Another baltic evening, a late kick-off, dangerous roads and the Aussie flu all contributed to a smaller crowd at Thomond Park albeit boosted by a good number of visiting supporters in green. Those who came to support the home team were treated to a bonus point win built on containing Connacht despite their wind advantage in the first half to just 6 points. There was no major epiphany on the sixth of January as the new coaching team settle in. Maybe there was a reluctance to show too much to the Racing video analysts as preparations ramp up for the trip to Paris.
It was a nice touch for Nollaig nan Ban (Womens Christmas) to have 4 girls teams take to the pitch for the half-time minis from Carrick-on-Suir, Bruff, Fethard and Listowel.
I kept warm in the MRSC bar until 7pm, watching Leinster beat Ulster on TV as I chatted with Therese and Paul who had driven down from Blessington. We even discussed the possibility of carpooling from Naas for future day trips when I no longer have a weekend base in Tipperary.
Usually I like to be on the terrace early but given the weather I opted to minimise my exposure to the elements and didn’t head down till 7pm. When I spotted Conor leaving the bar I knew I was time to go!
There were three Connacht ladies in the corner of our section and I slipped into a space between them and Pascal. We could have done with a few more bodies to fill the gaps as the wind seemed to be circling in behind us at times. The north and south terraces were closed and I admired the new banners covering the north end, smiling at the clear Toyota logo on some jerseys in the background photo of a banner sponsored by Bank of Ireland. I still love my Toyota jersey as the Adidas range – fabric and styles for women – leave a lot to be desired. Given the high proportion of female supporters I do think it is a missed sales opportunity but I guess they have run the numbers and don’t agree.
I showed Joan the photo of her with my sister Michelle and I from the latest Tipperary Star which was taken at the Leicester away game before Christmas. It had been fun in Thurles earlier that day being told I was “looking well in the Star”. I was amused by how ruthlessly the photographer Bridget had ensured no one from Cork or Waterford who were with us at the game made it into the shot!
It was good to see Conor Oliver and Chris Farrell warming up for their first game post injury especially given the squad update during the week ruling out Tommy and Chris plus the 3 week ban for Sam Arnold. I also noticed another “new” face on the pitch – Gerbrandt Grobler must be close to a return. I have yet to see him play for Munster as he was injured in the pre-season friendly away to Worcester. Kevin O’Byrne and JJ Hanrahan were also involved in the warm-up but not in the match day squad. Alex Wootton was interviewed pitchside pre-game.
Post game I went back to the MRSC bar to thaw out and to meet Andy and Bridin who had travelled down from Ulster. Andy had been in touch earlier in the week to tell me about a charity necklace and he wanted to introduce me to Tony. It is a lovely piece featuring a stag the symbol of Munster rugby which Tony had originally ordered for his wife and daughters for Christmas 2016. To get it with a red stone he had to buy 10 and it took off from there.
In his own words
I was delighted to receive a necklace in return for a donation. I choose the Irish Heart Foundation as it seems appropriate given it is the charity partner for Munster this season but there are many worthwhile causes. Tony has a handful left and can be contacted via PM on the Munsterfans.com forum where is known as Soda Bread. He has kindly allowed me to obtain a second necklace (for a donation) which I will give to a genuine supporter in return for a new idea, read on.
During the week I was featured in a “Fan Focus” blog by Dave Blair on his Belfast Rugby Bulletin. You can check out my responses to his Q&A here but it got me thinking that maybe it would be fun to do something like that with you my loyal readers! Perhaps getting the views from folks on other sides of the ground or from some of my overseas readers including those who are “Munster by the grace of God” rather than by birth. If you think this would be an interesting new element to the WTView, maybe during the non Munster match weekends during the Six Nations etc. let me know by commenting or email me at WTView@live.ie. If better still you would like to volunteer to participate in the Q&A over email let me know. I will put all volunteers into a draw for the necklace (unless they have one already / don’t want one but still want to participate in the Q&A)
It was fun to have Eamon’s company for the drive to and from Thurles. He certainly shortened the road as we chatted away about rugby, life, people we know (6 degrees of separation!) with a little post match analysis on the way home. When he told me that Treviso had beaten the Cheetahs it was great news as I expect them to close the gap on Munster with their back to back games over the Kings over the next 2 weekends.
MATCH REPORT & LINKS ETC.
An early penalty and three points conceded – well at least we had held out longer than against Leinster I joked as Jack Carty slotted the three points despite the strong wind. However, Munster mounted a good attack when CJ Stander charged through the centre of a ruck and set off upfield before kicking the ball ahead for his backs to chase. O’Halloran got there first but it put Munster into the Connacht 22. From there they came close to scoring through Murray before conceding a penalty for not releasing when the support could not get to him in time.
Jack won a turnover from an attempted Connacht maul and from the resultant scrum Munster won a penalty which Rory Scannell kicked to a good touch in the Connacht half. Munster went through phase after phase before Zebo kicked a ball through and the chase was good to force Connacht into touch with the ball. Another lineout setup a good maul before they went wide keeping on the pressure in the 22.
Chris Farrell burst through taking a sweet pop pass from Keatley and powering up to the 5m line before being taken down. Murray and Keatley went in to protect possession from the defence so Conor Oliver stepped in as scrum half and put the ball into the arms of the onrushing Darren O’Shea who dived over the line. Keatley converted to make it 7-3.
