The crowd were into it from the start, cheering as Keith Earls soared to claim the ball before protesting a nasty tackle on Duncan Williams in the opening minutes. Not only was it late but as it entailed a forearm to the throat it resulted in a yellow card for number 8 Cros. The resultant penalty was kicked to touch. Another infringement gave Munster the perfect launch platform of a 5m lineout when they also opted to kick that penalty to touch. Tommy O’Donnell claimed the ball and the maul was initially repelled before getting up a head of steam. CJ peeled off, taking a few defenders with him. Dave Kilcoyne carried, then Jaco Taute driven on by Rory Scannell. Another surge by Kilcoyne was stopped short but his fellow prop John Ryan took on the ball and launched himself towards the line to score a wonderful try right beside the post. Tyler Bleyendaal added the 2 points to make it 7-0 in the fourth minute.
Peter O’Mahony set the tone when he stole his first Toulouse lineout of the day a few minutes later to put Munster back onto the front foot and keep them in the right area of the pitch.
Fantastic mauling by the pack won Munster another penalty inside the Toulouse 22 which Tyler slotted between the posts to make it 10-0 with 2 minutes left before Toulouse were restored to 15 players. In the scrums Dave Kilcoyne took on the huge Census Johnson and put him under pressure.
Peter stole another lineout right in front of us this time, what a super athlete he is and so competitive on the opposition throw as he just got his finger tips to it.
Toulouse won a penalty on half way. “Take the 3 points” urged Tony, as he proceeded to place his order for “Guinness, Murphys and Heineken” They took his advice with the strong wind behind them but the kick fell short. However, when an easier penalty kick was awarded in the 19th minute Doussain got them on the scoreboard (10-3).
A high tackle on Kilcoyne won another penalty for Munster which Tyler kicked to make it 13-3 approaching the half hour mark. Gael Fickou came very close to scoring a try but the ball went over the dead ball line before he could get to it. Jaco Taute was next to earn the ire of the referee when he was deemed to be not supporting his own weight when trying to turnover possession. Doussain also kicked that between the posts to reduce the deficit to 7 points.
Coming to the end of the first half there was a great break by the centre partnership of Jaco and Rory which ended in a touch down by Tyler but the TMO adjudged that there was a knock-on so Toulouse had a chance to clear their lines from a scrum. Duncan Williams was determined not to make it easy for them and blocked down Huget’s clearance but unfortunately the ball bounced out of play. He got plenty of “well done Duncan” plaudits as he ran back into position. He was unlucky another blockdown in the second half did not yield a score, not sure who was deemed to be offside at tha time.
It was Toulouse who had the last say on the scoreline before the break with their third successful penalty kick to make it 13-9. Not a great lead but given they were playing against the wind a lead of any kind was actually a bonus! We just hoped the wind did not die down for the second half as sometimes happens.
An offside in the opening minute of the second half gave Tyler a penalty kick from a central position but from just inside his own half.
It crossed the bar, with not a lot to spare but it restored the seven point lead. A maul unengaged initially by Toulouse then lead to another penalty kicked to touch. From that lineout the ball was transferred quickly from Peter to Tommy for the drive to the line. When it was stopped a quick pop pass to Tyler saw him held up just short, as was Kilcoyne but CJ made no mistake in picking and going for the line to score another valuable try. Chants of “CJ, CJ” rang out as Tyler lined up the conversion. His kick was off target but at 21-9 we were delighted with the excellent start to the second half.
It was a shame to see the wonderful Peter O’Mahony limping as he tried to run off a dead leg before being replaced by recent MOTM winner Dave O’Callaghan. As Dave packed down in front of CJ in the first scrum after the substitution I smiled to see CJ give him an encouraging slap on his backside!
Another penalty awarded on 53” to Munster helped them move to a further three points clear but just a minute later Donnacha and Darren targeted Paul Perez, trying to force him into touch but the winger got the pass away and Maestri was able to take advantage of the resultant gap in the defensive line. The lanky lock in turn offloaded to Perez and I was sure it was forward but play continued and Zebo could not get to him in time to stop him scoring! As every angle was replayed on the big screen we let the officials know our thoughts on the pass but the TMO and Referee JP Doyle were happy that there was no clear evidence from any angle that it had indeed been forward so the try stood and was converted to make it 24-16.
