Heineken Champions Cup: Munster Rugby 36 – 22 Gloucester Rugby

Munster secure bonus point win

Munster Rugby secured their first pool win in this European Cup campaign with a bonus point try victory over a determined and resilient Gloucester Rugby outfit. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action at the Limerick venue. 

Munster team cohesion still lacking

The opening period exchanges were keenly contested. Gloucester Rugby you would have to say were on the front foot as they took advantage of a sloppy start from the hosts. This was evident in the opening kick off, the kick was let bounce by the Munster Rugby players, allowing Gloucester Rugby to easily win possession. 

Further sloppy issues in the basic fundamentals surfaced for Munster Rugby in the line out. Were Munster Rugby spooked by the fact that former Munster Rugby player Gerbrandt Grobler was in the Gloucester Rugby ranks because the line out execution was poor, indecisive calls and execution. The video analysis on the line out set piece will need to be scrutinized on Monday morning for sure. 

Gloucester for their promising start were not hurting Munster Rugby. Running lines were static, passing back and forth through the attacking line with little success. Munster Rugby were able to finally able to secure a platform after Tom Savage was given a yellow card for a shoulder charge on Dan Goggin at the breakdown, an initial key moment in this contest. 

The ten minutes of the sin yielded a 5-3 score for Munster Rugby. The hosts opening their account as a solid line out was then moved down the line through Carbery, Conway for the full back Mike Haley to cross in the corner. O’Mahony from the restart was pinged on the ground and Danny Ciprani slotted home an excellent long range penalty. Cue the key event of the fixture. 

Ciprani sees red 

The key event of this contest. Rory Scannell collected a pass on the halfway and aimed for Ciprani whose shoulder was extremely high. The initial reaction was that it warranted a card but what color would it be? TMO and match officials reviewed it and a red card was issued. A devastating blow for Gloucester and ultimately the contest. Munster Rugby were now in the ascendancy. The directive is now clear, anything high is going to penalized with a card but the officiating consistency issue reared its head soon after as Billy Twelvetrees high tackle was only a penalty. 

Munster turn the screw

Immediately after Twelvestree’s penalty concession, Munster Rugby bagged their second try of the afternoon. A solid line out resulting in a compact maul which Gloucester Rugby could not stop. Rhys Marshall on hand to crash over. The fact that the line out went to Peter O’Mahony spoke volumes on the issues experienced by the hosts in the set piece. Possession guaranteed with the back row player and the score was required. 15-3. 

Dominant Munster Rugby third quarter

Two tries in the bag and Munster Rugby looked to secure the bonus point in double quick time. The scrum was a source of comfort for the hosts throughout and after two dominant scrums, Carbery received the ball and with options out wide decided to cross himself. 22-3. 

The bonus point try point was secured soon after and it was a highlight reel moment with Carbery’s pass to Sweetnam. The ball was quickly distributed from the ruck and credit Sammy Arnold for a superbly timed running line to score the fourth try. 29-3. 

Despite a Gloucester Rugby try from Grobler,  Munster Rugby promptly scored a fifth try from Andrew Conway with a sharp running line after a deft Carbery pass. 35-10. 

Gloucester fight hard in final quarter

You have to credit the work rate and fight of Gloucester Rugby today. Plenty of sides faced with the prospect of playing with fourteen players for fifty minutes would have given up the ghost but the side fought hard until the final whistle and deservedly score two further tries from Matt Banahan and Ben Morgan. Both tries setup by good pack work and an ever increasing penalty count from the hosts. Gloucester Rugby will be disappointed with the loss but the fight and spirit means that Ackermann and coaching staff can take solace from the fixture. 

Munster Indiscipline

The last quarter was blighted by Munster Rugby indiscipline. The Stephen Archer and Sammy Arnold incidents highlighted this; lack of composure in the ranks defensively were exposed. Archer was lucky not to receive a red card, the tackle was high on Ben Morgan. Plenty of scope to improve for Munster Rugby but perhaps the fixture last weekend at Sandy Park was a contributory factor. In any case, the discipline and penalty count in the second half needs to be looked at. 

Injury Front

A mixed bag for Munster Rugby performance wise and the injury count increased with the ankle injury sustained by Tommy O’Donnell and a serious looking knee injury to Dan Goggin at the death. Rhys Marshall also sustained a knock which saw Kevin O’Byrne enter the fray. Tommy O’Donnell injury nightmare continues. 