Farrell was penalised for going off his feet to give Carty another opportunity to kick and he duly put the ball between the posts to reduce the gap to one point. However, an overthrown lineout by Connacht allowed Munster to counter-attack with Rhys Marshall showing he had not lost his turn of pace after his recent concussion as he raced upfield. From that attack Munster won another penalty in midfield which Ian Keatley kicked successfully to restore their four-point advantage after half an hour. We had to stop our rendition of “Stand Up and Fight” early to ensure silence for his kick.
Heading into the break I was confident that Munster would pull away in the second half. The wind disadvantage had limited the kicking tactic in the first half and the forwards carried the ball more instead. That could explain why in the stats Munster had more possession and territory in the first half.
After the break, two early lineout malfunctions were disappointing but a superb touch finder by Keatley put Munster into the Connacht 22. They kept the pressure on and won a penalty which Keatley put between the posts to make it 13-6 after 50 minutes.
From the restart Keith Earls’ scintillating counter-attack and kick ahead pushed Connacht back into their own 22 again. Conor Oliver forced Connacht to knock-on and that scrum set-up the 2nd try. Keatley, Farrell and Oliver all carried before Earls probed down the far side. Munster kept possession with Jean Kleyn being next to carry. Two phases later it was Cronin who took on the defence. The pass from Rhys Marshall who kept the ball alive when Cronin was tackled showed again his fantastic handling skills as he found Keatley who threaded through a great grubber. Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo chased hard to put Tiernan O’Halloran under pressure. Maybe Tiernan was trying to avoid carrying it over his line but Conway worked hard to slip inside him and pounce on the loose ball.
As we watched the replays from the different angles we cheered loudly to let the TMO know our view! The TMO concurred and the try was awarded on 54 minutes. A super conversion made it 20-6 and we began to dream of a bonus point win.
From a Munster scrum Murray got the ball to Scannell, who passed to Keatley as Farrell ran a decoy line. Keatley slipped the ball to Conway as he was tackled. The superb skip pass he executed at that pace to put Earls away in the corner was superb. A great backline move executed perfectly to set up the final quarter of the game with the target of securing the bonus point. The conversion went wide leaving it at 25-6.
Earls was heavily involved in a key turning point just minutes later when Quinn Roux’s tackle upended him. A spate of handbags encouraged us to sing another rendition of “Stand Up and Fight” as the TMO replayed the tackle. It looked like it could warrant a red card but as Keith landed on his side the referee produced a yellow card. It was good to see Keith and Quinn shake hands as the latter walked over to the sinbin.
It was time to go for the jugular and the penalty was kicked to touch. Mike Sherry threw into the lineout which was secured by Jack O’Donoghue. Darren and Conor got the maul moving before going to ground. Next up Jean Kleyn carried before popping the pass to Stephen Archer. Murray whipped the ball out to James Cronin who got very close to the line. From there Conor Murray showed his lethal finishing skills to ground the ball and secure the bonus point. If the previous score had been a sublime backs move this one while finished by a back was made by the pack.
With the bonus point secured it was good to see Bill Johnston get fifteen minutes of action as he replaced Chris Farrell. Robin Copeland was also introduced to replace Jean.
Darren secured the lineout and passed it quickly to Mike Sherry who charged forward. From the resultant ruck CJ Stander probably did ground the ball but unfortunately the TMO could find no evidence but a penalty was due to Munster for an earlier offside. This time they took it quickly, Keatley tapped and passed to CJ. Then Jack carried before Cronin almost got there again but Murray spotted a gap and went for it to repeat his try-scoring feat. Keatley converted to make it 39-6 with ten minutes left.
While we had hoped Munster would keep Connacht out the Westerners were not going to lie down as they kept the pressure on in the Munster half. Darren Sweetnam showed his great handling skills as he juggled a pass between his legs, managing to retain possession as he went to ground!
Duncan Williams made a try-saving tackle as Jarrad Butler broke through the defensive line on 75’ however the visitors regrouped and made another assault to send Tom McCartney over to score in the 77th minute. Craig Ronaldson converted to make it 39-13.
It was concerning to see Andrew Conway limping off as Craig had lined up the conversion and Munster opted not to replace him so finished the game with 14 men. There is a post match interview with Andrew on Munster Rugby so hopefully he is fine and will be available for selection next weekend.
Connacht kept up the pressure looking for another score but the defense held firm and when Robin Copeland forced Ronaldson into touch it was game over.
Munster: Simon Zebo (Darren Sweetnam ’60), Andrew Conway. Chris Farrell (Bill Johnston ’64), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley,. Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’70): Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’51), Rhys Marshall (Mike Sherry ’60), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’51), Jean Kleyn (Robin Copeland ’66), Darren O’Shea, Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Oliver, CJ Stander. Replacement not used: Peter O’Mahony
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun (Darragh Leader ’62), Eoin Griffin, Pita Ahki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty (Craig Ronaldson ’67), Caolin Blade (James Mitchell ’67): Peter McCabe (Conan O’Donnell ’75), Tom McCartney, Conor Carey (Finlay Bealham ’57), Quinn Roux, James Cannon (Gavin Thornbury ’40), Cillian Gallagher, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Paul Boyle ’57). Replacement not used: Shane Delahunt
The full game is currently on the TG4 player here
Photos from MRSC’s Linda Molloy are on Facebook here
Match stats on ESPN are here
Bon voyage to all travelling to Paris next weekend and bonne chance – allez les Rouges!