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By J O'G
December 9 2019

  When I arrived in Limerick, it was rainy and windy. Great I thought, the perfect weather for box-kicking to try and secure a losing bonus-point. The side selected had only that in their aspiration list. Even that was looking unlikely, with the side Munster put out. There were some scary match ups; Earls against Segun out wide seemed one-sided. Then on Saturday morning I woke to bright sunshine and little wind and the bonus point seemed unlikely. The locals around town talked of a storm later, it will be wet and windy don’t you worry. The long slow walk from the town was enjoyable. We stopped some locals for directions. ‘Do you want the quick way or the way with the best pubs’ was their reply. We took the latter and ended up in a covered balcony overlooking the river; plenty of advice about how strong Munster were. Overconfidence was everywhere.   

The ground I really liked, few spectators at either end; the sides tall and steep. Even two thirds the way up as I was (in a season ticket holder’s seat) on the ten yard line I felt that I was close to the pitch. The ground though had only a small standing area at each end; no protection from the wind blowing in precisely straight down the ground. I was unfortunately on the wrong 10 yard line as it turned out, but the big replay screens were good enough to see everything. I asked the locals around me what might be the tactics. Same as at Azp, play into the wind if you win the toss and it turned out Saracens must have, because Munster kicked off with the wind at their backs. 

The game, at least in the first quarter, was fairly even, each side feeling each other out. Saracens had brought the normal away game with them. Kicking the ball into the wind which was quite reasonable at that point just held it up for the chase to arrive. That was though the limit of Sarries expectations but Munster definitely had bigger plans. They were pushing the ball wide at every opportunity. I’m sure had the wind been less intrusive the cross-field kick would have come into play. The pattern was reasonably consistent. Turn the first couple of passes inside to fix the defence and then throw the third or fourth phase wide to try and go round the outside. It was getting a reasonable return; basically if they were able to avoid the tackle being made by Itoje or Skelton they made ground; those two were able to push them back three of four yards each time. 

A period of attacking phases saw Munster getting into the 22 eventually. A penalty was awarded by Poite, but Munster didn’t take the easy points but went for the corner. The throw was easily dealt with and the resulting drives went across the pitch with no real reward until another penalty under the posts. This time Munster took the points. From the kick-off and pressure on the clearance, Sarries were able to get into the Munster half for a sustained period of pressure and it was looking as if there was a chance to get a point back when Itoje cleared out a ruck just using his shoulder. The home broadcaster repeatedly played it back on the big screen until even Poite took a look. Fortunately it was just a penalty, could easily have been a card. Munster were able to clear and from that they had a longish period of sustained possession and pressure. From one of their forays out wide, Earls was able to go round Segun and Spencer providing cover to get deep into the 22. As the cover finally got to him he was able to pass infield and the club captain was able to crash over without too much difficulty. 

The conversion was tricky, but all of a sudden the 10 points lead looked ominous. The wind was picking up as well, because Sarries were unable to even get to the gain line with Spencer’s box-kicks. Fortunately in each case they were able to retrieve the possession and move a little further upfield. Munster though looked ominous and a move out wide to the right looked promising before a dropped pass and a fumble stopped it in its tracks. However the ball was not dead, there was a mazy run, a missed tackle and Munster were in again. The locals had their tails up and the crowd were very loud. I took the opportunity of the conversion for a comfort break. As I got back the try had been chalked off for the knock-on I thought I had seen in real time and it was still manageable. 

From this restart, Sarries got back in the game for the next 5 minutes or so. Winning a scrum penalty, Spencer kicked into the wind and hit the post. The rebound wasn’t dealt with well and Sarries got possession back to drive close to the line. There wasn’t a way through and after an offside, Poite quickly stopped play and Spencer kicked from almost under the posts for 10-3. The rest of the half was played around the halfway with Saracens getting more and more of a toehold in the game. The wind looked at least worth 10 points and the chances of a losing bonus point seemed stronger and stronger. Half-time came and I felt pretty confident that we could see the game out and come back with a precious point.