Munster Performance 

Mixed bag. There is a definite disconnect in the game plan execution at present. The 1-10 cohesion looks strong but the game plan ethos to the back line is a work in progress. The basic skill set of this side needs to be upgraded in a hurry and the three quarter threat with ball in hand looks sporadic at best. Mike Haley potentially is a quality full back with ball in hand but no supporting runners were available for offloads. Mathewson’s ability to distribute at ruck time saw some good improvement but there was too much stationary ball carriers during the eighty minutes; a sign that players are unsure of the game plan and line calls. Crowd was not energized and the performance on the pitch dictated as much. Munster Rugby are top of the pool but they will know that significant improvement is required for the December series of games in this competition against Castres who beat Exeter Chiefs today. 

Man Of The Match

Munster Rugby’s performance was a mixed bag but the display from Mike Haley was a standout. The full back was solid in the aerial exchanges and his ability with ball in hand provided bright moments for the side. Haley scored Munster Rugby’s opening try which was a decisive try. Carbery was a close second. 

Guinness Pro 14: Semi-Final Qualifier Preview

Enter the playoffs. Enter four teams this weekend where two will advance to face either Glasgow Warriors or Leinster Rugby in two weeks time. Two intriguing weekend fixtures beckon with Edinburgh Rugby and Toyota Cheetahs traveling on the road with no pressure; a dangerous proposition for both Munster Rugby and Scarlets. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

Several subplots come to mind in this contest. The key word for both teams is recovery and how effectively both front line players have recovered from recent action. Munster Rugby first team players had a free weekend to recover mentally and physically from a traumatic loss to Racing 92 in Bordeaux. How have the players reacted to this loss will be seen to full effect this weekend? Edinburgh Rugby on the other hand had a sensational weekend to savior; a 1872 Cup win over Glasgow Warriors, playoff rugby secured and most significantly a return to the European Rugby Champions Cup competition next season. The Glasgow Warriors game was ferocious in physicality and one wonders if Edinburgh Rugby’s charges will have the same level of intensity for this playoff encounter. After such an euphoric high, can Richard Cockerill’s men produce another high octane performance?

With dry weather conditions forecast in Limerick, this contest should provide good attacking moments during the contest. Munster Rugby will look to the likes of Sam Arnold, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway to provide line break excellence out wide. Arnold was abrasive in his defensive and ball carrying duties last weekend and more of the same should provide the hosts with a good solid platform. The performance of Rory Scannell will be duly noted; his kicking game from open play has the potential to unsettle Edinburgh Rugby defensively in their line speed and ability to push up on Munster Rugby.

Edinburgh Rugby have shown a progressive upturn in their back line play this season. Several huge threats with ball in hand. Duhan van der Merwe is an excellent player and the South African showed Munster Rugby management his power and physicality touching down twice in their sole meeting this season at Murrayfield. His pace and power are on point. Blair Kinghorn’s ability to create gain line breaks has being to the fore this season; rewarded with a deserved call up to the national side. Fife is another player who has impressed with ball in hand. His 100 meters gained last weekend against Glasgow a perfect illustration of his ability. Threats which Munster Rugby must be wary of.

The half-back battle looks intriguing. How will Murray and Keatley react and bounce back from a mixed performance against Racing 92? Will Edinburgh Rugby look to put maximum pressure on Keatley early to unsettle the half back partnership? Murray vs. Hidalgo-Clyne will be interesting viewing. Hildalgo-Clyne has all the skill set to unsettle Munster Rugby around the fringes, a solid kicking game and his ability to link back with an excellent support running game to the fore. Weir or van der Walt will need to provide stability in the opening exchanges and then look to build expansively.

The pack battle will be epic here. Edinburgh Rugby under Richard Cockerill are a resolute, abrasive unit with several standout players. Nel in the front row provides experience and nous on set piece. Berghan has being hugely impressive this season in his work rate and set piece execution. Gilchrist and Toolis are a formidable second row partnership, more than capable of disrupting an opposition line out. Mata and Bradbury are abrasive ball carriers.

