Magnificent Munster make history at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork

Graham Rowntree’s men overcame an experienced South Africa A side with a superb performance.

Munster 28

South Africa A 14

THE QUESTION NOW is can Munster play at Páirc Uí Chaoimh every weekend? The wonderful Cork stadium brought out the best in Graham Rowntree’s side on a wet night that didn’t stop them from playing excellent rugby.

The South Africans arrived in Cork with big reputations but Munster humbled them.

simon-zebo-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-shane-daly-and-mike-haley Simon Zebo scored in the first half for Munster. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

This was history-making for a few reasons, most notably because Munster played at the Cork GAA’s home for the first time in front of a sell-out crowd of 41,400 – the biggest ever at a rugby game in the province.

And having claimed historic wins over touring Australian and New Zealand sides in their storied past, Munster now have their first scalp over a visiting South Africa team. This might just be the kick-start that the Rowntree era needed, for Munster were superb.

Without Ireland international front-liners like Tadhg Beirne, Conor Murray, and Craig Casey – as well as the injured Keith Earls, Andrew Conway and several others – there was some pre-match fear that a South Africa A squad including 14 full Springboks might have too much power and experience.

But the anxiety began to dissipate early on as Munster’s attack looked slick and cohesive, while their forwards overcame a challenging start to deliver a muscular performance that included a clinical maul try finished by Diarmuid Barron. 

With the starting back three of Mike Haley, Shane Daly, and Simon Zebo – a popular score from the local lad – all crossing for tries, this was a convincing Munster win that Rowntree will hope can have a springboard effect into their URC and Champions Cup campaigns.

Player of the match Paddy Patterson and Ben Healy calmly steered the ship from the nine and 10 jerseys, while centre Antoine Frisch showed up sharply on his first start for the province. Up front, Edwin Edogbo continued his impressive rise, new signing Kiran McDonald was very solid, and tighthead prop Roman Salanoa continued his growth.

This was a very pleasing night for Rowntree. And here’s hoping it’s only the start of Munster’s history at the Páirc.

diarmuid-barron-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-gavin-coombes Diarmuid Barron celebrates his first-half try. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

Making such a superb start was very welcome for Munster as they crossed within three minutes of the kick-off.

They were playing off slow ball just outside the South African 22 when Healy found Frisch with a nice skip pass and the outside centre produced a powerful fend and beautiful right-handed offload to Mike Haley that allowed the fullback to send wing Shane Daly sprinting into right corner. Healy nailed the conversion from wide right.

The visitors responded well as Munster errors gave them a platform, Healy kicked the ball dead, then Haley spilling a kick back over his tryline before dotting it down for a South African scrum.

They struck clinically with a couple of punishing carries before out-half Johan Goosen fired a pass over Zebo’s head for fullback Aphelele Fassi to finish. Goosen hit a lovely conversion from the right for 7-7.

The Munster scrum was under pressure in the opening quarter but the home pack fought their way back into that battle impressively, while they chased tries rather than three-pointers every time they got penalties. 

A long period of pressure in the South African 22 yielded results at the third time of asking just before the half-hour mark when short-term signing Kiran McDonald brilliantly claimed a throw to the tail of the lineout five metres out. With advantage then playing, Rory Scannell passed out the back to Healy and the out-half calmly delayed his long right-to-left pass wide for Zebo to cross for a very popular try that Healy converted.

antoine-frisch-during-the-game Antoine Frisch was sharp for Munster. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Munster missed a big chance in the 38th minute as captain Jack O’Donoghue failed to pass to an overlap out on his left and then knocked on as he attempted to offload inside to Paddy Patterson rather than passing pre-contact, but they weren’t done.

Their pack turned up the heat in the closing minutes of the half by winning a scrum penalty, then marching the South Africans back over their own tryline for a maul try dotted down by hooker Barron.

The away side had one last chance before the interval but the Munster pack came up with a superb maul stop five metres out to bring a 21-7 lead into the break.

And Rowntree’s men kept their momentum going upon the restart as Patterson kicked ahead down the left and bravely regathered on the ground down in the 22, before Munster swept out to their right for Healy to measure a delicious grubber in behind that Haley got to first to score. 

That try was greeted by the first full-voiced rendition of The Fields of Athenry at the Páirc. It was worth the wait.

The South Africans gathered themselves over the next 10 minutes as their bench made an impact, most notably scrum-half Grant Williams after replacing the out-of-form Herschel Jantjies, and the revival nearly yielded a try only for 20-year-old Pa Campbell, just on for the injured Zebo, to deny Suleiman Hartzenberg with an excellent tackle in the corner.

mike-haley-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-rory-scannell-and-shane-daly Mike Haley dotted down early in the second half. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

There was more pressure for Munster to deal with, however, and replacement loosehead prop Liam O’Connor was binned. There were also two TMO reviews in this period, with the second confirming a close-range try for sub back row Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

That was the extent of the South African comeback as a huge scrum penalty for Rowntree’s men in their own 22 with five minutes left sparked up a big ‘Munster, Munster, Munster’ chant.

And the home crowd finished the game out with another blast of The Fields.

A memorable night at the Páirc? Chalk it down.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Shane Daly, Simon Zebo, Diarmuid Barron, Mike Haley

Conversions: Ben Healy [4 from 4]

South Africa A scorers:

TriesAphelele Fassi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe

Conversions: Johan Goosen [1 from 1], Gianni Lombard [1 from 1]

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Shane Daly, Antoine Frisch (Malakai Fekitoa ’64), Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo (Patrick Campbell ’54); Ben Healy, Paddy Patterson (Neil Cronin ’73); Josh Wycherley (Liam O’Connor ’56 (yellow card ’62)), Diarmuid Barron (Niall Scannell ’56), Roman Salanoa (Keynan Knox ’56); Edwin Edogbo (Cian Hurley ’64), Kiran McDonald; Jack O’Donoghue (captain), John Hodnett (Josh Wycherley ’62 to ’73), Gavin Coombes (Alex Kendellen ’58).

SOUTH AFRICA A: Aphelele Fassi (Sanele Nohamba ’75); Suleiman Hartzenberg, Henco van Wyk, Cornal Hendricks, Leolin Zas; Johan Goosen (Gianni Lombard ’61), Herschel Jantjies (Grant Williams ’45) ; Ntuthuko Mchunu (Simphiwe Matanzima ’56), Joseph Dweba (Andre-Hugo Venter ’50), Thomas du Toit (captain) (Sazi Sandi ’56); Jason Jenkins, Ruan Nortje (blood – Dan du Preez ’44 to ’54); Phepsi Buthelezi (Sikhumbuzo Notshe ’57), Elrigh Louw, Jean-Luc du Preez.

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