The 16th man describes the match as seen from the crowd, accurate or not as it may be :-)
Coming up to Christmas week, ice on the ground and a Sunday morning kick-off, what better time for a Heineken Cup home match. There was very little hanging about outside TP before the match, the crowd eager to get in to start the festivities and possibly to huddle together for warmth.
The pre-match warm up was conducted in the usual manner, with one exception. On their way back in, the squad all ran in formation across the north terrace and down the sideline back to the tunnel, a change from their usual straight line run across the pitch. Was this a psychological warfare tactic, a sign of solidarity to us and to the visiting Scarlet fans in the north terrace? 23 warriors marching in unison led by the icon that is Paul O'Connell, an impressive sight indeed.
Before long they were back out and the match was underway. Soon after kick-off, ROG slotted a penalty kick and we were up by 3, good start. The rest of the first half was toe-in-the-water time. Both teams tested each other's defences, Scarlets threatening with dynamic switches and loops and Munster with old fashioned pressure. A Stephen Jones penalty at 12 mins leveled the score, and Scarlets ramped up their offensive efforts from there. They gained alot of momentum until a Keith Earls wrap tackle killed their progression, followed by Paulie stealing their lineout, thus relieving the pressure. Munster's scrum dominated, with another penalty coming from a turned scrum at 34 mins, putting us 6-3 ahead. No soon was the ball through the posts that Scarlets had a penalty of their own at 36 mins, the crowd feeling that all the hard work had gone to waste again due to ill-discipline. Much to the crowd's delight, the Welshman's unlucky streak continued, Jones missed the kick. 6-3 to Munster at the half.
The crowd were treated to 2 songs by the Galway ban The Kanyu Tree at half time.
I must admit, I hadn't heard the name before, but their song "Radio" was familiar and lively, and the change in half time entertainment seemed to work well and kept the crowd going for the 15 min break. One small critiscism, the drummer's cymbals could be heard from the pitch but not through the speakers, leading some of us to believe the kit wasn't mic'd up at all.
As the second half got underway, the sun came out to warm us up. Only in Ireland would you need a scarf and sunglasses in December! ROG's first penalty kick a minute in came off the post, but he followed with a successful kick at 43 mins, awarded from some impressive rucking by Donncha. Priestland took over the kicking duties for Scarlets, but missed a penalty at 48 mins. Munster capitalised and pushed Scarlets closer to their try line. Scarlets panicked and Jon Edwards infringed at the breakdown and got 10 minutes for his efforts. The unstoppable Munster maul replied and trundled through the Scarlets defence, allowing James Coughlan to touch down at 52 mins. ROG converted and brought Munster 16-3 ahead.
A lucky kick through set Donncha and Du Preez off running down the length of the pitch to touch down, only to find the rest of both teams back in the other half waiting after the whistle had gone. A wasted effort, but a slow run back with smiles all round followed. A Priestland penalty brought the score to 16-6. Great breaks from Murray and Murphy brought the action back to the Scarlets try line. Despite some acrobatic efforts from Hurley, Zebo and Earls, the Scarlet defence held firm and Munster had to settle for 3 points, edging the score to 19-6. The reinformcements arrived, with Thomás and Donnacha Ryan on for Murray and Leamy. Great pressure by Scarlets puts them in a scrum on the Munster line, with quick ball and a poor Munster defence allowing Rees to dive over for a soft enough try. Priestland's conversion brought the score to 19-13 at 66 mins. A glimmer of worry creeps in, this match wasn't over by any means.
Turns out it was though! Munster managed to hold under the Scarlet's final push, and another sin-binning a minute before the whistle put an end to the Scarlet's day.
A subdued crowd exited and dispersed, taking solice in the fact that Munster seemed in control for "most" of the match. It certainly wasn't the try fest that took place the night before in the east, it was a mid-pool match, shoulder to the wheel. Hopefully the plan is to grind out these wins and not peak too early. A lot of work needs to be done, especially in the backline. Individually they all played well, but the cohesion was missing. I fear the loss of Dougie will hit us hard. That being said, the forwards are going from strength to strength, with Paulie leading by example. It wouldn't be HCup rugby if it wasn't worrying and exciting at the same time :-)
The 16th Man
*The views expressed in this article are that of a Munster fan, and will be biased!
To the Brave and the Faithful, Nothing is Impossible.