Posted by Gayl – WestTerraceView: The crowd had started to make their way to the exits when the ball was kicked out of play after eighty minutes before we realised that the game was not yet over. Foul play had to be reviewed as the players were no doubt wishing they could head for shelter. After the review the decision was a red card for Arno and a last chance for Saracens to secure a draw. The penalty was kicked to touch and a lineout formed. Fair play to Jack who soared high and secured the ball to snuff out the danger. While a losing bonus point for the visitors may come back to haunt us at the end of the pool stages holding them scoreless throughout the second half when they were playing with wind advantage was an achievement.
The highlights video below features the only try, the red card incident and the closing minute of the game including Jack’s steal. In fairness highlights were few and far between but there was a disallowed try by Rory due to an earlier handling error in the first half and an excellent defensive maul led by Jack in the second which won back possession along with some clever kicks for territory and impressive defence by both teams, along with blocked down kicks, knock-ons and other errors.
While many of the English internationals were left at home those who came to play turned up, providing a stern test for Munster. The visitors aggressive defence and linespeed punished any hesitation / indecision by Munster. Specifically Conor was caught twice in possession that I can recall. A poor start by Munster gave us an early insight into what the English and European champions could do with the ball as they made the most of that opening period. You could see how strong the wind was though as so many of their kicks travelled further vertically than horizontally! By contrast Munster put in some excellent tactical kicks to pin them back. The pass which set Keith free down the west wing by Rory was top drawer. It put him in space and ultimately set up the position for the try scored by Peter at full stretch. The pace of the game was so high that the first half flew by.
In the second half possession was more of a liability as conditions deteriorated. The number of errors increased, starting with the kick-off being fumbled, frustrating the players, management and supporters alike. The bench brought fresh energy to the trench warfare. The scrum and lineout held up well.
The new game plan needs to include a plan B for tactics suited to this type of weather. Given how well forecasted the storm had been I was surprised that we did not see more of the old fashioned “up the jumper” and tactical kicking approach that have served Munster well in the past. However the talking point of the game is the red card decision. The tackle can be seen in the highlights video above. Many were wondering how it differed from the tackle below on Mike Haley in the first half which did not warrant any card.
Stats from ESPN show that Munster enjoyed 62% of possession in both halves and credit is due for not allowing Saracens to benefit from their wind advantage in the second half. The rain which worsened as the game went on may have been a factor also. I had thought that a 7 point lead facing into the wind might not be enough but thankfully it sufficed.
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin (Liam O’Connor ’70), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne ’79), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’55); Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley ’62), Billy Holland; Tadhg Beirne (Jack O’Donoghue ’62), Peter O’Mahony (captain), CJ Stander (Arno Botha ’70). Replacements: Nick McCarthy, Sammy Arnold.
SARACENS: Matt Gallagher; Rotimi Segun (Max Malins ’62), Alex Lozowski (Nick Tompkins ’64), Brad Barritt (captain), Alex Lewington; Manu Vunipola, Ben Spencer (Tom Whiteley ’69); Richard Barrington (Rhys Carre ’54), Jack Singleton, Titi Lamositele (Josh Ibuanokpe ’64); Will Skelton (Joel Kpoku ’64), Maro Itoje; Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Jackson Wray. Replacements: Kapeli Pifeleti, Sean Reffell.
Match reports from the Examiner, The42.ie and Irish Times
From the terrace: it is always a treat when the players are encouraged to stop by and say hello to the early arrivals on the west terrace pre-game as they return from their “meet and greet” in the MRSC bar. This week it was Chris and Joey who dropped by, looking smart in their suits although they had ditched their red ties. Thanks to Mark, Ger and Paul for facilitating the visit and taking the photo for our collection, featuring some of the free Santa hats handed out.
It was good to see Ben Healy and Shane Daly involved with the warmup. The 6/2 split on the bench for the recent games has limited their opportunity for inclusion but they will likely be called on again for Pro14 action during the inter-pros. Tony was telling me that the early arrivals while queueing to enter were treated to a wonderful rendition of “There is an Isle” at the end of the Shannon game on the back pitch so I was delighted to find it on twitter. It is a lovely song and a pity we do not hear it more often at Munster games for “political” reasons!