13 Comments

Final Dress Rehearsal: Munster: 22 – Ulster: 20

The strong team announced on Friday – albeit still missing CJ and Conor – set up the inter-pro as a dress rehearsal for the European semi-final. The late changes required allowed both Munster scrum-half under-studies (Angus Lloyd and Abrie Griesel) to audition for the potential bench spot should Conor Murray not recover in time for the showdown with Saracens. It was an ideal opportunity to see how they would perform under pressure as Ulster, desperate to secure a top four league finish came to storm fortress Thomond.
Ian Keatley made a welcome return to action after the injury he sustained in Cardiff to start alongside Angus Lloyd. Ian sent the kick-off towards Charles Piutau. Darren Sweetnam gave chase and collided with Piutau. We hoped he had not hurt himself but as he got to his feet and took his position in the wrong backline (i.e. alongside the Ulster backs) we could tell he wasn’t right. Paddy Jackson encouraged him back to the other side but as play moved away it was clear he had no idea where he was supposed to be, or maybe even where he was. The medics reacted quickly and he went off for a HIA with Andrew Conway taking his place on the wing. Hopefully Darren will make a good and speedy recovery, it was not nice to see him affected like that and it shows how easy it can be to do damage, even without being knocked out.
We protested a high tackle on Keatley by Henderson. The referee awarded a penalty, kicked to touch by Rory. Peter O’Mahony won possession to set up the maul which made good ground but when they went wide Ulster turned over possession and kicked downfield.  Keatley did well to get back to secure the ball but was penalised for holding on. A scuffle ensued, involving both #8s with Peter getting involved as he grabbed Reidy by the shirt collar and flung him away.

Paddy Jackson kicked for touch to give Ulster a 5m lineout. They got their maul moving with great momentum to cross the line for a try awarded to Rory Best which Jackson converted to make it 0-7 after 5 minutes.

Munster responded quickly. Zebo soared to claim the high ball and Angus found Killer who charged through the midfield before the ball was recycled. Niall Scannell offloaded out of the tackle to Peter who exploited the gap and sold a dummy. Earls took the inside pass before returning the ball to Peter who this time found Angus on his outside. He had a bit of work to do to get through the defence but he managed to cut back between Peter and Keith and his momentum helped him to score a try on his first start for the senior team. Watching the replay it was surprising to see how little effort Piutau had made to get back to defend after being turned by O’Mahony. Maybe he had picked up a knock. Ian Keatley converted to make it 7-all after 7 minutes.

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Angus Lloyd on his way to score the first Munster try on his first senior start – photo by Daryl Feehely

Ulster showed some great offloading skills to work their way back into the Munster 22. Saili thought he was away with an intercept but play was called back for a penalty (offside) which Paddy Jackson kicked between the posts to make it 7-10 after 13 minutes.

Ruan Pienaar showed his international class blocking down a box-kick to pin Munster back. Angus recovered well and shortly after put in a great grubber kick to get Munster into the opposition half. Munster managed to steal the Ulster lineout ball but couldn’t control it and Paddy Jackson made a great break back into Munster territory before Earls and O’Donoghue dragged him down. A few phases later a high tackle by Billy gave Jackson another kicking opportunity but he was off target.

From the restart, Conway gave chase, causing Piutau to take his eye off the ball and drop it, to our delight. However the Munster scrum was turned and Ulster regained possession.

Ulster made another break resulting in a penalty against Donnacha Ryan which they kicked to touch. The maul defence worked much better that time as we roared them on to resist the drive. The ref called to Ulster to use it. When they did not Munster were awarded another scrum on their 5m line. This time Ulster were penalised for binding and again there were some afters by the front rows.

Another good grubber kick got Munster into the right part of the pitch again and earned more applause for Angus. Tremendous pressure on an Ulster scrum lead to a Munster penalty which Ian Keatley put between the posts to level the scores on 36 minutes at 10-10.

A super pass by Rory Scannell put Andrew Conway into space and he raced forward before offloading to Saili. Killer took it on and thought he had scored but the referee ruled it was held up. Several 5m scrum resets and four minutes later the half-time whistle went.

The adapted rugby displays featuring Garryowen Lions v Seapoint Dragons and Mallow Barbarians v De La Salle Palmerstown were very lively. Niamh Briggs and Niamh Kavanagh were interviewed about the Womens Rugby World Cup as they brought the trophy along to promote the competition.

A board with the slogan #NoClubWithoutU was produced at half-time also and those of us within reach were delighted to add our messages and names to it. Messages of support can also be emailed to supporterspro@munsterrugby.ie

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Half time collage – the board of good luck messages after signatures were added by the WT faithful, the 2 Niamh’s with the WRWC trophy and some of the tag rugby half-time participants.

