The visit of the champions was a good test for Munster as they looked to rebound from defeat in Edinburgh. Memories of the Scarlets visit last year when they turned around a deficit at half time to inflict a rare home defeat and of the Pro12 final when they blitzed Munster last May provided cause for concern and with the Cheetahs closing the gap between 2nd and 3rd with their win the previous night there was no room for complacency. It was a close, tense affair with plenty of talking points, mainly about the officiating from missed forward passes to more contentious decisions!
Scarlets got off to a good start and indeed dominated possession and territory in the first half but could not pull clear. Hindsight is great, if we had known that their score in the 7th minute would be their first and last we could have enjoyed the game with a lot less tension! However we knew that they posed many threats across their team and with several of their Welsh internationals back in harness were looking to make up ground on Leinster in Conference B. There was a loud cheer for Tadhg Beirne when the team was announced and when he was substituted near the hour mark with an eye to next weekend’s European quarter final. Indeed during the game I heard a few calls of “don’t hurt him” as we look forward to him joining Munster next season.
Their try was scored by scrum half Aled Davies with good contributions by James Davies and earlier in the move by Aaron Shingler. The Scarlets again displayed great ball handling / offloading skills and threatened the line several times but the defence held firm although Munster struggled to get their hands on the ball. The scrum was one area where Munster excelled.
In the 17th minute Alex Wootton thought he would hear a whistle after the ball ricocheted off his upper arm. When there was no whistle forthcoming he raced down the field and touched down under the posts.
JJ Hanrahan tried to take a quick drop-kick conversion but the referee prevented that and went to the TMO to review whether the ball had come off his chest or arm. So his lung-bursting run was for nothing as the try was not awarded.
A scrum penalty gave Munster a good attacking option in the 24th minute off a lineout.
The lineout lead to a maul and the line was crossed but the ball was held up. From the resultant 5m scrum Munster attacked the blind side. Calvin Nash had been on the wing but moved infield as the scrum set and James Hart had to go it alone from the back of the scrum. The TMO reviewed to confirm that the try could be awarded.
The conversion went wide leaving the score at 5-7. Patchell had a chance to put the visitors another 3 points ahead but the kick was short.
Munster took the lead in the 7th minute of the 2nd half. An intercept by Robin Copeland in his own 22 (picking the pocket of Tadhg Beirne) was kicked deep by James Hart. Varndell was covering back but his kick to touch gave Munster a foothold near their 22. A high tackle on Wootton provided another set-piece opportunity as the 3 points on offer were declined and the ball kicked to touch. From the lineout Tommy O’Donnell took the ball at pace from Billy Holland and charged for the line. Rhys Marshall was next to carry then Kilcoyne driven on by Keatley before O’Donnell again, this time driven on by Arnold. Copeland in support picked up the ball and scored the try.
However when Robin got to his feet it was not to punch the air but he immediately signaled to the medics that a teammate was in trouble. As we watched the replay we tried to figure out who was wearing the yellow boots and was now stretched out by the posts. While it is not good to see any player injured it was such a shame to see that it was Tommy O’Donnell who needed medical attention as he was making his first start since returning from his most recent injury. We applauded him off the pitch with his arm supported by his jersey as Ian Keatley prepared to take the conversion which was successful and moved Munster into a 5 point lead. Dave O’Callaghan replaced Tommy in the back row.
Another dominant scrum / maul on 51 minutes won another penalty for Munster as the replacement front row watched on from the side line, poised to come on. Sam Arnold took a pop pass from Alex Wootton as he was tackled. He moved infield and appeared to be deliberately tripped by James Davies on he chipped the ball ahead. However the referee and TMO decided that the player had put out his foot to make contact with the ball not the player and hence no penalty was incurred to the displeasure of the crowd.
In the 64th minute James Hart nearly had his second score after great work by Niall Scannell and Dave O’Callaghan but he was tackled prior to reaching the line. Munster kept possession and it looked like James Cronin scored a try. In fact it had been awarded and Ian Keatley was standing over the ball prepared to kick the conversion when he was stopped. The TMO and referee decided that Cronin had propelled himself forward and hence the try was disallowed. To us it looked like he had simply stretched out his arm and hence the decision was greeted with boos and disbelief. Reading the match reports the general consensus seems to be that it was a bad call and cost Munster a try bonus point!
