Munster 12 Connacht 28: Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion could hardly be blamed for feeling more than a little aggrieved last week when he was released back to Connacht by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt without having had a reasonable chance to press his claims for a place in Ireland’s World Cup squad.
To his credit, he didn’t give up hope of convincing Schmiodt of the error of his ways and saw last night’s friendly against Munster at Thomond Park as the ideal opportunity to press his claims. The Welsh-born Marmion didn’t delay in reminding the Irish management of the threat he presents around the fringes of ruck and scrum as he scampered over in typical fashion for a superbly taken try after seventeen minutes and repeated the act shortly afterwards.
Marmion was largely responsible for Connacht’s decisive 28-12 victory in a game that began brightly enough but deteriorate badly as the game went on with a penalty try the only score in the entire second half.
Joe Schmidt was in Belfast watching Ulster and Leinster but Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby was an interested spectator in Thomond Park’s east stand and will assuredly be advising the boss of Marmion’s opportunism and very possibly suggesting that he should be edging out Isaac Boss for the third World Cup scrum-half spot behind Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan.
One of the few positives for Munster is that, after being forced out of the game for 21 months by serious shoulder and knee injuries, Mike Sherry took just two minutes on his return to remind people that he was still around!
Sherry turned out in the brand new all-black Munster jersey and was immediately on the scoring list as the home side forced their way over the Connacht line after Dave Foley claimed possession in a line-out five metres out..
Sherry looked a good bet to become Munster’s first choice hooker when injury intervened in November 2013 and provided he maintains his belated recovery, head coach Anthony Foley may well look to him to fill the number two jersey in the games that matter most over the coming season.
Sherry departed the scene at half time. Foley also welcomed Cian Bohane and Gerhard Van den Heever back after, they, too, missed out on large chunks of last year’s activities and they also looked to be in decent fettle.
These early season matches are all about catching the eye and Foley and Connacht’s Pat Lam were given a good deal of thought in a game where all concerned competed with commendable commitment in front of a reported 2, 700 spectators.
Although Lam had much better reason for satisfaction, the fact that CJ Stander becomes eligible for Ireland after the World Cup was also of interest to Easterby who must have noted the South African’s fine all-round performance that he rounded off nicely with a trademark try from close range.
Marmion’s two tries were followed by another for Connacht before the interval by their close season acquisition from New Zealand, Nepia Fox-Matamua, all three converted by Jack Carty who continues to reveal a deal of promise in the out-half jersey.
Sherry and acting captain Stander grabbed tries for Munster, one of which Ian Keatley converted, leaving the visitors 21-12 ahead at the break. As both sides sent on a plethora of replacements, the Connacht pack remained very much on top and when Munster collapsed a line-out maul, the ref had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try converted by Craig Ronaldson to stretch their lead to 28-12.
And when it came to defence, Lam’s players also had the answer as they held Munster scoreless for the ten minutes spent in the sin bin by centre Bundee Akin awarded for a high tackle. Even the arrival on the pitch of Francis Saili, their big name signing from New Zealand, could lift Munster who went all of 55 minutes without scoring!
D Leader; T O’Halloran, R Parata, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; JP Cooney, T McCartney, R Ah You, U Dillane, A Browne, J Muldoon capt, N Fox-Matamua, E Masterson.
F Belham, D Heffernan, N White, Q Roux, B Marshall, E McKeon, G Naoupu, John Cooney, C Ronaldson, D Poolman, D McSharry.
D Johnston; S Monahan, C Bohane, M D’Arcy, G Van den Heever; I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin, M Sherry, S Archer, S McCarthy, D Foley, Dave O’Callaghan, J O’Donoghue, CJ Stander capt.
K O’Byrne, J Ryan, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, S Bucklery, C Sheridan, B Johnston, F Saili, N Scannell, J Madigan, J Coghlan, S Fitzgerald.
D Wilkinson (IRFU).
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