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Swept Away: Munster: 48 – Castres: 3

As thoroughly as the ground staff swept away the surface water and forked the pitch to aid drainage, the team did likewise to the challenge posed by Castres in the final pool game.  It took a while to break them down but the intent was visible from the off with the linespeed and workrate of the team.  Fair dues to the workrate also of the ground staff who worked tirelessly in lousy weather to get the pitch ready.  By the end of the game there was not much evidence of damage from the scrums in particular from my vantage point on the terrace which is testament to their efforts.
Five hours on the terrace waiting for kick-off is a new if unwanted record!  However any day your team qualify for the 17th time for the playoffs of the European competition and do so in style to secure a home quarter-final has to be a good day.

WT MUNvCO

Leicester v Racing on the big screen as many of the WT regulars huddle in for a photo

I had picked my way through puddles from the LIT carpark to the west terrace, glad I had worn my boots and long waterproof coat to the game.  It had rained incessantly the whole way down from Dublin but the forecast was for it to improve and it had never struck me that the game could be in doubt until I arrived.  I could see them working on the pitch and we were told that the referee would be doing an inspection at noon.  Twitter updates were shared.  As time passed by and there was no sign of anyone beginning to warm up concern grew.  About 12.30 we were told that the game was delayed by 3 hours and we could leave and return later.  Many did so and unfortunately some were unable to return due to travel plans / other arrangements including Mark and his friend who had to travel back to West Cork.  John had to make some phone calls to get cover for his shift but managed to do so while those availing of public transport had to make new arrangements also.  I went out to get some food.  The bars and supporters club were packed so I headed back into the terrace to watch the Leicester v Racing game on the big screen.  The snow covered ground looked less playable that Thomond but that game went ahead on schedule.

So how did we pass the time?  Besides watching the game we were chatting about life and rugby in general.  There had been good representation from the west terrace south at the game in Paris so I was curious to hear their first-hand accounts.  None envied the Parisians their state of the art facility.  There is something special about Thomond.  There was also talk about the media coverage during the week and many of us had read Donncha O’Callaghan’s article in the Times about it which struck a chord.  Anne, Brian and Eoghan had been at the A team game in Cork on Friday and it was good to hear that GG got a warm reception there after what must have been a horrendous week.  Congrats to the A team who won their final pool game in the B&I Cup and as a reward get to pit themselves against Leinster A in Dublin at Easter in their quarter final!  If you missed it the twitter feed from Munster Rugby of the game by Sam Armold is great craic.

We were sheltered from the wind and the worst of the showers by the west stand.  At 2pm someone said it was time to reboot, our normal pre-match routine should kick in!    “Welcome back” came the announcement over the P.A. to our amusement as we had remained in situ.  Only the soloist for Stand up and Fight and the flag bearers were allowed onto the pitch pre-game.  The choir and 27 Brass Band were not.  The heat from the flames launched skyward as each Munster player was announced had us feeling toasty as eventually 4pm came around.

Good intensity and linespeed on limited possession was the main feature of the opening quarter as Munster employed the kicking tactic.  Simon Zebo was in full control at full back and dealt with several early garryowens, calling for the mark and pushing the visitors back up-field.

We were busy singing Stand up and Fight (and featured in another tv appearance) when a scuffle broke out after Munster won a penalty from a strong scrum in the 12th minute.  We were not so impressed to see that penalty reversed and it was only watching back the highlights on TG4 that I saw what Jean Kleyn had done to warrant the reversal.  Castres  took the lead through that early penalty but overall Munster managed to keep the penalty count down to single figures (6) in this game after recent high numbers.

It was good to hear that Jean does appreciate what we bring to the game as he said in his post match interview: there were times in the second half when the fans really carried us through. Whenever The Fields of Athenry starts, you just get pumped.

Scannell, Stander and Cloete carried well after a Munster scrum in the build-up to the first sustained period in the visitors 22.  Wave after wave of willing carriers got close to the line as Castres conceded penalty after penalty to stem the tide.  It was disappointing to see Dave Kilcoyne limping off after injuring his knee in those phases but we are fortunate to have a player of the caliber of James Cronin to take his place.  From the penalty opportunity Ian Keatley tied the score at 3-3 after 17 minutes.

scrum

Munster launch an attack from a scrum on half-way. Photo by Gayl

Again Scannell carried strongly in midfield and got over the 10m line.  A knock-on gave Castres a scrum but excellent pressure from the pack won a penalty for Munster and you could feel them ratcheting up the pressure.  Murray took a quick kick which was chased by Zebo and Conway.  It was called back and but a marker had been laid down by the pack. Munster took the three points on offer through Keatley with Murray stretched out on the wet pitch to hold the ball steady in the swirling wind.