Jacob Stockdale thought he had added to his season’s tally of tries in the 44th minute but the TMO confirmed a forward pass in the lead up so it was dis-allowed. Jack was replaced by Jean Deysel who packed down at 8 for the subsequent scrum, showing his versatility.

A turnover won by Rory Best was kicked downfield, resulting in a 5m lineout for Munster deep in their own half. Rory Scannell put in a great clearance kick to bring play back towards halfway. Abrie Griesel of Young Munster came on for Angus after 50 minutes while Ulster also made several changes including Best for a HIA. Trimble made a super break and almost got to the line with McCloskey in support. Munster were penalised and Paddy Jackson took the three points of offer to make it 10-13 in the 52nd minute.

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Abrie tries to block down Ruan’s box kick – photo by Daryl Feehely

We were on our feet cheering when Saili got on the end of a long pass by Rory Scannell, fended off one tackler, sidestepped between three others converging on him before offloading to Keith Earls.

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Saili makes a break – photo by Daryl

Man of the match Keith finished off the move to score a try, putting Munster ahead for the first time (15 -13). The conversion attempt by Tyler went wide.

A second block down of the day by Ruan put the pressure back on the home side. A sliced kick by Zebo compounded the situation and ended up with Ulster regaining the lead through a Luke Marshall try. Rory Scannell had been injured in a tackle leading up to that and had to be helped off. With no back replacements left it was Rhys Marshall who came on with Peter O’Mahony moving into the backline at times. Credit to the team for keeping their defensive shape despite the disruption. A penalty awarded in the 68th minute was kicked to touch. Dave O’Callaghan claimed the lineout. Ulster tried to repel the maul but the Munster pack adjusted and drove forward before going to ground. A few pick and goes later Dave was driven over the line by James Cronin to score the third try for Munster. The successful conversion by Tyler put them back into the lead (22-20.)

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Dave O’Callaghan, driven on by James Cronin scores the decisive third try – photo by Daryl Feehely

A two point lead is always nerve-wrecking. A penalty or drop-goal would see victory snatched away but the clearance kick by Abrie sent the restart back almost to half-way. We got in some good singing practice with another rendition of “Stand up and fight” to encourage the team to see the game out. Ulster seemed to be camped in the Munster half as the clock slowly proceeded past the 75 minute mark. Chants of “Munster, Munster” seemed to give the team a lift during that siege and their discipline was impressive. A tackle by Abrie knocked the ball out of Henderson’s grasp to give Munster a scrum – the ideal way to wind down the clock further I thought! Rhys Marshall packed down as flanker.  One reset got the clock to the 78th minute but then a knock on under pressure from Pienaar handed the put-in back to Ulster for a last throw of the dice. Cool heads were required on the pitch, whatever about on the terraces. Tackles were made, discipline was held as were our breaths. Pienaar passed to Jackson but his attempted drop goal was off target and the final whistle sounded.

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A reminder of the loss suffered by Ulster with the tragic death of Nevin Spence, his father and brother. Photo by Gayl

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam (Andrew Conway ’2), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’67), Keith Earls; Ian Keatley (Tyler Bleyendaal ’44), Angus Lloyd (Abrie Griesel ’51); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’56), Niall Scannell, John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’67); Donnacha Ryan (Dave O’Callaghan ’61), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue (Jean Deysel ’45).

ULSTER: Jacob Stockdale; Andrew Trimble (captain), Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding (Stuart McCloskey ’51), Charles Piutau (Craig Gilroy ’61); Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Andrew Warwick (Callum Black ’63), Rory Best (Rob Herring ’51), Wiehahn Herbst (Rodney Ah You ’74); Kieran Treadwell, Alan O’Connor; Iain Henderson, Chris Henry (Clive Ross ’28 (Robbie Diack ’70)), Sean Reidy.  Replacement not used: Paul Marshall.

Match report from The42.ie is here.

Daryl’s full set of fabulous action and crowd photos are here while more of the ones I took are on the blog Facebook page

Post match thoughts of Rassie Erasmus are here

Simon Zebo was wearing the player microphone and passed a comment about “watching too much UFC” when there was a scuffle! While he was telling Angus to get the ball away quickly at one point he also apologised for getting in his way.

Two tough games with different combinations tried as they dealt with unexpected injuries (to Tyler last week and Rory this week) will hopefully stand to Munster who will need to raise the intensity and accuracy to a higher level next weekend as the stats show.