Munster Rugby’s pack will look to right several wrongs from their Racing 92 loss. The line out was an unmitigated disaster in the opening half of the European Rugby Champions Cup semi-final. Throws and jumping was completely off; spooked by the presence of Donnacha Ryan potentially but the manner in how set piece was lost so deep in Racing 92 territory will have irked all those involved in the fixture. The set piece surely will improve this weekend. The scrum was the facet of play which provided good front five moments for Munster Rugby and they will look to impose their will to build the platform. Several ball carrying threats in the pack. Kilcoyne and Marshall provide mobility around the fringes. Stander and O’Mahony will look to impose their presence on the play; how they do this if Edinburgh Rugby adopt the chop tackle tactic will be interesting viewing?

A 50/50 contest. The mindset of Munster Rugby this weekend will be paramount in this fixture. Are the scars of Bordeaux still raw and inhibit performances in key positions? The playoff context will be assessed by the media pack from a Munster Rugby. Can Munster Rugby deliver in a playoff setting? If Edinburgh Rugby can keep in touch going into the final quarter, nerves will creep into Thomond Park but I sense that Munster Rugby have a point or two to prove to themselves and the neutral this weekend. Edinburgh’s efforts last weekend will be exposed in the second half as a fresher Munster Rugby side will come up trumps by seven to ten points.

This is the fixture of the weekend personally. This is a fixture in which we could be talking about for years to come given the genuine expansive style of play offered by both teams. Toyota Cheetahs are coming into this fixture with little pressure on the side; a memorable debut Guinness Pro 14 season, a playoff run to boot and it is a proud achievement for everyone connected with the club. Their ability to attack from anywhere on the pitch has being seen to full effect this season; even last weekend, their dismantling of Southern Kings in the second / third quarter was impressive. Good cohesion between pack and back line. Incisive offloading and support running.

Toyota Cheetahs will relish the dry track conditions and Scarlets need to be extremely careful on how expansive they will be during this contest. Toyota Cheetahs will want a completely loose game where both sides are defensively stretched. Their back line with the likes of Small, Venter and Blommetjies who are superb ball carriers form a massive threat for the hosts. Tian Meyer is a solid operator at scrum-half and whether his half back partner is either Marais or Goosen will provide problems in their kicking game and game management to unleash an exciting back line.

Scarlets like Munster Rugby have wounds to heal both mentally and physically. Their loss to Leinster Rugby was hard to watch and the manner of the result where Leinster Rugby’s pack dismantled Scarlets in the breakdown and set piece. It must have proved tough viewing for the Welsh region in video analysis last week. Like Munster Rugby, they failed to impose themselves on the fixture, failed to deliver a punch to their opponent. There needs to be a reaction but how the side have recovered from this set back will be key to the fixture.

Scarlets are an incredible side. The pack is abrasive and mobile. Evans, Lee and Owens are quality front row operators. Beirne in the second row has provided standout performances in his open play, breakdown duties as well was popping up with several outstanding tries. The back row will look to right the wrongs of the Leinster Rugby loss; expect James Davies, John Barclay to shine in this encounter. The half-back partnership of Davies and Patchell is excellent and they will unleash their three quarters at regular intervals. Scott Williams and Hadleigh Parkes will relish the challenge posed by the Toyota Cheetahs and provide the platform for Evans and Halfpenny to impress in the wide channels.

For Toyota Cheetahs to win this contest, their pack has to start well from minute one. There cannot be an opening period lull or lull period at any point. Cheetahs pack when on form are a match for anyone but their indiscipline in recent rounds suggests that perhaps Scarlets can get an upper hand in this facet of play. Cheetahs to provide massive entertainment here provided George Clancy does not disrupt the flow of the game. These are two superb, expansive teams and it needs officiating to promote this, to promote the league to a wider audience. Scarlets to win a try fest in the closing quarter. As mentioned, a potential game for the ages!

Munster Announce Signings

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It is a total Munster party love in at the moment. Munster topped their tricky European Champions Cup pool, second seeds in the quarter finals and a home tie against Toulouse, medical staff absolved of any negligence over Conor Murray’s HIA procedures during the trip to Scotstoun. On this high, the powers that be in the province have announced more good news in back of three key signings and a couple of contract extensions to front line players. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the news.