More penalties were conceded and the referee issued a team warning to Castres.  Munster kicked for touch.  From the lineout they drove for the line.  Holland came close.  Possession was retained.  They probed wide through Conway then back though Kleyn and the phases kept coming as did the referee’s outstretched arm.  Eventually the referee had no option but to blow it up and send #13 Thomas Combezou to the bin.  From a scrum Munster won another free kick.  Murray took it quickly and passed to Keatley whose pass was flicked on by Zebo to Earls who dived in at the corner.  The excellent conversion made it 13-3 after 34 minutes.

A super break by Chris Farrell with Murray in support looked certain to yield a second try before the break but Conor decided to pass to Conway and the attack broke down.

It was disappointing for the minis not to get to play at half-time but hopefully they will get another opportunity later in the year.  There was applause in honour of the recently deceased Dolores O’Riordan when they played The Cranberries during the break as they had also done during the warm-up.  A sad day for her family, friends and fans.

Munster came out determined to put more points onto the scoreboard and wasted no time.  An early penalty was kicked to touch.  While that lineout was stolen, they had not long to wait for the next penalty opportunity.  This time they made no mistake and a powerful maul marched inexorably for the line.  Rhys Marshall scored the try.  Another successfully conversion by Keatley made it 20-3.

Another scrum won another penalty, this time kicked to touch down the east sideline by Rory Scannell.  Munster through CJ Stander driven on by the pack was over the line but could not ground the ball.  From the resultant 5m scrum their dominance continued to win more penalties.  Keith Earls crossed the line but was called back to our disgust.  The scrum seemed to yield a try for Conor Murray but from the replay the TMO/referee decided he had lost control.  A change of props did not improve the scrummaging by Castres as Munster went for the jugular.  Their efforts resulted in a second yellow card (after a short reprieve for the new prop as he got off for “a first offence”) but it was only a matter of time.  Munster called for the scrum again and this time got their just rewards with a yellow card for the replacement tighthead prop.  Munster opted for the scrum again and this time a penalty try was awarded in the 56th minute.

There was still plenty of time for the bonus point try and what a try it was.  Shortlisted for try of the round (vote here)  it was started by Keith Earls on the half-way line.  He danced his way over the 10m line and got midway to the 22 before linking up with Simon Zebo who finished the move with a most ungraceful swan dive after the twinkle toes shown by both players in the build up.

Having secured the bonus point and with it third seeding, it was time to give the remaining substitutes some game time.  Alex Wootton came on for the battered Keith Earls and was only on the pitch a few minutes when the ball squirted back towards him.  He scooped it up and managed to twirl his way past a few tackles before scoring the 5th try.  JJ Hanrahan added the extras.

On 75 minutes Darren O’Shea won a Castres lineout and Jack O’Donoghue carried it forward as the replacements continued to make their presence felt.

Darren

Darren O’Shea steals their lineout ball

Fun moment watching the interaction between Ian Keatley and Keith Earls on the big screen when the latter was named Man of the Match. Both men had great games and will join the other 8 Munstermen heading to Ireland camp with a spring in their step – James Cronin was a late call-up due to the injury to Dave Kilcoyne.  Hopefully Killer will be back in action soon.  All but Zebo from the starting Munster backline were included along with four forwards (yes you read that right, what is the world coming to when Munster provides 6 / 16 backs but only 4/20 forwards?)

Castres had a scrum in a good position but there was no let up in intensity as they were driven back and conceded another penalty.  Sometimes when there are a lot of substitutes there can be a drop in cohesion and performance but that was not the case.
As the clock ticked down there was time to kick one final penalty to touch.  Darren secured the ball and the maul formed.  Niall Scannell had it at the back, then Peter but somehow it was James Cronin who popped up with the ball after scoring the final try of the game.  Andrew Conway held the ball steady as JJ Hanrahan kicked the conversion to bring proceedings to an end.
Bigger challenges lie ahead but this was a comprehensive performance given the conditions and the disruption to preparations.

