The “what-ifs” and “if-onlys” will hurt as the season came to a dramatic but ultimately disappointing end in the RDS at the semi-final stage. The narrowest of margins in the end and credit to the team for their guts and never say die attitude as they almost found a fairytale ending in the closing minutes. No one left early from our section with the game delicately poised in the balance after the second Munster try. It was good to see Munster being more adventurous in attack as they threw everything at the European Champions. The decision making and execution at times let them down and I noted that the coach picked up on the latter in his post match interview when he said:
“Execution is something we want to work on. We got very close against the two teams that played the final in Europe: a five-point game and a one-point game… We want to improve and compete against all the trendsetters in Europe.”
The ambition is there and given the disruption this season with the change of coach and defence coach (Jacques is missed prowling the sideline during the game) and injuries in key positions, reaching the last four of both competitions is not a bad result. However, after yet another season without silverware there is disappointment and frustration, but let’s not despair. The bad old days from not so long ago when we failed to get out of our European group and were fighting to scrape into 6th place in the league to earn European Cup action for the following season show that progress has been made. Munster is again a force to be reckoned with and the new management team will be relishing the opportunity to address short-comings in the off and pre-season. Add Tadhg Beirne and a fit again Chris Cloete to the pack and we will have a team capable of punching holes and keeping the opposition guessing while our midfield options next season should give us the ability to mix and match depending on the opposition and game plan if we can keep them all fit. The competition for those places could be fierce as Sammy and Rory will look to build on their great partnership this season while Chris and Jaco will be eager to return to action.
Munster started well, bringing good intensity and energy as they were determined not to make a slow start as has caught them out in other games this season. CJ Stander was fired up and getting over the gainline. Peter O’Mahony stole their first lineout; there were loops and offloads as Munster tried to show more creativity in attack. However Leinster turned over the ball and Lowe showed his class, eventually putting Jack Conan through for the only Leinster try of the game
Lowe who deservedly won MOTM was involved twice in that flowing attack, creating havoc. The defence scrambled well to keep him out the first time but his skill to get the pass away to Conan as he stumbled was amazing.
We were very disappointed to see Jack stretchered off after ten minutes after his leg was trapped in a ruck as he fell. He seemed to be in a lot of pain. Hopefully he will make a good recovery to build on his progress this season.
JJ Hanrahan got Munster on the scoreboard with a successful penalty kick after 18 minutes. Ross Byrne added a penalty for Leinster to re-establish their 7 point lead. A superb try saving tackle by Sammy prevented Leinster doubling their advantage.
Yet Munster continued to create opportunities – a sniping break by Conor Murray nearly set Conway free, Zebo probed the other wing and nearly got the pass to Earls. JJ missed a second penalty attempt. Conway could have been put in space on several occasions if the final pass to him had been accurate! The scrum and lineout were going well.
Coming up to half time Munster were attacking through the phases. CJ even crossed the line but James Ryan managed to turn him on his back and he could not ground the ball. In the build-up Jean Kleyn had cleared out Ross Byrne, making contact with his head and Jean was sin-binned for a reckless tackle. Credit to the 14 men in red they held firm (Sammy even packing down at flanker for a scrum) and while Leinster were able to clear their line, they could not add to their score before the break. It was all to play for in the second half.
Munster made a great start despite being down to 14 still, which ended with Keith Earls squeezing in at the corner after great work by amongst others Robin Copeland winning a turnover on Carbery; Ian Keatley on for the injured JJ Hanrahan reacted quickly to another turnover to carry well; Rhys Marshall on his 50th appearance tumbled out of a tackle to make more ground, Rory Scannell drove at the defence before Zebo drew the defender before passing to Earls. He had a lot to do to finish the move with Byrne and Cronin trying to close him down but he is a class finisher. It was a worrying sight to see him require the medics when he seemed to injure himself in scoring but thankfully he was able to continue. The touchline conversion was unsuccessful but at 10-8 Munster were well in the game.
The photo captures how much work he had to do to finish the move!
An offside gave Byrne a chance to make it 13-8 just minutes later, Jean Kleyn returned to the action, making it 3-5 to Munster during his absence.
Zebo got caught in possession as Ringrose chased his kick. Leinster kicked the penalty for touch. However the maul defense was superb controlled aggression and Munster won the turnover. The wardrobe malfunction of Billy was a trifle distracting as the lads drove back Leinster!
Leinster missed two penalty kicks – the breeze blowing towards the south end proved to be tricky or maybe someone had mastered the Yoda mind-tricks and steered the ball wide, or our sharp intake of breath on the south stand created a micro current.
Peter tapped back the restart. Zebo was nearly through to gather his own chip but the bounce took it out of his grasp. Earls uncharacteristically knocked-on to give Leinster a scrum with their replacement front row, Porter getting a lot of plaudits from his team mates when it resulted in the long range penalty (the 2nd miss mentioned above).
Leading by example again Peter stole another Leinster lineout as the clock approached the hour mark. Ian Keatley made a key tackle to stop Garry Ringrose’s break in midfield. Cian Healy tackled Murray to concede a penalty which after discussion Conor kicked to touch. However the defence held firm and eventually James Tracy won the turnover. Maybe we should have taken the 3 points on offer to reduce the deficit to 2 but Peter felt that going for the lineout was the right decision at the time.