JJ returns home

This is the key addition for Munster next season. The return of JJ Hanrahan adds quality and competition to the ten berth and will push Tyler Bleyendaal on to higher performance levels. The fact that JJ has left Northampton Saints after only two seasons speaks volumes of a period where his potential at ten was unfulfilled instead plying this trade either at full back or at twelve, the very reason why the Kerry native left the province in the first place. Northampton right now are in a state of flux; head coach rumors circulating and with the likes of Tom Woods moving to Saracens next season indicates all is not well in the East Midlands club. This is a good move for Hanrahan, it is a move which will define his career and it will be an interesting off season to see how the ten battle unfolds already. Erasmus has a player with numerous positives; ability to game manage, astute tactical kicking. It is a win win for the fans who for the majority were sad to see the player go. Let us not forget the circumstances surrounding the departure with Anthony Foley making the call to appoint Ian Keatley as his first choice ten while Hanrahan was reduced as an utility back. Interesting times for the player next season. A fresh new start as it looks almost inevitable that Ian Keatley will depart for pastures new (probably France) in the off-season.

Scrum Half backups secured

With the departures of Cathal Sheridan (injury plagued) and Tomas O’Leary whose lack of game time prompted a loan move to Montpelier, it was essential that Munster identified sufficient backup options to Munster. The new recruit is James Hart, a potential shrewd signing from the province who is well regarded by management at Racing Metro 92. His brief cameo against Munster last weekend indicated a player who is quick to distribute from the ruck. With a good off-season, Hart will be a pivotal squad player who will challenge existing incumbent Duncan Williams for the backup scrum half spot. Williams is rewarded for a positive start to the season with a contract extension. Some may have their negative vibes on the player but Williams is well respected in the Munster dressing room and management team. Williams has played superbly in recent weeks particularly away to Glasgow two weeks ago. His assured box kicking and game management was to the fore. A potentially troublesome position resolved next season. Erasmus will have plenty of competition for places in the twenty-three man first team squad.

Chris Farrell

This is a signing which will prompt speculation on the futures of the likes of Saili and Taute. Chris Farrell has significant upside; aggressive ball carrier, physical and strong. His age profile means that he will come to Munster with his best days still left to come. Fans need to be patient on this signing so hopefully either Taute or Saili are also in the squad next season as both players have contributed massively on both sides of the ball in recent months. Farrell will need experience around him to nurture him into the defensive system of the province and also gain familiarity to the attacking plays. Either Taute or Saili would fit the mould perfectly or potentially Keith Earls as well. A signing which has a lot of upside given the age profile of the player. We await to see his impact.

Contract Renewals

Munster have tied down the futures of six Munster players whose age profile means that the province will enjoy the peaks of their playing careers. Bleyendaal at ten this season has being excellent; yes, they are questions from yours truly on his ability to vary up his game but his passing and ability to hit his targets has being on point. 2019 contract means that the player will be eligible for Ireland duty well before then. Is he a player in the plans of Joe Schmidt?

Dave Kilcoyne has signed on until June 2020. The abrasive prop whose ball carrying provides Munster with endless attacking opportunities has being a revelation this season. His set piece has improved this season and his error count has reduced compared to last season when he was exposed in set piece, offside and the occasion knock on. Kilcoyne’s suitors were many but the UL Bohs stalwart has made the right decision; a team which is on the up. Kilcoyne can bed down and hone his craft in familiar surroundings. Excellent contract extension.

The Scannell brothers have being standouts of the Munster revival. Rory Scannell at twelve has transitioned into a quality three quarter. His ability to spot space in behind opponents defenses with superb kicks has setup endless opportunities for Munster to launch attacks. Scannell’s defense this year has being sublime. Niebaner and Farrell have to be credited for this, his first time tackle success rate is on point. A player who will only improve in the coming years and his kicking makes him a good option at ten also.

Niall Scannell is the first choice hooker in the team even if Casey, Sharry were in the squad fit and healthy. His progression this season has summed up Munster’s rise; his error count has reduced and the Cork native has really improved all facets of his play. Lineout has being on point evident in his call-up to the Ireland squad for the upcoming RBS 6N. What I am loving about these signings is the age profile, all the guys are young and their potential has yet to be fully realized. Exciting times for the province. A key player for the team in the years to come.

Darren Sweetnam before his injury was excellent. Kirchner’s hit during St.Stephen’s Day was a sickener as the player was increasing in confidence in both sides of the ball. His GAA background proved a great asset for Murray in box kicking aerial duels but his ability to identify space in the open field was to the fore. Superb prospect and along with Ronan O’Mahoney is a player with massive potential to flourish in the years to come. A no brainer but a move which was needed to be tied down now. Exciting times indeed for Munster!