Davis, 2 Alun Walker, 3 Lewis Thiede, 4 Llewelyn Jones, 5 Glen Townson, 6 Willie Ryan, 7 Rayn Smid, 8 Mark Bright (captain). 9 Luke Carter, 10 Rory Clegg, 11 Phil Chesters, 12 Luke Peters, 13 Lewis Jones, 14 Curtis Wilson, 15 Will Harries
Replacements: 16 Matt Cornish, 17 James Gibbons, 18 Sam Rodman, 19 Harry Casson, 20 Arthur Ellis, 21 Josh Davies, 22 Aaron Penberthy
While the game was scrappy at times with too many penalties conceded it was a well deserved win. Given that a key role of the A team during the week would have been to simulate Toulouse plays against the senior team while several of them would have hoped to be involved against Toulouse themselves rather than focus on their own game they deserve additional credit.
The future looks bright for the Munster Academy. Billy Holland wrote in the player diary this week about playing in a B&I Cup game the night before the Toulouse visit three seasons ago and how many of that team had now progressed to the senior team. I’ll be there to cheer the A team on again on Friday April 21st at 7.30 in IIP / Musgrave Pk) in another double header weekend for the As and the seniors.
In case you missed this – a raw, honest and revealing interview with Jerry Flannery by Sky Sports – extended version here: