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Sweetnam superb as Munster start season with win over Kidney's London Irish

Johann van Graan’s men opened their campaign with a five-try victory in Cork.

Munster 32

London Irish 28

Murray Kinsella reports from Musgrave Park

LITTLE WILL be won or lost in August, but Johann van Graan can be quietly pleased with how his Munster side got their season underway with victory over Declan Kidney’s London Irish in Cork.

Munster's Darren Sweetman scores a try Darren Sweetnam was in superb form for Munster. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Munster scored five tries against the visiting Championship side, with Ireland international Darren Sweetnam starring with a superb 65-minute performance on the right wing.

The first-half was particularly absorbing in what was the first game on the slick new modified 3G surface at Musgrave Park, with Munster overcoming early rust to deliver a strong 40 minutes after Kidney received a warm welcome from the lively crowd.

Van Graan will hope for another step of progress next Friday when the Exeter Chiefs visit Cork in their second pre-season friendly, before Munster open their Pro14 campaign with the visit of the Cheetahs to Thomond Park on 1 September, and although the defence was shaky against London Irish, there was plenty to like too.

Sweetnam was excellent in virtually every involvement, Rory Scannell was as effective ever, Brian Scott shone at tighthead, and number eight Gavin Coombes was powerful, while lock Darren O’Shea delivered an imposing 40-minute shift.

The return of Tommy O’Donnell as captain after a shoulder injury ruined the closing stages of last season for him was well-received and he looked hungry and in great physical condition.

Declan Kidney with Niall O'Donovan and Johan van Graan Declan Kidney was warmly welcomed in Cork.

JJ Hanrahan had some good moments as Munster’s starting 10 before Ian Keatley replaced him in the second half, while 21-year-old Tipp man Sean O’Connor showed promise at blindside flanker in a short 27-minute cameo.

Another youngster to demonstrate his potential was openside Jack Daly, who has just entered first year in the province’s academy. The Kerryman was a fiery presence in contact.

On-trial loosehead prop Cronan Gleeson made his first Munster appearance off the bench, while there were also sightings of new signings Mike Haley and Neil Cronin, as Jack Daly, Liam Coombes, Shane Daly and Alex McHenry also made their first senior appearances for Munster.

For Kidney and Kiss, there were encouraging passages – Irish-qualified centre Fergus Mulchrone was among their best players – and they will hope to build on this display as they look towards their bid to bounce straight back up into the Premiership this season.

Munster's Dan Goggin scores a try Dan Goggin was among the first-half scorers. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

After Munster missed a pair of early chances in the visitors’ 22, the Exiles took the lead against the run of play as Stephen Fitzgerald’s loose pass was hacked ahead by Mulchrone and his centre partner, Matt Williams, won the race to gather it and score.

But Munster soon equalised with a very similar score from within their own half, Dan Goggin kicking ahead for Sweetnam to scorch forward, nudge the ball with his foot once, then dip to scoop it up and score to the left of the posts.

Impressive prop Scott nabbed perhaps the easiest try of his life for Munster’s second, touching down after a London Irish error on their tryline just after Sweetnam had almost dotted down for a stunning solo try following a big break and chip ahead.

Hanrahan then popped over a well-struck drop goal after nice offloads from Sweetnam and Fitzgerald laid the platform.

Munster's Mike Haley New signing Mike Haley made his first appearance in the second half. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Yet another scintillating Sweetnam burst provided the foundation for Munster’s next try, outside centre Goggin powering over off James Hart’s pass five metres out, but van Graan would have been disappointed to see his pack concede a close-range maul try just before the half-time break to leave the home side 20-14 in front.

A raft of changes for both sides stilted the flow of the game after the interval but a Gavin Coombes turnover penalty allowed Munster back into the London Irish with 53 minutes played.

Munster’s maul fired up impressively, earning two penalties in a row before replacement hooker Mike Sherry dotted down at the back of a third powerful drive, Keatley extending Munster’s lead out to 13 points coming towards the final quarter.

The game threatened to peter out from there with the substitutions continuing to roll, but Munster drove over for another maul try from Sherry with five minutes remaining before Topsy Ojo and Scott Steele notched late scores for the Exiles.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Darren Sweetnam, Brian Scott, Dan Goggin, Mike Sherry [2]

Conversions: JJ Hanrahan [1 from 2], James Hart [0 from 1], Ian Keatley [1 from 2]

Drop goal: JJ Hanrahan

London Irish scorers:

Tries: Matt Williams, Oliver Hoskins, Topsy Ojo, Scott Steele

Conversions: Greig Tonks [1 from 1], Theo Brophy Clews [1 from 1], Stephen Myler [2 from 2]

MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald (Mike Haley ‘HT); Calvin Nash (Liam Coombes ‘HT), Dan Goggin (Rory Scannell ’71), Rory Scannell (Shane Daly ‘HT (Alex McHenry ’71)), Darren Sweetnam (Calvin Nash ’65); JJ Hanrahan (Ian Keatley ’45), James Hart (Jack Stafford ’45 (Neil Cronin ’65)); Jeremy Loughman (Cronan Gleeson ’32 (Dave Kilcoyne ’51)), Kevin O’Byrne (Mike Sherry ‘HT), Brian Scott (Ciaran Parker ’32 – reversal ’65); Fineen Wycherley (Billy Holland ‘HT), Darren O’Shea (Jean Kleyn ‘HT); Dave O’Callaghan (Sean O’Connor ‘HT (Fineen Wycherley ’67)), Tommy O’Donnell (captain) (Jack Daly ’51), Gavin Coombes (Tommy O’Donnell ’67).

LONDON IRISH: Greig Tonks (Sean O’Hagan ‘HT); Topsy Ojo (Reuben Knight ‘HT – reversal ’65), Matt Williams (Scott Steele ’22), Fergus Mulchrone, Ollie Hassell-Collins (Bryce Campbell ‘HT); Theo Brophy Clews (Stephen Myler ‘HT), Ben Meehan (Brendan McKibbin ‘HT); Gordon Reid (Harry Elrington ‘HT), Dave Porecki (Saia Fainga’a ‘HT), Oliver Hoskins (Petrus du Plessis ‘HT); Teofilo Paulo (Barney Maddison ‘HT), Sebastian de Chaves (Sam Twomey ‘HT); Josh McNally (captain) (Jack O’Sullivan ‘HT), Max Northcote-Green (Isaac Curtis-Harris ‘HT), Matt Rogerson (Jake Schatz ‘HT).

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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