Hawkeye Sidekick

Monday Night Rugby at Thomond Park serves up a classic on opening night

Superb debut for Monday Night Guinness PRO14

I was quite apprehensive of this Monday Night Guinness Pro14 experiment. Thomond Park on a damp, chilly October night with empty stands coupled with Munster Rugby and Cardiff Blues naming several personnel changes.

It did not bode well given this backdrop but holy moly, entertainment aplenty was provided. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the 38-27 win for Munster Rugby.

Excitement from minute one

Conference B has seen some intriguing results so far. The unexpected poor start for Edinburgh Rugby a main talking point along with the form issues experienced by Scarlets.

Connacht Rugby’s away win to Edinburgh last Sunday was a big performance so the perfect opportunity for Munster Rugby and Cardiff Blues to provide a big statement of intent to the rest of the conference themselves with a win.

Cardiff Blues stated their intentions early and Lee-Lo took full advantage of sluggish defensive work from Scannell and Goggin to score after a good pass from Jarrod Evans. The concession was disappointing for the hosts but the immediate reaction to the try was emphatic.

Ben Healy’s big boot providing field position and the Munster Rugby pack did the rest with patient phase work close in before Gavin Coombes crashed over. Healy tacked on the extras and we were level. 7-7 after 7 minutes.

Munster Rugby punished for indiscipline

Cardiff Blues retook the lead with a Jarrod Evans penalty to make it 7-10 but the Munster Rugby pack were relishing the set piece exchanges and more success in the scrum and line out saw Gavin Coombes score his second try of the evening from close range.

The usual suspects from Munster Rugby involved. 14-10 for Munster Rugby after Healy’s extras but almost immediately, another penalty was conceded as Cardiff Blues created a massive line break. Hodnett pinged on the breakdown but it was a 50/50 call in my opinion. Evans again doing the needful. 14-13.

Munster Rugby though were continuing to play their rugby. I liked how Ben Healy was looking to create attacking width at every given opportunity. The up-tempo attacking play yielded a penalty right on half-time as Cardiff Blues were pinged at ruck time. Healy’s boot again unerring. 17-13 at half-time but the fun and games was only getting started.

Second half try fest

If you asked the tournament organizers on their expectations from last night’s fixture, I bet they would never imagine 38 points scored in an action packed second half.

Where do you start? It ebbed and flowed as soon as the impressive Kevin O’Byrne scored Munster Rugby’s third try from close range. 24-13 and one may have thought that Munster Rugby were in for a comfortable rest of the evening. Think again.

The outside defense from Munster Rugby at times lacked consistency and kudos to Aled Summerhill for identifying the weak point as he exposed Scannell and powered his way over for a superb try. Evans again excellently slotting over the extras. Munster Rugby’s lapse in defensive duties rightly exposed. Game back on. 24-20 after 55 minutes.

Back came Munster Rugby and more field position saw the pack reassert dominance. Jack O’Donoghue impressive throughout scoring the bonus point try. 31-20 but back came Cardiff Blues with their best try of the night.

An intricate line out call saw Cardiff Blues highlight their skill set; good hands until Halaholo received the ball from close range and you are nothing to stop the center from close range. 31-27 after 63 minutes.

The action was non-stop but cue the try of the night from Munster Rugby. JJ Hanrahan entered the fray minutes before. The fast tempo from Munster Rugby impressive which setup de Allende who created the line break; multiple offloads later and Hanrahan’s running support line was rewarded with him touching down. A magnificent score. 38-27 after 68 minutes. Breathless does not go there.

Given the teams selected, the pace and tempo was superb. Several players were starting to feel it in the last ten minutes and unforced errors started to creep in but understandable given the passages of play that preceded it. Munster Rugby finishing the game on the front foot. Given the start, their reaction and performance to multiple setbacks was standout.

Coombes, Hodnett and O’Byrne standout

This was a game which was the perfect opportunity for certain Munster Rugby players to stake a further claim to the jersey ahead of European Cup fixtures.

O’Byrne continues his consistency high level of performance. The hooker deserves more game time in the crunch games; he has not let the side down when he has been introduced and it was the same last night. His mobility, ball carries and set piece were on point.

The West Cork connection to the side stood out as well. If you follow my blog, I am a big fan of the West Cork contingent. Wycherley is well on his way to secure more first team appearances this season but it was the emergence of Coombes and Hodnett again last night which excites me.

Their style of play is where Munster Rugby want to go. Their ability to ball carry and offload stood out. Coombes’ power is extraordinary right now in all facets of play, he looks primed for Munster Rugby right now for the marquee European fixtures.

Hodnett is not far behind him. The Rosscarbery native possesses massive speed and ball carrying ability which to Johann van Graan has to be hard to ignore. His pace as well meaning that his breakdown work is always prominent. I am a big fan of Hodnett.

I have picked out three here but special mention also to Calvin Nash who impressed on the wing. I liked Casey and Healy tandem again against the experienced half back partnership of Williams / Evans. Their positivity in attack set the tone and the rest of the side followed suit.

A game where the youth academy graduates came to the party. It is an exciting result for anyone associated with Munster Rugby. The body of evidence that these young guys can make it is enhanced with each passing game.

A tough assignment to Dragons beckons Sunday but if the side can get another win, then this will have been a superb week for the Irish province.

Cardiff Blues defeated but there were plenty of positives for the side. Their threat with ball in hand was excellent. They identified and executed line breaks superbly and should have come away with at least a point.

Their resiliency to come back from Munster Rugby tries will have impressed their management team, plenty to work on but plenty to be positive ahead of their next fixture at home to Ulster Rugby next Monday night. If that game is half as good as this then we will be in for a treat. Monday Night Guinness Pro14. This could catch on you know!