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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Paddy Patterson, Ben Healy, and Alex Kendellen.
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Patterson and Healy impress for Munster as Frisch shows his class
Graham Rowntree was also delighted with new signing Kiran McDonald.

IT WAS THE HALFBACKS who essentially ended the game as a genuine contest early in the second half at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Scrum-half Paddy Patterson cleverly spotted his chance down the left-hand shortside, sniped into space, chipping ahead, showing pace to win the race, and then demonstrating his bravery to go to ground in order to regather the ball.

A few phases later, out-half Ben Healy calmly rolled a pinpoint perfect grubber kick in behind the South Africa A defence for fullback Mike Haley to chase and dot down. It was a brilliant score on a brilliant night for Munster.

The men in the number nine and 10 jerseys were outstanding. These Munster fixtures tend to throw up unexpected stars – remember Ian Nagle being man of the match against Australia back in 2010.

Patterson was that figure on Thursday night, although really he was just continuing his fine form. Conor Murray and Craig Casey have much bigger reputations, but Patterson has grasped the demands of Graham Rowntree and Mike Prendergast in attack and the kicking game impressively. He has earned more minutes.

Meanwhile, Healy has seen Jack Crowley leapfrog him into Ireland contention and will watch as his team-mate and out-half rival makes his Test debut against Fiji today. That was surely a motivation of sorts on Thursday night, even if the Tipperary man is a very composed character.

His touchline conversions from wide right and left for Munster’s first two tries were brilliant, while his delayed pass over the edge of the South African defence for Simon Zebo’s try showed that he continues to develop in attack. His skip pass to Antoine Frisch in the build-up to Shane Daly’s opener was a nice touch too.

ben-healy-kicks-a-conversion Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Healy converted all four tries for Munster. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

All in all, this was a very pleasing night for the pair of 23-year-old halfbacks who guided Munster to an excellent 28-14 win.

“Right from the first minute, they were at it,” said Rowntree after the game. 

“The composure, particularly from Ben. When Paddy saw that space down the blindside, not many players can see that, that little break he had. We had him sniping and moving the ball and Ben’s composure and calmness and his kicking game, his handling, his long bridge passing game, it was on point.”

The aforementioned Frisch was another man who impressed, the summer signing from Bristol getting his first start of the season after being on the Emerging Ireland tour and picking up an injury there.

The France native, who is Irish-qualified, will head away to play for the French Barbarians against Fiji next weekend but it’s clear that Munster have an exciting talent on their hands.

“Classy, isn’t he?” said Rowntree. “He’s classy, silky, smooth. We haven’t been able to play him until tonight because of injury. He went away with Emerging Ireland, played well but came back with a calf niggle.

“He joined us with a bit of a shoulder injury that had to get sorted, but that was a first opportunity to get a look at him. He’s classy, there’s some real talent building in that midfield for us.”

The effort up front deserves as much credit. The South African pack came with size, power, and plenty of experience. They had moments of dominance but so did Munster, who manufactured an excellent maul try and had some crucial scrum wins.

kiran-mcdonald-celebrates-after-the-final-whistle Ben Brady / INPHO Kiran McDonald was very good in the second row. Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

New short-term signing Kiran McDonald was among those to stand out on his first appearance for the province.

“I’d never heard of him until a couple of weeks ago,” said Rowntree when asked about the Scottish lock and it wasn’t clear if he was joking.

“He’s come in, literally came overnight, warmed up with us against Ulster, and he slotted straight in there. He did a big shift tonight, I’m proud of him.”

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Rowntree knows his pack, which also included the highly promising 19-year-old Cobh man Edwin Edogbo, will have taken a huge amount from the experience.

“Everything. We’ve been doing a lot of work there, Andi Kyriacou and myself,” he said.

“You don’t get any bigger challenges than that, literally bigger challenges than those men. So it wasn’t perfect but overall I’m happy with how we dealt with their power game.”

It was a fantastic night for everyone involved in Munster at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, where there was a new record crowd for a rugby match in the province as 41,400 people braved the elements and got rewarded with an excellent performance.

There is no doubt that Rowntree and co. would love to come back.

“If we can guarantee that win, that scoreline, yes,” he said. “No, the support was brilliant. It was a really special night in a cracking stadium. I was here last night, we had a big gala dinner and it was my first visit to the place.

“I thought, ‘Wow, it’s a proper stadium.’ It was a special, special night. I’m really proud of all the support and the people who have turned out to enjoy it.”

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