Dan Goggin got two tries and debutant Jack O’Sullivan was involved in three as Munster ran out 45-5 winners in a season-opening game which attracted as much attention over those not present as the 61 players that took to the field.
Despite all those stars jetting east to the Land of the Rising Sun, the absentee which generated the most debate was the one left at home.
London Irish’s new out-half Paddy Jackson, sacked by Ulster over explicit WhatsApp chats, wasn’t included for a first return to play on Irish soil since he was acquitted following a high-profile Belfast rape trial last year.
A peaceful protest against the decision to hire Jackson took place across the road from the entrance. At 7pm, the 25 protesters began chants to match their placards: “Paddy Jackson: Not my role model” and “London Irish: Shame on you”.
Inside, 25 minutes later, there was warm applause among the 5,678 crowd as former Munster head coach Declan Kidney, now in charge of the Exiles, took his place in the stands.
In their luminous red jerseys, Munster’s highlights of the opening 20 minutes were two big turnovers, the first by debutant John Hodnett, and the second through the combined efforts of the half-backs, Tyler Bleyendaal and Neil Cronin.
Tighthead debutant Keynan Knox, recruited from the South Africa schools system, was particularly impressive, winning his scrum battle and carrying well to set up the opening try. Goggin slalomed through three would-be tacklers to touch down, with captain Bleyendaal converting.
It would be the only scoring of the half as Munster’s maul defence stood strong against London Irish’s most dangerous moments.
Among 26 half-time changes, 13 on each side, number 8 O’Sullivan was introduced for his debut and he produced a magical dummy before streaking in from 40 yards for an outrageous first-touch try. JJ Hanrahan converted.
Matt Williams was in luck to pick up a loose garryowen to narrow the gap to 14-5 but Munster ran riot thereafter.
There were five more tries. Mike Haley (from a five-metre scrum), Goggin (from another loose Garryowen), Hanrahan and Diarmuid Barron (both from close-range), and Liam Coombes (running in from inside his own half) crossed the whitewash, with O’Sullivan central to Haley and Hanrahan’s scores. Hanrahan converted three of the five to make it 45-5 at the end.
Calvin Nash, the only Munsterman still on from the start, limped off late on, as there were further debuts for Thomas Ahern, Nick McCarthy, and Ben Healy.
Paddy Butler and Peter McCabe, both out of contract, made cameo returns as they train with the province in pre-season.
Among all the debuts, there was one departure as strength and conditioning coach Aidan O’Connell signed off after over 15 years to take over as Cork GAA’s first high performance manager.
D Sweetnam; C Nash, A McHenry, D Goggin, L Coombes; T Bleyendaal, N Cronin; J Loughman (P McCabe, 34), K O’Byrne, K Knox; D O’Shea, F Wycherley; J O’Donoghue, J Hodnett, G Coombes (P Butler, 31).
M Haley; C Nash (B Healy, 76), D Goggin (L Coombes, 60), R Scannell, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan, C Casey (N McCarthy, 75); J Cronin (J Loughman, 75), D Barron, S Archer (P McCabe, 75); S O’Connor, G Coombes (F Wycherley, 60; T Ahern, 75); A Botha, T O’Donnell, J O’Sullivan.
T Parton; C Rona, T Hepetema, O Hassell-Collins; S Myler, R Brand; H Elrington, D Porecki (R McMillan, 4), L Chawatama; C Munga, F van der Merwe; G Nott, C Gilsenan, M Rogerson.
W Partington; T Fowlie, B Macken, M Williams, B Loader; J Atkins, S Steele; W Goodrick-Clarke, R McMillan, P Cilliers; B Maddison, S Collingridge; B Donnell, B Cowan, I Moore-Aione.
F Murphy (IRFU).