Another forward pass, this time by Zebo gave Leinster a scrum and from it another penalty putting Munster 8 points behind when Carbery kicked it, with just 4 minutes left. Munster injected a lot of pace and when they were awarded a penalty Murray took it quickly. When he was stopped short Grobler took it on and touched it down against the post according to the TMO.
A quick conversion and there was a minute left to see if Munster could work their way back upfield. They made a heroic effort, retaining possession and making ground with notable carries by Zebo and Earls, Kleyn and O’Mahony before Killer was penalized for not releasing and that was that. The home team and supporters were ecstatic. The Munster players and the red army were devastated.
LEINSTER: Joey Carbery; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa (captain) (Rory O’Loughlin ‘HT), James Lowe; Ross Byrne (HIA – Barry Daly ’37 to ‘HT), Luke McGrath (Nick McCarthy ’76); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’47), Seán Cronin (James Tracy ’56), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’56); Devin Toner, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock (Scott Fardy ’63), Jordi Murphy (Max Deegan ’79), Jack Conan.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold (Darren Sweetnam ’69), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan (Ian Keatley ‘HT), Conor Murray; James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’53), Rhys Marshall (Niall Scannell ’60), John Ryan (Ciaran Parker ’74); Jean Kleyn (yellow card ’37), Billy Holland (Gerbrandt Grobler ’51); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue (Robin Copeland ’11), CJ Stander. Replacement not used: Duncan Williams.
Match reports from The42.ie , Irish Times ThreeRedKings, Irish Examiner, Irish Independent and post match views of Peter O’Mahony particularly on the big call to go for touch with a late penalty. This one in the Examiner covers post match thoughts of Peter and Johann
Post match interview with Zebo below and you can see how emotional he was feeling on his last game in his home province colours (for now). ThreeRedKings wrote a blog about his unique style. His try-scoring record may never be surpassed! Good luck also to Robin and GG in their new clubs and thank you for your contributions to Munster.
In a strange way this eighty-minute performance for me was the most encouraging I’ve seen for many a year because of their willingness to play with a southern hemisphere panache. … Yes, they failed in their quest on this occasion however, at least this time they failed trying something new and they sleep in the knowledge that they gave it their all.
Stats from ESPN are here
The benefit of sitting in the north or south stands was the unreserved seating so clusters of red jerseys could gather together rather than being very spread out as happens in the Aviva. There was a lot of rubbish in the media during the week about the return of tickets by Munster. Given the MRSC lottery system it was not surprising that many supporters had opted instead to buy directly from the Leinster public sale where you could be sure of a ticket and buy 2 or more together. It was fun to hear from 2 friends that they spotted me in the Munster supporters photo used in the article on the RTE website – the same one used by MRSC to confirm membership was at full capacity. There was plenty of red at both ends in particular but that headline won’t result in clicks!
I was tweeting before the game about how fancy it was in the ladies with their Dyson hand dryers unlike at Thomond where we use paper towels. I spotted Joan and Kevin so I went over to sit with them as I knew Kevin is a good man to kick off a song. Babs joined us there and kept me entertained pre-game and during it also with her comments which are not to be reprinted apparently 🙂
I did prefer the RDS to the Aviva despite the result. The atmosphere was better, Kevin had us singing from time to time and that stirred up the home supporters to drown us out. Not sure if we were heard in other sections of the ground but we gave it welly. There did not seem to be a constant stream of people to the bar or maybe that was just because we were in the centre of the row. Leo the lion was often in front of us, banging his drum and encouraging chanting – of course chants of Leinster and Munster can be hard to distinguish, you really need to stress the first syllable! Oscar made an appearance pre-game also. There were some empty single seats near us as people did not always move in to leave no spaces and I was surprised at how close to kick off it was before many people came in and were then looking for a few seats together.
The final will be interesting as Leinster aim for the double European and league success while the Scarlets will look to retain their title and do themselves justice after their heavy defeat by Leinster in their European semi. After that we will have the Australia tour, the Under 20s and the 7s competitions. Before we know it the season will start again! On the 20th of June the draw for next season’s Champions Cup will take place and hopefully we will have some different teams to challenge ourselves against and new places to explore.
So another season comes to an end, what was your favourite memory – Conway’s super try and the overall team performance against Toulon, a rare win at Welford Road, the emergence of new players like young player of the year Sam Arnold or newcomers of the year Chris Cloete and Chris Farrell whose unfortunate injuries meant they missed the business end of the season? Thanks to those who have been following along, commenting, sharing etc. It’s been a pleasure to meet some of you during the season.
It will be interesting to see how the South African teams do next season with a proper preparation (not playing Currie Cup at the same time!). The TV coverage will be a big change also. Hopefully that means they will finalise the match schedule a bit earlier but I won’t hold my breath! It will be strange not having the base (family home) in Thurles anymore so my match day routine will be different but I have renewed my season ticket. Whether I keep the blog going or try something different like a podcast is a decision I am putting off for now.
GDPR – a reminder to those who have subscribed to receive an email when I post a new edition, that you can unsubscribe at any time. I will send out a specific email so I can take any bounce backs off the mailing list. As this is not a marketing email I don’t think I need to insist you all resubscribe..