Munster notched another famous victory over a touring side and completed a second Irish victory over New Zealand opposition in a week as they brushed aside the Maori All Blacks on a stellar night at Thomond Park.
Four tries and a dominant performance for the home side gave a sell-out crowd of 26,200 plenty to cheer in the pouring Limerick rain as Munster proved far better at coping with the conditions than their opponents.
Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus had lost a sizeable contingent of his players to the Ireland cause, with Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Billy Holland, captain Peter O’Mahony, Jack O’Donoghue, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan all named to face Canada this evening while Conor Murray, CJ Stander and Simon Zebo were all rested following their heroics against the All Blacks last weekend.
Yet while there was a handful of academy players in his matchday squad, there was still plenty of experience at Munster’s disposal in a side captained for the first time by flanker Tommy O’Donnell with James Cronin starting at loosehead having served a two-week suspension.
The Maori, meanwhile, had made seven changes to the side that defeated USA 54-7 in Chicago eight days ago, having lost Temara Kerr- Barlow, Elliot Dixon, Reiki Ioane and Damian McKenzie rejoining the All Blacks squad for the world champions’ Test against Italy in Rome, handing debuts to Reed Prinsep, Ambrose Curtis and Billy Guyton.
Those that ran out at Thomond Park last night certainly made a favourable impression on a sell-out crowd before the kick off, a blood-curdling Haka preceded by a poignant tribute to Munster’s late head coach Anthony Foley as four players stepped to the halfway line and laid down a Maori All Blacks jersey with the letters AF on it. Post-Haka it was presented to Foley’s sons Tony and Dan.
When the game got under way it was Munster who took the initiative. If the Maori had been given an easy ride in Chicago the previous weekend, running riot with a 57-4 win over the USA, Limerick presented them with an altogether tougher assignment from the off.
A big hit on scrum-half Guyton at the back of a ruck by lock Darren O’Shea was followed quickly after by a great ruck turnover from Robin Copeland as Munster imposed their physicality on proceedings.
Otere Black missed an early penalty in the swirling Thomond Park wind and rain and when Munster earned a penalty at the other end, captain O’Donnell and fly-half Ian Keatley took note.
The kick went to the corner and, after a maul penalty, the next one did too, this time Munster getting a better reward as they drove over the line from five metres, hooker Niall Scannell awarded the score. Keatley missed the touchline conversion into the teeth of the breeze but after 13 minutes, Munster were in front, 5-0, though not for long.
The Maori All Blacks had not adapted well to the conditions and the loose ball was proving a difficult to handle, yet when they found their groove, they were devastating, wings James Lowe and Ambrose Curtis scything through Munster’s defence in short order with tries, both converted by Black, pushing the tourists 14-5 ahead.
It was another dropped ball, though, that Munster capitalised on to close the gap, prop Kane Hames spilling the shortest of passes from Guyton and the home side swiftly countering from left to right and then forwards through strong carries by O’Shea and Jaco Taute.
The ball reached Darren Sweetnam on the right wing and his chip over the top of the Maori line caused panic, their failure to get a hand on the ball seeing the ball drop kindly for Rory Scannell, only for the centre to be denied the score when flanker Prinsep tackled him without the ball.
It was left to the TMO to work out the outcome, the result a penalty try to Munster , converted by Keatley, and a yellow card for Prinsep.
This was rip-roaring stuff as the Maori lived up to their promise to run the ball and paid the price as the ball was turned over yet again, this time spilled after a big hit from man of the match Copeland, Munster again countering in clinical fashion, Sweetnam kicking ahead from halfway and winning a sprint on heavy ground with fellow speedster Lowe to score a thrilling fifth try of the opening half.
Keatley missed the conversion and the interval followed soon after, Munster 17-14 to the good.
They added three more points soon after the break with Keatley sending over a penalty on 43 minutes, Munster having won a scrum penalty against the head after the imperious Copeland had charged upfield, only for his offload to go astray.
Munster’s pack were in command, despite losing Cronin after just 25 minutes and in the second half temporarily doing without impressive lock John Madigan for a head injury assessment, Erasmus introducing Academy lock Sean O’Connor for his debut, five months after beating New Zealand with Ireland’s U 20s.
Ronan O’Mahony’s 68th minute try would edge O’Connor towards a second win over a Kiwi representative side in as many opportunities. The Maori were failing to clear their lines with any conviction and when Curtis was isolated in contact on his touchline at the 10-metre line, Munster pounced.
The ball came loose and Duncan Williams sent a clever chip over the top of a mass of visiting players. O’Mahony was live to the possibility as he raced onto it to touch down for the home side’s fourth try of the game, Keatley converting to open up a 13-point lead with 10 minutes to go.
The introduction of back rower John Foley made it another debut, putting a fifth academy player on the field with four minutes to go as he replaced the other excellent lock O’Shea, a further sign the future looks bright for Munster.
A Conway; D Sweetnam, J Taute (D Goggin, 76), R Scannell, R O’Mahony (A Wootton, 76); I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin (P McCabe, 25), N Scannell (R Marshall, 60), S Archer (B Scott, 72); J Madigan (S O’Connor, 54-59), D O’Shea (J Foley, 76); T O’Donnell - captain, C Oliver, R Copeland.
MAORI ALL BLACKS:
M McKenzie (J Emery, 62); A Curtis, M Proctor, T Bateman, J Lowe; O Black (I West, 58), B Guyton (B Weber, 50); K Hames (C Eves, 70), A Dixon – captain (L Apisai, 76), B May (M Renata, 76); L Price (W Douglas, 50), J Skeen (L Price, 58); R Prinsep, S Christie (K Pryor, 72), A Ioane.
Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
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