Keith Earls was replaced by Andrew Conway on the wing and shortly afterwards 2/3s of the front row were also substituted with Rhys and James coming on for Niall and Dave.
CJ required ankle strapping and while he played on for another while he was struggling, particularly at the back of the scrum. Jack O’Donoghue came on as CJ went off to a standing ovation. I hope his parents attending their first game in Thomond Park enjoyed the experience, albeit I am sure they were concerned to see him injured.
With 15 minutes remaining the momentum seemed to be with Toulouse. The blatant forward pass resulting in a try and the injuries seemed to deflate the crowd a little as it brought Toulouse back into the game. There was a nervousness that if the visitors scored again we would be in for a very tense finale. However, the roar of approval when, after going through multiple phases, – met with resolute, aggressive defence at each one – Toulouse lost possession was as loud as if Munster had scored. It was like the 16th man remembered we had a role to play and the chants of “Mun-ster Mun-ster” rang out which gave a lift to the players as they continued to put their bodies on the line, refusing to let Toulouse through. Their pressure ultimately forced Toulouse to make an error and the momentum swung back towards the home team.
A penalty on 73 minutes was again kicked by Tyler to put 11 points between the teams and we were confident that the team would see it out from there but the icing on the cake was yet to come! Munster kept Toulouse pinned back and a big tackle by Jaco Taute knocked the ball loose. Darren got a toe to it to kick it ahead and there was no one there to stop him as despite stumbling after scooping to pick up the ball he touched down over the line to score his first European try! Tyler converted it and you could feel the celebratory mood start as there was enough time for Toulouse to overcome the deficit.
The final subs were launched, including Angus Lloyd making his European debut at scrum half. Duncan got a great send-off as he left the pitch which was well deserved. While losing world-class Conor Murray pre kick-off was disappointing, Duncan had a great game and his performance made him a contender for man of the match but that honour went to a delighted John Ryan. The tighthead is having a superb season including his first senior international caps. Not only did get the basics right against a very beefy French pack but his work-rate and tackle count throughout 78 minutes was exemplary and his try was superb. Special mention to Niall Scannell also, what a game to mark his 50th senior cap and what a season he has had for Munster and Ireland.
A Munster scrum in a great position set up a super break by Rory Scannell who after being tackled was free to go again to bring play close to the 5m line. Saili went in at scrumhalf and a lovely pass by Tyler found Andrew Conway on the wing to score the “bonus” point try. Tyler’s successful conversion was the final kick of the game.
We waited patiently while the team protocols were followed before the players came back out to salute the Red Army. Earls walked past with Ella May on his shoulders, Simon Zebo stopped to throw his boots into the crowd, the ball boys lined up in from the west terrace south to be thanked by the players.
The semi-final will be another tough game, hopefully the injuries will be healed by then. There will be two league games before then as Glasgow and Ulster visit Cork and Limerick respectively. They will put it up to Munster as they fight it out to secure top 4 status.
As we left we had a few words with Diarmuid, John and Seanie who were saying they would make the trip to Murrayfield for the semi-final if needed but were expecting a trip to the Aviva as it has turned out to be with Saracens defeating Glasgow in their quarter final. Indeed, home advantage proved decisive again with all four home teams progressing to the semi-finals, justifying their seeding in the pool stages. Hopefully home advantage will work in our favour again in the semi-final!
Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute (Saili 78), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls (Conway 56); Tyler Bleyendaal, Duncan Williams (Lloyd 78); Dave Kilcoyne (Cronin 58), Niall Scannell (Marshall 58), John Ryan (Archer 78); Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony capt. (O’Callaghan 49), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (O’Donoghue 65). Replacements: Rhys Marshall, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Dave O’Callaghan, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Angus Lloyd, Francis Saili, Andrew Conway.
Toulouse: Maxime Médard; Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Gael Fickou, Paul Perez; Jean-Marc Doussain, Sébastien Bézy; Cyril Baille, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Census Johnston, Joe Tekori, Yoann Maestri, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Yacouba Camara, Francois Cros. Replacements: Talalelei Gray for Dusautoir (6-15 mins), Julien Marchand for Ghiraldini, Dorian Aldegheri for Johnston (both 50 mins), Gurthro Steenkamp for Baille (59 mins), Piula Faasalele for Tekori, Luke McAlister for Fritz, Arthur Bonneval for Huget (all 69 mins). Not used: Samuel Marques
The ESPN stats show how finely balance the game was until those final minutes. Billy, Donnacha and John all contributed 12 tackles while Tommy made a whopping 17!