Whilst we were watching two teams of u14 girls batter each other in front of us the wind got stronger and now the rain made an appearance. I would imagine it looked fairly ok on the TV but I can tell you it was terrible in the ground. I don’t actually remember watching conditions worse for the wind / rain combination ever. The angle was around 30 degrees to the horizontal and we could see it was stronger than it was in the first half, there was not going to be an easy ride for Munster playing into it. So it proved. Sarries played all the first 10 minutes of the second half almost exclusively in the Munster 22. They didn’t have the ball for very long though and when they did they got a penalty on the 22. It looked pretty straightforward with the wind behind, but again Ben hit the post. No luck on the rebound this time and Munster were able to drive the ball away. I did think afterwards, that if that had gone over we might have won. 

I cannot really let you know in a report how dire the conditions were for Munster. They could not kick the ball at all; I don’t think they did so except to touch from a mark or a penalty. They were also unable to throw the ball wide, limited to a one out pass, short drive (repeat ad nauseam) game. They kept hold of the ball for long periods, I haven’t seen the stats though to confirm it. Eventually they made it up the pitch to the halfway line and lost possession. Then Sarries with a simple kick would get them to start all over again. There were short periods of play when the men in black had the ball, but Munster’s defence wasn’t giving up the lead they already had. I was disappointed in the two penalties we won in the second half. Neither kick was significantly long given the strength of the wind; both lineouts were pretty rubbish and picked off easily. 

Really, best forget the second half altogether. Saracens were putting all their energy into keeping Munster in their own half. When they did get possession the best thing was to make them start again all over from their 22. I think the only time Munster got possession in a kickable penalty range was when a kick was dropped badly by Segun giving Munster a scrum which was disrupted well, never a chance of a penalty from it. The weather was so dire, the team didn’t even do a lap, going straight down the tunnel and who can blame them. There was one final play that was a bit stupid. Arno Botha with the last play, led with a forearm into the neck of Tompkins. It seemed fairly innocuous, but Poite was very interested in it. He had already signalled the end of the match with Munster kicking it off to take the win, I’m assuming the TMO brought his attention to it. Red card, a penalty to Saracens with the game already over 80. 

Kick wasn’t long enough, the throw rubbish and picked off easily. The Munster player then tried to walk off the pitch but was caught and almost turned over. When Munster won the scramble on the ground, the ball was dispatched into the stands (with the wind behind it). After the game the Munster supporters seemed disappointed with the result. Quite right; unless they win next week, it’s likely their draw against Racing will find them unable to come second unless they get a win in Paris. All in all I was very happy with the result, especially with the team sent. As long as we don’t waste all that hard work by fielding a weakened team next weekend. All the big guns please for 5 points.      


Munster: Haley; Conway, Farrell, R Scannell, Earls; Hanrahan, Murray; Cronin, N Scannell, S Archer; Kleyn, Holland; Beirne, O'Mahony, Stander.

Replacements: O'Byrne, O'Connor, Ryan, Wycherley, O'Donoghue, McCarthy, Arnold, Botha.

Saracens: Gallagher; Segun, Lozowski, Barritt, Lewington; Manu Vunipola, Spencer; Barrington, Singleton, Lamositele, Skelton, Itoje; Isiekwe, Earl, Wray.

Replacements: Pifeleti, Carre, Ibuanokpe, Kpoku, Reffell, Whiteley, Malins, Tompkins.


SCORERS: Munster- Try: O’Mahony;  Conv: Hanrahan; Pen: Hanrahan

                    Saracens: Pen: Spencer


Referee: Roman Poite


Attendance: 25,034


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Discussion started by , 09/12/2019 18:11
09/12/2019 18:11
Thanks for braving the elements Jeremy!
My Sarries hero was Nick Isiekwe - didn't put a foot wrong all night!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2019:12:19:09:54:00 by Darraghgirl.

09/12/2019 18:25
Watching on TV, I was surprised that the commentators said less about the weather than your report suggests they should have done. It looked pretty lively, particularly when any kick was more than about 10 feet aboveground level.


Points win matches: tries win hearts and minds.

10/12/2019 15:58
Thank you, Captain Oates!

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(*) As at October 31, 2018.

11/12/2019 22:05
Was that the best result of our three (?) visits to Limerick? Certainly, we didn't get anything when I went there (14 - 6?) apart from hangovers.

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