With still just the five points between the teams the game hung in the balance as Dan Goggin – on for Rory Scannell (HIA) – prevented a score at the other end.
A great break by JJ Hanrahan brought Munster back into the visitors 22. Archer took it on, then Goggin before Jack probed down the far side. Grobler was next to carry, then Dave O’Callaghan before Billy eked out a couple more inches. The pack came close before Stephen Fitzgerald put in a super wide pass to Wootton waiting on the wing. He had plenty of work to do to finish it off, rolling out of the tackle of Varndell to touch down over the line. The TMO and referee reviewed the final pass to confirm it was not forward and the try was awarded and converted by Keatley. With less than 3 minutes left was there time for a bonus point for either team?
It certainly lead to an exciting finale with Sam Arnold coming close at one end before James Davies forced a turnover on a subsequent phase for not releasing. With the clock in the red there was time to launch one final attack by the Scarlets. Dan Goggin intercepted the pop pass from Varndell but Munster could not get down to the opposite side again and Keatley kicked the ball out. It was a special night for Academy winger Calvin Nash and scrum half Jack Stafford on their senior Thomond debut, the latter came on for the final minutes.
MUNSTER: JJ Hanrahan, Calvin Nash (Stephen Fitzgerald ’72), Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell (Dan Goggin ’62), Alex Wootton, Ian Keatley, James Hart(Jack Stafford ’78) Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’53), Rhys Marshall (Niall Scannell ’53), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’53); Jean Kleyn (Gerbrandt Grobler ’67), Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Tommy O’Donnell (Dave O’Callaghan ’48), Robin Copeland.
SCARLETS: Tom Williams (Dan Jones ’62), Tom Varndell, Scott Williams (Steff Huges ’68), Paul Asquith, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Aled Davies (Jonathan Evans ’59): Dylan Evans (Phil Price ’53), Ryan Elias (Emyr Phillips ’53), Samson Lee (Werner Kruger ’53); Tadhg Beirne (Lewis Rawlins ’62), David Bulbring, Aaron Shingler (Josh MacLeod ’53), James Davies, Will Boyde.
Stats are here on ESPN and show both teams only conceded 6 penalties each while the dominance of the Munster scrum gave them a 100% record whereas the Scarlets lost 2 of their 8.
Another good read is an interview with prolific Man of the Match over the recent weeks – Robin Copeland who is heading to Connacht next season has no regrets about spending 4 seasons at Munster where injuries and international competition in the backrow have limited his appearances. He did enjoy his B&I Cup medal last season saying at the time that it was his first medal as a professional player. Hopefully he will finished this season in Limerick on a high before moving to Galway where I expect he will enjoy plenty of opportunities. Speaking of medals it was great to see the Irish team winning the Triple Crown, Championship and Grand Slam last weekend or in my case hearing it as I was in Nepal so listening on the radio via the internet! An unbelievable performance against a wounded England side was the icing on the cake and so well deserved for our international players.
During the warm up there was a fun moment when the Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac came over to the section in front of us to retrieve a ball which the minis team there enjoyed hiding from him.
Simon Zebo stepped into the seated area in front of us with I think it was Mike Sherry, I assume en route back from the MRSC bar meet and greet. It was a pity we did not get to meet and greet or an acknowledgement from them but I guess it must be tough when so many like Britney says “want a piece of me”
The half time minis had a ball and it was great to see the local choir from Corpus Christi Primary School Moyross take to the pitch to perform a Cranberries song at halftime also. The “Academy choir” as Ger dubbed them were excellent.
Some of the regulars were unable to attend. Indeed the overall attendance for a game of this caliber was disappointing but Pascal, Joan, Kevin, Patrick and Eilish kept me company. Thanks to Eilish for the cuppa afterwards to celebrate my birthday and to Patrick for encouraging me not to give up the blog.
A double header next weekend as I am planning to support the defending champions Munster A in their tough quarter-final of the B&I Cup against Leinster A in Dublin on Friday before heading down to Limerick on Saturday for the eagerly anticipated European Cup quarter-final against Toulon. We need a good vocal crowd to make home advantage and the famed 16th man count. With the internationals back (minus the injured Earls) there are a lot of positives to build on from this tough encounter.