Stats

Stats from ESPN

The full game without commentary is available here – you can hear the players and referee more clearly as a result and get a sense of how many “assistant” referees are on the pitch as the players tell him about knock-ons and other infringements throughout. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyXJ8INiWew

The social side

Eamon shortened the journey to Limerick as he was glad of a lift again. On the terrace Mike kindly gave me his spot by the wall. We were not sure whether to slag or congratulate Paul who told us that his wife had “let” him off to the game despite preparing to host lunch for 24 the following day! George arrived with some friends and I was delighted to hear that he had already encouraged them to check out this blog 😊 so looking forward to some hits from Perth and other places closer to home.

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Daryl’s latest photo of the early arrivals on the WT. There was some messing going on at the time..

Driving to work on Thursday morning I got a shock when over the radio I recognised Tony’s voice, followed by my own, Imelda, then James and finally the sales pitch by Conor Murray to advertise that the Supporters Club is open for new members! It would have been very cool to get a photo with the four of us and Conor but we got the next best thing in the MRSC bar after the game before the Munster Monster Quiz.

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Team Waterford with 3/4s of the Players team – with Conor, Darren and Mark. Photos by Linda Molloy

Also on the players team were Ronan O’Mahony, Darren O’Shea and Mark Chisholm. I expect the latter two will be involved with the A team in their B&I Cup final on Friday night so I wished Darren well and told him I would be down to cheer them on.

Last season I had been on a Waterford team with Dee and Bruce, friends from MRSC Dublin. They did not need my “services” this time (any link between that and their improvement from 3rd to 2nd?) but they put me in touch with another Waterford team made up of Claire and Eleanor who welcomed Imelda and I to join them. The first round was going well till we lost points on the sinbin question. We had a great second round but faded away in the end. We seemed to pick the wrong option, often after narrowing it down to a 50:50 choice – be it the number of yards for the record penalty kick – between 66 and 72 yards were the 4 options but sure aren’t we metric ladies! Similarly for the number of people who set the Guinness book of record for the largest scrum – the local papers had apparently said over 2,000 but that was not an option. Oh well, we had a laugh and learnt a few things 😊

Before the quiz started I met Paul who will be a few rows behind me in the Aviva next Saturday and caught up with Geraldine. I even got a bear-hug from Mr Chips who had left Belfast at 9.30 for the trek to Limerick and will be back again for the Connacht game. He knows the road well at this stage. Dave Kearney came over to talk to Eleanor and Claire who introduced me. He did not recognise me at first but then the penny dropped and he was very complimentary about my writing which is always nice to hear.

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Joanne from the bar enjoyed photobombing our team photo!

Imelda continues to impress with her latest sewing projects – this is a flag which Eddie and Bernie have taken to all the European Cup finals so for the semi it has been upgraded with details of the silverware won and a tribute to Axel.  It should be some sea of red as the #RedWave hits Dublin on Saturday.  Safe travels to all and good luck to the A team on Friday and the senior team on Saturday.

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Imelda shows the flag she upgraded for Eddie and Bernie. Hope it brings the team luck. Photo by Gayl

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13 comments on “Final Dress Rehearsal: Munster: 22 – Ulster: 20

  1. It has been an extraordinary season…and it’s not over yet! Saturday’s encounter with Ulster exemplifies the spirit of this team and we are behind them all the way. It was an honour to get to sign the board that will be in the dressing room at the Aviva next week. Dublin will be awash with red jerseys next week. #SUAF.

    • To qualify for the last 4 in the 2 senior competitions and the final for the A competition is a fantastic achievement by the hard-working squad and management. They will need to dig deep next weekend and the 16th man, woman and child will have our role to play also as we SUAF. It will be some occasion!

  2. These games are always close ,this one no different. Duncan missing had me worried but Angus Loyd did really well We scored a couple of nice tries and our defence was solid at the end, as its been all year indeed.. Nice to see CJ enjoying himself in the stand. Thanks for you nice summary I usually read them but cant always comment. “Keep it up” PS, roll on the Aviva.

    • Cheers Tony W. Nice to know you are still following along from week to week. I agree with your comments and it will stand to the team to cope with the disruption, holding their defensive structures and discipline! Good to get Angus up to ~87 minutes from his 4 appearances to date. He did well.
      CJ spoke pre game on the pitch but we could not really hear him over on the west side. Hopefully he will be fit for Saturday. Nice to see him enjoying the game with Jean Marie. All the best

  3. Another hard fought win again only downside is the injuries are piling up at the business end of the season. Looking forward to Saturday it should be great occasion and hoping to be reading about another hard fought win again.