Highlights on Sky Sports are here
Match reports from The42.ie, Irish Examiner and Irish Times
Post match thoughts of Johann van Graan here
Stats are here from ESPN.

Photos from MRSC photographers are on their Facebook page here

Munster: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (c), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.

Replacements: James Cronin for Kilcoyne (18 mins), John Ryan for Archer (43 mins), Niall Scannell for Marshall (49 mins), Darren O’Shea for Holland (62 mins), Alex Wootton for Earls (63 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (65 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for Kloete (66 mins), Duncan Williams for Murray (69 mins). 

Castres Olympique: Geoffrey Palis; Kylian Jaminet, Thomas Combezou, Robert Ebersohn (c), David Smith; Julien Dumora, Rory Kockott; Antoine Tichit, Jody Jenneker, Damien Tussac, Alexandre Bias, Thibault Lassalle, Yannick Caballero, Steve Mafi, Alex Tulou.

Replacements: Kevin Firmin for Jenneker, Tudor Stroe for Tichit, Victor Moreaux for 5 (all 48 mins), Daniel Kotze for Tussac (54 mins), Tussac for Tulou (56-66 mins), Yohan Le Bourhis for Palis, Afusipa Taumoepeau for Combezou (both 61 mins), Yohan Domenech for Kockott (71 mins), Baptiste Delaporte for Tussac (66 mins). 

Footage in this post match interview with the two Chris’s gives an insight into the conditions after the heavy rainfall pre-game.

I had parked in LIT and planned to let traffic ease before heading back to Dublin but after the long day and almost 7 hours spent on the terrace I decided to go straight back.  Big mistake.  The carpark was a log jam.  Eventually we got out the back exit and turned right.  I had Dee, Joe and another Dee for company.  Joe plotted a route to avoid the traffic, guiding me through Parteen and O’Brien’s bridge (I think!).  I was glad to rejoin the motorway at Birdhill and it was plain sailing from there.  I was tired after the thirteen hour day.  It was a pity that Sean who had planned to travel with me was unable to go but hopefully he will be back to SUAF soon.  With no game next weekend I am planning to start my new Q&A feature with readers of the blog.  Hopefully it will inspire some more of you to volunteer to participate 🙂

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13 comments on “Swept Away: Munster: 48 – Castres: 3

  1. Thanks again Gayl. What a day. Great write up again.

    • Thank you. Hopefully we won’t have to adjust to similar delays in the future but fair play to those who managed to update their plans and support the team and huge credit to the folks who cleared the water off the pitch.

  2. Hi Gayl. Super piece once more. I left Mullinahone in Tipperary myself at 9.45am and was home with my two boys at 8.45pm after a McDonalds in Cashel on way home. But Well worth the long day with a great win. #suaf

    Victor Direen.

  3. Hi Gayl,

    Long time no comment!! Sorry about that. I have actually watched most of Munster’s matches this season, just not had time to read all your blogs, but haver enjoyed it when I have read them.

    Some general comments:

    1. Keith Earls is playing the best rugby of his career. I know lots of people have said this but every time he gets the ball you just know something will happen. It’s great. I loved that little vignette between him and keatley when his MOTM award was announced.
    2. Simon Zebo is also playing with a smile on his face again. There seems to have been times when he hasn’t been enjoying his rugby but that does not seem to be the case now. We will miss him, but …
    3. Ian Keatley is also playing superbly and I hope he will get some more international caps over the six nations.
    4. Cloete is a find. It will be interesting to see what the competition for places does when Tommy is back – also with Conor Oliver waiting in the wings.
    5. I agree with you on the smooth transition from starting line-up to bench players coming in – hardly noticed a change in intensity, skill, continuity, or anything else. That is surely a positive.
    6. So glad Felix decided to stay and not go to SA as rumoured.
    7. I am anticipat9ing some early mornings come the Super Rugby season. I have never really bothered with it before but I just might keep an eye on Crusaders …
    8. With all the focus on Leinster, there is not much attention being given over here (in England) to Munster. Leinster (I know this is a Munster blog but please indulge me for a moment) are looking like a very good team. What price a Munster v Leinster game in Bilbao? Hmmm, that would be very tasty. Mind you, the QF line-up looks seriously interesting.
    9. I have heard lots of people talking about an interview where Simon Zebo is supposed to have said that he didn’t like the very highly structured format of JS’s Ireland team – I have neither read nor heard it so I am not 100% certain if he did say that. But, there has been a noticeable improvement in the skills of Irish players in all the provinces over the past few years. All four squads are prepared to attack in open field or chaotic situations. This is one area where Simon and Keith have always excelled. I hope that we will see the Irish team in the 6Ns playing with the same joie de vivre.