Highlights and post game interview with Peter O’Mahony on this link from Sky Sports
Daryl was there and posted his photos on Flickr here. All photos used in blog are my own this week.
The social side…
The Red Army has always been a huge driving factor behind Munster and it is great to see the “sold out” signs and demand for tickets this season. The trade in face value tickets was heart-warming. I was involved myself in facilitating 2 tickets for Bernie through a friend of a friend in Celbridge plus a ticket for David from John – when his usual source gave that ticket to a family member who had returned from Canada for the game. I was glad to offer a lift to the game from Thurles to Eamon when I saw his request for same on facebook. It was nice to have company and we reviewed the highlights of the game on the journey home. In typical Irish fashion we quickly discovered a connection within about 2 degrees of separation. During the week I had also been in contact with another David who was excited to be going to his first game in Thomond after many years of supporting the team. He had some logistics questions I was able to help him with as he is visually impaired. The camaraderie amongst the red army is fantastic!
When I arrived about 3.30 the MRSC bar was packed for the Leinster v Wasps game. I met Oisin and his parents and had a quick chat with Carmel when I was looking for Babs to wish her a happy birthday. After her visit for the Ireland game she was aware of my collection of elephants and so she created this unique Munster elephant for me as a thank you gift, isn’t it fabulous?
I headed down to the terrace at half time to discover that some people had been there queueing when the turnstiles opened at 3pm so there was a good crowd there before me, 105 minutes before kick-off! It was fun to stand on the terrace with Imelda and Tony, listening to our voiceovers on the MRSC renewal video – the WT was well represented in that! Dave Foley was interviewed pitchside and spoke of how he has enjoyed his time in Munster but was looking forward to new challenges in Pau. Donnacha Ryan’s contract status got a lot of coverage during the week and it would be disappointing to lose him from Munster but if he does go, hopefully he will have some additional silverware to take with him. You could see he was not distracted by all that talk during the game, but was his usual intimidating, enforcing presence, racking up 12 tackles. We enjoyed the choir and the Hit Machine drummers / dancers as we watched the teams go through their preparations.
Paul had let me know that Pauline and he had to go to a funeral but that their tickets would be used by his grandson Sam and daughter-in-law Ciera. They had been given clear directions on where to go on the terrace to meet up with us which they duly followed. I told Sam after the win that as he was a lucky mascot they are welcome back anytime. One of the benefits of membership includes bringing children for free to many of the league games so maybe we will see him again soon.
The atmosphere was great, with singing, cheering, chanting, roars of “heave” and plenty of input to assist the match officials! Yet the silence for the kickers was also notable, although at one stage a siren blared out as an emergency vehicle went by. Those on the east side were experiencing tee shirt weather but had to shield their eyes from the strong sun while we were a lot cooler on the west. A beautiful rainbow appeared from time to time, maybe the crock of gold will be presented later this season.
During the game when we were spotted on TV, George confirmed that the camera puts on ten pounds after seeing a picture his friend messaged of him on the big screen! It was great to hear from Rob in Manchester who also recognised the gang on TV from his visit for the Leicester game. He has renewed his overseas membership and is now planning a day trip to the Aviva for the semi-final.
As I was leaving the terrace I heard someone call my name and it was great to meet Derry and his brother-in-law for a chat. We worked in the same building a few years ago but neither of us work there now so I was pleased to hear that he is still reading my words. Maybe one of these days he will prove it by leaving a comment 😊
After the game I managed to meet Mr and Mrs Chips, Arno, Steve & Fiona, John, Joe, Audrey and the MRSC Dublin representatives – Kevin, Paul, Bruce and Mark. Bernie and Edward arrived up not just to tell us of their flag-bearing exploits on the field and their upgrade to Corporate lunch etc. which they had won when they renewed their season tickets but to prove that some people have all the luck, what did they have in a bag but Simon Zebo’s blue boots, thrown up into the stands completed with dirt from Thomond pitch! Congratulations!
In case you missed it my short blog about the A team’s semi-final win is here. Check out my other photos from that game and the Toulouse game on the blog facebook page. Remember you can subscribe like Derry and many others to get an email every week I publish a blog and/or you can follow the blog on Facebook or Twitter. A busy few weeks ahead but isn’t it great to be in contention on all three fronts.