    • Cheers Peter, the report today is that Rory may be ok while CJ and Duncan are expected to be fine so keeping our fingers crossed.
      We did have some one sided games this season but I think a tough hard fought win last week and this week is good preparation as long as the bodies get a good recovery too. It’s going to be a long, long week… But great to be in two semi finals this season after the disappointments of last season. Hopefully the A team will bring home a trophy on Friday night to kick start the weekend. Hope to get a blog out about that final on Sat morning before heading to the Aviva. All the best

  4. Hi Gayl

    First of all, that was a seriously heart-stopping game (and I was just a tad woirried for my brother just out of hospital after heart surgery 🙂 – he’s making a good recovery DG).

    But, I would like to say now, before the business end of the season really kicks in. At the launch of the Champions Cup, Rassie made a comment about looking at the draw and looking for “the easy game” and then realising in our group we were the “easy game”. And here we are – one of the last four standing. So whatever happens on Saturday, I suspect only the most naively optimistic Munster fan foresaw a SF place for us, our canpaign has been successful. On paper, Sarries are probably the stronger team, but “on paper” means nothing – we travel in hope. We are also guaranteed a SF in the Pro12 and need two points I think from our last two games to get a home semi. Also in the Final of the B&I. What a season it has been!

    What has impressed me most has been the way the squad players have stood up when they were needed. When we heard that Duncan W had withdrawn before the game on Saturday, there were some worried Munster supporters – he has become an important part of the squad. Given he hasn’t always been the crowd’s favourite (unfairly for some time in my opinion), how good is it that his hard work and persistence is being rewarded with approbation from the fans? But Young Angus certainly played well. Rory S goes off – looked bad, well we have Taute and Saili in the centres and they played together a few weeks ago, so at least it won’t be an untried combination. So what I am saying is, this year has seen Munster build a good squad where a lot of players have been given a chance, and not just in the B&I Cup or even “easier” Pro12 games. Further, we must remember to acknowledge the huge contribution from Axel over the past two years when he was rebuilding the squad and putting in the hard work of getting their skill levels up to the point where this year we actually had a genuine squad with players competing for positions all across the field.

    Unfortunately I won’t be at the Aviva on Saturday as I shall be doing a personal WWI commemoration in Northern France – but we shall be there in spirit. Please can you and your friends to cheer for us?

    • Thanks Olive, good to hear from you. My first blog of the season you might recall was “It’s new dawn, a new day” but even with my glass half full approach I could never have imagined we would be in the knock out stages of all 3 competitions. Last season we were fighting hard just to qualify for Europe. I agree the seeds of the success were sown during Axel’s tenure and Rassie’s verdict of the pool draw was accurate given how we had qualified. The team spirit is immense and that “never say die” attitude has seen many come backs from tough situations this season. The Aviva will be red, loud and proud and maybe we will experience another magical day but whatever happens the lads have done the supporters and Axel’s memory proud this season and will continue to build on it into the future.
      Glad that your brother is making a good recovery too.

  5. Hi Gayl. Congrats, the blog stats milestone 80,000 hits (imminent). Well Done.
    What a difference a year makes with Saracens on red alert for next Sat as Munster are now set to turn Dublin red when the foot soldiers of the red army “The 16th Man” arrive. See you there. To the brave and faithful nothing is impossible. Up munster

    • Cheers Tony, it passed the 80K mark during the night. Isn’t it a sign of how far the team has come this season that qualifying for a semi (probably a home semi) with 2 rounds to go isn’t getting the credit it deserves given how we were battling to secure a top 6 finish last season? Saracens haven’t a good away record against Munster – long may it continue 🙂 #SUAF

      • With the distraction of the British and Irish Lions team announcement over, Saracens have Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis, Maro Itoje & Billy Vunipola selected, while Munster are represented by CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony & Conor Murray, roll on ERCC Semi Final next Saturday. I’ve just collected my Munster car flags from Thomond Park and will be joining Red Army convoys on the motorway as “The 16th Man” invades the capital. Up Munster

      • The 6:3 ratio highlights the challenge ahead on Saturday but it’s cup rugby and that can make all the difference as will the 16th man, woman and child roaring on our heroes!
        A bit disappointing for some Munster lads being touted as potential Lions but I am sure there will be some late changes in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see who Joe selects for USA & Japan tour – I hope to see some of our younger lads like Rory and Darren get their opportunity then.

  6. Best wishes to MUNSTER in Dublin and Munster-A in Cork.
    What a great weekend of rugby ahead. Safe journey to all travelling fans, as for the match, it should be a cracker!.

    Up Munster

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