BY FIONA REIDY AT THOMOND PARK
An eerily quiet Thomond Park was the setting for Saturday afternoon’s clash between Munster and Edinburgh in the PRO12 Limerick.
Attendance was very low with the North and South terraces empty and spaces galore in the two main stands and remaining terraces. It took the crowd 30 minutes to break into the chant “Muuunster, Muuunster”.
Low attendances have become a common sight in recent years and the teams poor form in recent seasons has undoubtedly contributed to it.
Whatever hope one had about increased attendance in what is as a new era for Munster Rugby under the South African Rassie Erasmus was dashed by the clash of this fixture with local Ulster Bank League fixtures.
In Division 1A Young Munster had a comprehensive 37-15 victory over Cork Con and Garryowen had a narrow 13-11 away win over Old Belvedere.
In division 1B UL Bohs had a home victory of 38-22 against Ballinahinch while Shannon suffered a 27-3 defeat away to Buccaneers meaning a core group of diehard Munster fans were absent from the game.
This certainly had an effect on the atmosphere at the game and it was evident that these usually vocal, passionate group of fans were missing.
Edinburgh started the better team and applied huge pressure on the Munster defence in the opening exchanges. Heroic tackling from Munster captain Billy Holland shortly after forced a knock on just outside the five metre line.
In the subsequent scrum Munster were dominant and won a penalty which brought them up to the 10 metre line. The Munster lineout looked shaky but superb defensive work by Keith Earls in the midfield stopped Edinburgh in their tracks.
Edinburgh’s lock forward Fraser Mc Kenzie was then yellow carded for a reckless shoulder on Jack O’Donoughue and the visitors were down to 14.
The Scottish side dug deep however and took the lead Chris Dean scooped up a loose ball from a Munster ruck and raced down the sideline to score in the left hand corner. Duncan Weir converted to put Edinburgh 7-0 up.
Munster started turning the screw at scum time in the dying minutes of the first half. Their pack walked the visitors backwards at times and it was from one of these advancing scrums CJ Stander controlled the ball.
As they marched over the line Murray dotted down and Tyler Bleyendaal’s successful conversion levelled up the game.
In the final scrum of the half, Edinburgh were again under severe pressure and a retreating scrum forced a fumble from scrumhalf Sam Hidalgo Clyne which allowed Murray to capitalise once again and score a try just right of the post.
It was Munster that came out of the traps fast in the second half with replacement flanker Conor Oliver scoring just after the restart.
After that Munster settled into the second half and continued to dominate scrums. Their dominance eventually led to a string of penalties which saw Edinburgh tighthead prop Alan Dell being sent to the bin for continuous infringements at scrum time.
An uncharacteristic knock on from CJ Stander over the try line denied Munster their fourth try but shortly after Bleyendaal made no mistake delivering a pass that put Dave O’Callaghan into space and he ran in to score from the Edinburgh ’22.
John Hardie scored the final try of the game for Edinburgh 14 minutes from time but it wasn’t enough and the home side held out for a deserved victory.
Edinburgh fought hard in the final quarter but Munster had enough of a lead to hold them off. The visitors’ blindside flanker Magnus Bradbury was awarded man of the match after a superb performance.
Tries: Conor Murray (2), Conor Oliver, Dave O’Callaghan
Conversions: Tyler Bleyendaal (4)
Tries: Chris Dean, John Hardie
Conversions: Duncan Weir, Blair Kinghorn
Munster: Ian Keatley; Darren Sweetnam, Keith Earls, Cian Bohane, Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal (Alex Wootton ’59), Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’59); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’58), Niall Scannell (Duncan Casey ’59), John Ryan; Jean Kleyn (Darren O’Shea ’44), Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan (Stephen Archer ’65), Jack O’Donoghue (Conor Oliver ’13), CJ Stander.
Edinburgh: Glenn Bryce; Damien Hoyland, Michael Allen (Rory Scholes ’72), Chris Dean, Tom Brown; Duncan Weir (Blair Kinghorn ’52), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Sean Kennedy ’64); Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally (Neil Cochrane ’59), Kevin Bryce (Allan Dell ’5); Fraser McKenzie (Lewis Carmichael ’68), Ben Toolis; Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson (John Hardie ’25-’33, blood), Cornell Du Preez (Jack Cosgrove ’52) (John Hardie ’59)
REFEREE: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)