Casey shines on a night when Zebo, Snyman and Munster's fans returned to Thomond Park

Munster scored six tries to beat the Sharks at Thomond Park this evening.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO



Garry Doyle at Thomond Park

THE OBVIOUS THING is to talk about the return of the Prodigal Son. We’ll get to him in a minute.

The second obvious thing is to reference the impact the crowd made. Again, we’ll return to this issue in good time.

Before we do, though, some serious praise needs to be dished out to Craig Casey. For years, Munster and Ireland sweated buckets whenever a rumour circulated that Conor Murray was anything short of 100 per cent fitness.

Now, there’s a new kid in town. Casey is hardly an unknown – Andy Farrell capped him in last season’s Six Nations – but on this showing, it’s clear he’s moving onto another level.

Almost everything he touched here turned to gold. Munster’s second try, a 2021 replay of Peter Stringer’s 2006 Heineken Cup final score – was superbly executed by the little scrum-half. He’d a hand in the third try, too, arriving on the scene after a Dan Goggin break to put further zip to a move he had initiated about 30 seconds earlier when his quick thinking was matched by Simon Zebo’s quick feet.

And with that combination, Munster had moved the play from their own 22 to half-way when a Sharks infringement led to Peter O’Mahony and Joey Carbery discussing whether to take the sober option of a kick at goal or the riskier idea of going to the corner.

Adventure won. Munster’s maul was good. Another penalty was called by ref, Craig Evans, and all of a sudden Niall Scannell was taking a quick tap and Munster were a yard shy of the Sharks line, the South Africans there and then wondering if this URC craic is all it was hyped up to be. By the time the second wave of Munster attackers arrived, led by Gavin Coombes, the Sharks were no doubt wishing they had stayed in Super Rugby.

That brought the half-time whistle, the scoreboard showing 20 points beside Munster’s name, just three beside the Sharks.

What the scoreboard didn’t tell you, however, was the sense of occasion that had built here.

munster-fans-back-watch-the-munster-team-warm-up Munster fans returned to Thomond Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The first fans arrived at the stadium two hours before kick-off, patiently queuing, aware that 120 minutes is a short time in sporting purgatory compared to the 18 months of isolation they have had to put up with.

Right from the off they made themselves heard, a huge cheer greeting Zebo’s name when the PA man read it out, a bigger cheer greeting Zebo’s opening score, when he collected a loose pass near the touchline, 60 yards from the Sharks tryline, before he put the ball in his hands and raced to the line like it was 2011 all over again and he was a kid making his way in the world.

Five minutes and fifty seconds were on the clock. Honestly, you could have heard the cheer in neighbouring postcodes.

It wasn’t the only thing that got the crowd on their feet. Casey’s constant sniping around the edges, Joey Carbery’s willingness to put width on the ball, even inside his own half, Coombes’ blend of force with subtlety, it all got a cheer.

So too did Peter O’Mahony’s contributions. The stalwart and captain is a popular figure, the intensity of his stare matched by his performances. He was good here, so too Jack O’Donoghue, Fineen Wycherley, Niall Scannell and Dave Kilcoyne.

And they needed to be.

While first impressions can often be misleading, there was plenty about these Sharks to suggest they’ll be an addition to the competition rather than just another of those names you forget about almost as soon as you are introduced to them. Some of their names – ex-Ulster scrum-half, Ruan Pienaar and former Munster lock, Gerbrandt Grobler – are familiar.

Less is known about Yaw Penxe, their winger. That’ll soon change if it hasn’t already. He’s good. Sharks second try proved that.

Plenty about the Sharks’ play impressed. Yes, they were overpowered in the scrum and yes Munster’s defence was good, their maul defence in particular.

But the Sharks controlled possession for chunks of this game. Their aggression at the breakdown turned this area into a contest you couldn’t take your eyes off. They deservedly got a few scores too – a penalty for Bosch in the first-half, an intercept try for out-half, Henry Chamberlain, in the second. Penxe then got the score his play deserved.

On home soil, no doubt they’ll be harder to beat. The other obvious point is that Munster are the Championship’s second best team, although Ulster may argue the toss on that one.

So much about them here was impressive. Coombes again scored from close range in the second half, Kilcoyne setting up the chance from a five metre tap, Munster’s No8 arriving on the scene like a poacher. Fifteen tries last season, two already in this one, his second try securing the bonus point to put Munster 27-3 up and while Carbery gifted Sharks a try with a wild pass, it’s easy to forgive the man for trying to vary things up a bit. That was what Casey failed to do earlier in the half when Munster had a huge overlap on their left wing.

The chance went.

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By the end, though, no one cared. They saw Ben Healy land a penalty from his own half. They saw Zebo get a second try. They saw Zebo back, RG Snyman back, the fans back. They’ll leave the few negatives for another day.

Munster scorers

Tries: Zebo 2, Casey, Coombes 2, Cloete

Conversions: Carbery (2/4) Healy (1/2)

Penalties: Carbery (1/1) Healy (1/1)

Sharks scorers

Tries: Chamberlain, Penxe

Conversions: Bosch (2/2)

Penalties: Bosch (1/2)

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Joey Carbery (rep: Ben Healy ‘63), Craig Casey (rep: Rowan Osborne ‘73); Dave Kilcoyne (rep: Jeremy Loughman ‘59), Niall Scannell (rep: Diarmuid Barron ‘59), John Ryan (rep: Keynan Knox ‘53); Jean Kleyn (rep: Thomas Ahern 53), Fineen Wycherley (rep: Thomas RG Snyman ’65); Peter O’Mahony (C), Jack O’Donoghue (rep: Chris Cloete ‘59), Gavin Coombes.

Sharks: Bosch Curwin; Penxe Yaw, Kok Werner (rep:Jeremy Ward 63), Louw Marius (Nohamba Sanele ’74), Abrahams Thaakir; Chamberlain Henry (Boeta), Pienaar Ruan; Mona Khwezi (rep: Mchunu Ntuthuko ‘49), Van Vuuren Kerron (rep: Mbatha Fez ‘61), Du Toit Thomas (yellow card 28-28-rep: Mchunu Khutha ’72); Roets Le Roux (Ruben van Heerden ’54), Grobler Gerbrandt (rep:Hyron Andrews ’73); Richardson Dylan, Venter Henco (rep Mchunu Khutha 34-38 -Mpilo Gumede 58), Buthelezi Phepsi (C).

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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