    Enjoy the 6Ns.

  4. Well done gayl for sticking it out! The best thing about having a local sister is that we went home for our dinner!
    Belated ( very ) news of ronan o mahony is that he’s Rarin to go! – see my facebook page.

    • Cheers Patrick. I had seen that Ronan started for the A team on Friday. I expect he will be looking to stake a claim during the 6 nations window for selection in the business end of the season. He was interviewed pre game on Sunday and as you wrote is rarin’ to go.

  5. Great read Gayl, especially as this time I wasn’t at the match. (Well I was there at noon, but once the 4pm announcement was made, I was done for and had to leave unfortunately). The blog has even more value than normal. Qualifying for quarter-finals is almost treated as normal for Munster, but it is a massive achievement and the team were brilliant on Sunday. See you on the WT!

    • The delayed kickoff impacted a lot of folks so it was great to see so many did manage to make it and the players really appreciated it also. Someone or 2 even got Zebo’s boot / boots as a souvenir as he flung them into the crowd in the west terrace/stand!

  6. From Facebook:
    Roisin: Great write up as always. I spent the delay watching the racing game in the bar (unlike you hardy souls on the terraces) and then went to the museum. The win made the delay worthwhile, even if my car was locked in when I got back to Cork city and I had to work out how to get home to West Cork and back up the next day.
    Maureen: Once again, a great blog – well done. It was a long day but a great day – roll on The Easter Weekend (plus the others in between)
    From Twitter: Sean: Great write up yet again . .
    Anne: Enjoyed reading the blog and your group photo…. Was a long day but worth it. See you in Cork for Glasgow game. #SUAF
    Ruby Sundays: Looking forward to reading when having the Coffee later……

  7. Hi Gayl, Very late response to the Castres blog, but I was unfortunately struck down with “man flu” which developed into a chest infection. Only now recovering, but if it was natures response to standing for all that time waiting for the match to start it was well worth it. it was a really great match and you gave a marvellous description/commentary of all the key moments. I do enjoy reliving the match while reading your blog. There were some wonderful moments, and I was so delighted when Keith was named man of the match. Even tho’ it’s a 15 man game, it’s good to see exceptional performances noticed. His break to send Zebo in for a try was just glorious. It’s so great to be at a match where we’re not in a state of frantic anxiety willing and singing the team onto victory. To be able to relax and enjoy the last 10/15 minutes is a wonderful luxury.

    I’ve also just read the interview blog with Babs. It is a lovely piece of writing, and a real insight into the adventures of a Munster maniac who has been on the inside with the players before and after matches. One can only feel jealous at some of her experiences. Maybe it’s a theme you should consider repeating, there must be a wealth of great stories of adventures and experiences of mad Munster fans like us, who have felt pleasure and painful all round Europe while on our Munster crusades. I consider that it is stories like that of Babs which really capture what it is to be someone who knows they are Munster by the grace of God. Well done on a great blog.

    You’ll have to ask Kevin to sing louder on the 10th Feb, as I cannot get to Thomond for the Zebra match due to grandparental duties. Some of our children do not have sufficient respect for Munster fixtures! Give my love and best wishes to the West Terrace gang.

    Best wishes,

    Paul (I’ll repeat the last 2 paragraphs at the end of Bab’s Interview)

    • Glad you are feeling better again Paul, it was a long wait in the cold but we got the result to warm us up especially with all the scores in the 2nd half. Earls is on fire and hopefully will do well in the Six Nations and come back to us to build on what he has done in recent weeks. Glad you enjoyed Babs Q&A. it is a fun feature for the weeks when there is no game during the season. Always interesting to get different insights and views. See you for Scarlets I guess unless you get to the Glasgow game in Cork.

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