Munster opened their pre-season programme with a deserved 28-17 win over Gloucester in the sides’ SEAT Series match at Thomond Park this evening.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY: Saturday, August 24
MUNSTER 28 GLOUCESTER 17, Thomond Park
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Andrew Conway, Denis Hurley, CJ Stander, JJ Hanrahan; Cons: Ian Keatley 2, JJ Hanrahan 2
Gloucester: Tries: Jimmy Cowan, Steph Reynolds, Koree Britton; Con: Billy Burns
Munster ran in four converted tries in wet conditions with winger Andrew Conway scoring the first of them before an injury (dead leg) brought his debut to a premature end.
The 4,200 spectators present saw head coach Rob Penney give game-time to 33 players as an enlarged bench was used to its fullest, with the new season fast approaching.
These teams will meet in the Heineken Cup pool stages this year, but most of the frontline players were absent here as Penney and his Gloucester counterpart Nigel Davies tested the strength of their wider squads.
Steady rain fell before kick-off and the floodlights had to be turned on before the game got underway at 5pm. The play was patchy early on, with the unseasonal weather leading to a number of handling errors from both sides.
Munster pressed for the first opening and they had a seventh minute try ruled out. Their forwards drove up close to the Gloucester line before Ian Keatley’s neat inside pass to Johne Murphy was adjudged to be forward.
The men in red remained on the front foot and created another chance shortly fowards, influential centre Casey Laulala unlocking the defence only for ex-Leinster man Conway to be crowded out in the right corner.
Gloucester then took the lead against the run of play as Jimmy Cowan’s grubber through was fumbled by the covering Denis Hurley, allowing the scrum half to follow up and score an unconverted try.
However, Munster edged ahead by the midpoint of the first half thanks to Conway’s debut score. Laulala cause more damage in the middle and Keatley, spotting a mismatch on the right, sent a cross-field kick over for the winger to gather and the conversion was quickly added.
The hosts, who kicked low and intelligently as the rain continued to fall, added a second seven-pointer for a 14-5 interval lead.
The Munster backs clicked into gear off a lineout as Murphy’s presence in midfield caught Gloucester out and Duncan Williams sent Ivan Dineen through a gap. His centre partner Laulala continued the move and despite being caught in the 22, the former All Black managed to get his pass away for Hurley to touch down.
Gloucester responded with a strong start to the second period. Out-half Jonny Bentley’s trickery gave the supporting Steph Reynolds some space out wide and the full-back got over in the corner for 14-10.
Munster were back in control shortly afterwards, showing the benefit of quick lineout ball as captain James Coughlan charged into the visitors’ 22 and some good recycling led to replacement JJ Hanrahan nipping in under the posts for a try he converted himself.
Gloucester went close to scoring their third try as the pace quickened again, the experienced Mike Tindall securing turnover ball and Reynolds almost reached a grubber kick from Ryan Mills before it went dead.
But Munster duly widened the margin to 18 points with a well-taken try from South African flanker CJ Stander who had plenty of support as the pack rumbled over from close range. Hanrahan tagged on the extras.
The substitutions continued into the final quarter and Gloucester ensured a competitive finish with a 74th minute try from replacement Koree Britton.
But with a number of young starlets and club talents on show, Munster managed to see out an encouraging result despite the greasy ball and regular changes in personnel.
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Andrew Conway, Casey Laulala, Ivan Dineen, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Mike Sherry, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, CJ Stander, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan (capt).
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Duncan Casey, Alan Cotter, Stephen Archer, Paddy Ryan, Ian Nagle, Dave Foley, Danny Kenny, Willie Ryan, Shane Buckley, Barry O’Mahony, Cathal Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, Johnny Holland, Cian Bohane, Mike Kelleher, Niall Kenneally, Ronan O’Mahony.
GLOUCESTER: Steph Reynolds; Charlie Sharples, Tim Molenaar, Ryan Mills, James Simpson-Daniel; Jonny Bentley, Jimmy Cowan; Dan Murphy, Dan George, Yann Thomas, Elliott Stooke, Will James, Matt Cox, Andy Hazell (capt), Gareth Evans.
Replacements: James Gibbons, Koree Britton, Rupert Harden, Lua Lokotui, Tom Savage, Sione Kalamafoni, Dan Robson, Billy Burns, Mike Tindall, Drew Cheshire.
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRFU)