A well-executed tactical kick is always appreciated by the Munster faithful, with the biggest compliment being to describe it as “Rog-esque” While putting boot to ball entails kicking away possession it is also a key weapon in managing field position and making it more difficult for the other team to score. It puts them under pressure, and provides the opportunity to take advantage of any mistakes. The game in Cork provided many examples of that tactic including one by man of the match Rhys Marshall! Ian Keatley, Rory Scannell, James Hart and Darren Sweetnam all made valuable contributions to the strong kicking game on which the scores were built.
As the new coach begins to put his stamp on the team and the players seek to put their best foot forward to be considered for the crunch European games there was plenty to play for when Ospreys came to Cork. From the first lineout, after an initial maul Cloete peeled off and went up the blind side, before getting the pass away to Rhys Marshall as he was bundled into touch to put Munster onto the front foot early.
A deep kick by Ian Keatley minutes later put Munster into a good position. There was a further bonus when Hassler attempted to catch the ball as it sailed over his head. His touch gave Munster the throw-in. While possession was lost it was a good start full of intent which boded well for the evening.
James Hart kicked up the line with Jack in pursuit to again pin the visitors back. A block-down by Rory Scannell provided a kickable penalty opportunity when Ospreys did not release under that pressure. It was put between the posts in the fourth minute by Ian Keatley.
Hart seemed to be everywhere, making both tackles and passes in a high tempo first half. From the base of a scrum he sniped before offloading to Darren Sweetnam setting him free down the wing. Darren carried well before kicking ahead. The ball just beat him to the line but it got the crowd into the game yelling encouragement and applauding his efforts.
Ospreys then had a period of possession and were looking to stretch the Munster defence probing from one side to the other. Alex Wootton put in a tackle and when Cloete arriving in support went looking for the ball his opposite number cleaned him out with his arm around Chris’s neck earning him a yellow card. The retaliatory wrestling did not warrant any sanction according to the referee Ben Whitehouse.
A kick by Hart bounced beautifully into touch. While it was the Ospreys throw into the lineout, it slipped from the grasp of the Ospreys player to be picked up by Rhys Marshall who popped it up to Copeland who drove forward. When he went to ground Hart got the pass to Keatley. Arnold was running a good line off him and took the ball at pace to cross the line and score the opening try.
A few minutes later Ian Keatley shaped up to kick the ball just inside the Ospreys half but looking up he realised there was space. He attacked it before offloading to Darren Sweetnam who found Cloete in support. The latter’s basketball style pass as he ran out of space bounced infield, but Darren who was running a good support line reacted well and managed to collect the ball as he rolled to ground it over the line. Ian was again successful with his conversion.
A tackle on Wootton as he was in the air on the Munster 22 drew our protests, but the referee was happy it was just a penalty offence. Luckily he was not injured.
Another great kick from halfway by Keatley gave the Ospreys a lineout deep in their own 22. A knock-on under pressure resulted in a scrum for Munster in a great position about the 5m line just as the sinbin period ended. Copeland picked and went from the base of the scrum. When tackled play went the other side with Arnold carrying the ball. He presented it well when tackled. Cloete was next to carry and the TMO was called again to check what happened next. We were all glad to see it again as it had taken us unawares also. Cloete had been tackled but when released showed tremendous leg drive to get to his feet and drive over the line catching the pillar defence unawares as they had not formed a ruck. The try was awarded and converted to make it 24-0.
Coming up to half time the Ospreys had a scrum in a central position. A skip pass tested the defence and Darren’s tackle did not stop #13 Fonotia. Zebo and Scannell came into tackle him but he got the pass away to Jess Hassler on the wing to score for the visitors. Alex Wootton chased down the conversion attempt by Sam Davies which may have helped put him off.
The sight of Zebo walking off gingerly at half-time after having needed attention a few times for a rib injury was a concern. The victorious Under 18s club team were presented during the break while the minis enjoyed their pitch-time.
We were not surprised to see JJ Hanrahan replace Zebo at half-time. A kick by Keats from inside his own half just bounced the wrong way and rolled over the try line giving Ospreys a 22 drop-out. However Arnold claimed their restart and Munster were back on the attack in the Ospreys half. Captain Billy Holland took it up before Keatley’s pass found Scannell whose pass in turn set Wootton through a gap. He then found Scannell in support when he needed it. Rory put in a good dummy to distract the defence before sliding over the line to secure the bonus point in the 42nd minute.
Marshall and Wootton almost combined shortly after as Rhys had put in a great kick ahead for Alex to chase but it just went dead before he could get to it.
There was a long stoppage when Liam O’Connor went down injured before he was stretchered off. The young Academy player has been having a great season and with the injury to James Cronin was in line to gain more European experience this month. It didn’t look good and apparently is a knee injury. I wish him a full recovery to continue his excellent development once he is over this setback.
Sweetnam’ s offload behind his back to JJ did not get what it deserved as the pass was deemed forward but it would have been fantastic skill if it had come off! An exciting player who in case you didn’t know also excelled at another sport! (see last week’s edition)
Shortly afterwards Rory’s great kick pinned the Ospreys back deep on the east side before he repeated the tactic on the opposite side of the pitch just minutes later. It was from the latter that the 5th try resulted. While the Ospreys secured their line out ball when they tried to play their way out of their own 5m line Robin Copeland won a super turnover. Rhys Marshall reacted quickly getting the pass away to Billy Holland whose skip pass found Jack O’Donoghue in space to score after 55 minutes. The conversion was missed but it was another example of using position and pressure to force the mistakes and then to capitalize on those.
Special mention also to Jack for his superb lineout jumping all evening.
The changes made may have impacted the flow, but we certainly saw less action down our end than we were hoping for in the second half, a fact borne out by the stats from ESPN.
Penalty after penalty were conceded as the Ospreys stretched the defence. A warning was issued by the referee before a quick tap penalty caught Jack offside and he was sent to the bin. Ospreys went for the lineout and maul, but it was defended albeit another penalty conceded for offside by Rory as Ospreys put in a cross-field kick. From a scrum they had another advantage. Hassler nearly got in, but the defence worked hard to keep him out. Back for another penalty before Will Jones got in at the corner despite Nash and Copeland’s tackles.
Calvin Nash put in a good tackle near us to force the winger Dirksen into touch a few minutes later. Jack got back on for the final minutes but there were to be no more scores and with the rain falling for the last 10 minutes and the temperatures dropping we were glad to hear the final whistle.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (JJ Hanrahan 40’); Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley (Calvin Nash 57’), James Hart (Duncan Williams 51’); Liam O’Connor (Brian Scott 48’), Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne 63’), John Ryan (Stephen Archer 74’); Jean Kleyn (Darren O’Shea 51’), Billy Holland; Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete, Robin Copeland (Sean O’Connor 76’). Tyler was waterboy 🙂
OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Hanno Dirksen, Kieron Fonotia, James Hook, Jeff Hassler (Joe Thomas 72’); Sam Davies (Luke Price 77’), Tom Habberfield; Gareth Thomas (Ma’afu Fia 40’), Sam Parry (Scott Baldwin 26-33 HIA & 36’), Dmitri Arhip (Rob McCusker 40’); Lloyd Ashley (Rowan Jenkins 54’ HIA), Bradley Davies; Olly Cracknell (Guy Mercer 73’), Will Jones, James King. Replacements not used: Reuben Morgan-Williams
Another welcome bonus point win for Munster which was needed as Glasgow continue to set the pace at the top of Conference A while the Cheetahs also won to remain in the top 3. I would never have predicted that Ospreys would be propping up the table at this or indeed any stage of the season but that is where they find themselves.
Stats from ESPN are here and show 13 penalties were conceded in total, with many of them conceded before their second score..
The Baltic conditions had improved from the previous weekend. It was another sell out night in Cork to welcome the start of Johann van Graan’s tenure and there was plenty to enjoy especially in the first half.
Before the game, talk invariably turned to contracts with the recent news of Peter O’Mahony’ s negotiations with the IRFU. It is hard to imagine Peter playing for another club but unless there is a sugar daddy or we win the lottery or set up a crowd-fund to top up players wages it will be difficult for the provinces to compete with the money available in France and the UK. Maybe the French will review their foreign player quotas due to the impact it is having on the national team results, but I doubt their sugar daddies care as much about national pride as they do about their own ambitions for Top 14 and European success.
It felt like forever since I had been at a live rugby game as I had missed the home game against the Dragons. It was nice to spot Kevin and Joan as I arrived so I stopped to chat and ended up staying beside them for the game. Michelle joined us before Tony and Imelda came by and also stayed.
Paul Mc and Paul P called over to say hello before the game while the Graces and O’Regans did so afterwards as they were leaving. Paul was looking forward to taking his daughter to the Munster Rugby Christmas party the following day for her second Christmas, a family tradition started last year. I have seen some photos on social media today and it looks like a great time was had by all. Well done to the hard-working committee who put so much effort into the annual event. Hope to see some of you in Thomond next weekend including Rob who enjoyed our company on the WT so much for the Leicester last year he is returning next weekend. I don’t suppose we can expect a similar scoreline this year but hopefully the lads will give a good account of themselves and play with belief, pride and passion. They will do their best on the pitch and we must reciprocate on the terraces and in the stands as they face Leicester once more. Safe travels to all. Come early to be red, loud and proud as we stand up and fight once more!