Munster head coach Johann van Graan was suitably pleased with his side’s first outing of 2018-19, as he began his first full season in charge with a record-breaking win.
It couldn’t have gone much better for Munster with a bonus point in the bag shortly after the hour, six tries in total, and Joey Carbery making his debut to a rapturous ovation in the second half.
Last season’s 34-3 win at home to Benetton Rugby was Munster’s previous biggest victory on the opening day and this is the first time they have started a campaign with a clean sheet.
Tries from Rory Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Tommy O’Donnell, JJ Hanrahan, Dave O’Callaghan, and Darren Sweetnam ensured van Graan’s men hit the ground running against a Cheetahs side who looked a shadow of the outfit that reached the play-offs in their maiden season last term.
Munster were 12-0 ahead at half-time and there was no let up, even though the sun finally went behind the clouds, as a new free-flowing style graced the Limerick venue, and debutants Mike Haley, Arno Botha, Neil Cronin, and Shane Daly all impressed.
I’m very glad about the win. We came out here to win the game and, as I said earlier in the week, if the bonus point was on offer, we’d take it,” said van Graan.
“The thing I’m happy with the most is that we kept them to zero. The game was tightly poised at 12-0 just after half-time and we worked back into that right-handed corner and forced a turnover, lost a lineout, and still defended our line and exited. Very happy with that.
“It was tough conditions, meaning the hot weather, it suited the opposition more. After the 30 minutes, we were tired but it just showed that our fitness came through. We adjusted at half-time, changed the tempo a bit and we managed it pretty well.
From our last game here against Edinburgh, the improvement in the attack was incredible. We scored some really nice tries. It was frustrating to leave quite a few out there, twice over the line and we might have got into the 50s but we’ll take our bonus points and our win and move on.
Munster came into this game on the back of a treacherous end to their last campaign. The 2017-18 season promised much, but they limped out of the Champions Cup and PRO14 at the hands of Racing 92 and Leinster, respectively.
And after an unremarkable pre-season, van Graan would have been desperate for his players to catch fire.
The blistering heat may have boosted the visitors’ hopes, but once Tian Schoeman sent a third-minute penalty opportunity wide and right, Munster gained in confidence.
Scannell scored the first try after some inspired play from Sweetnam down the right wing. He stepped Nico Lee before he gave the perfect offload as Schoeman launch a despairing lunge.
That try arrived in the 17th minute and the conversion was missed. But Hanrahan made amends eight minutes before half-time when he tapped over the extras following Kilcoyne’s try, when he bundled his way over.
Munster should have led by more at half-time and were it not for a wonderful last-ditch tackle by Daly, three minutes after the interval, the gap could have tightened.
But the academy graduate did enough to stop Malcolm Jaer five metres from the line and Munster regrouped. The killer third try came via O’Donnell in the 53rd minute.
He hadn’t played a PRO14 fixture since March 24 and gave a quality display against Cheetahs.
Hanrahan finally wrapped up the bonus point in the 66th minute, and Cheetahs collapsed late on with O’Callaghan and Sweetnam helping themselves to two late tries.
You can’t ask for a better start, if you get five points in your first game. Although we had a lot of opportunities, I think the score was a bit misleading,” said van Graan.
“They also played pretty well. Defensively Franco (Smith) poses a pretty difficult threat with leaving four guys on both sides of the ball in the 15s.
“I thought the ref allowed quick ball both ways so defensively we had to be good. Take the five points, move on, opening day of the season, pretty tough game waiting Friday night in Glasgow.”
R Scannell, D Kilcoyne, T O’Donnell, JJ Hanrahan, D O’Callaghan, D Sweetnam tries; JJ Hanrahan 4 cons.
M Haley; D Sweetnam, D Goggin, R Scannell, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan, N Cronin; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland; D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, A Botha.
S Arnold for Goggin (44-55),S Archer for Ryan (47), R Marshall for Sherry (51), J Carbery for Daly (54), D O’Shea for Kleyn (58), Arnold for Goggin (60), B Scott for Kilcoyne (63), G Coombes for O’Donnell (63), J Hart for Cronin (67).
M Jaer; R Maxwane, B van Rensburg, N Lee, W Small-Smith; T Schoeman, S Venter; O Nche, J du Toit, L De Bruin; J Basson, JP du Preez; J Pokomela, O Mohoje, J Wiese.
A Davis for Mohoje (14), C Marais for Nche (51), J Coetzee for De Bruin (51-63), E Stapleberg for Schoeman (58), T Meyer for Venter (58), W Steenkamp for Basson (58), J Dweba for du Toit (70), Coetzee for De Bruin (70), R Eksteen for Small-Smith (79).
D Jones (WRU).