Carbery debuts as Munster start season with six-try win over Cheetahs

Munster 38

Cheetahs 0

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

MUNSTER NOTCHED A bonus-point win in Limerick to start Johann van Graan’s first full season in charge in encouraging fashion against a poor Cheetahs side.

On a warm evening at Thomond Park, Rory Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Tommy O’Donnell, JJ Hanrahan, Dave O’Callaghan and Darren Sweetnam all crossed for tries, while Ireland international Joey Carbery made his much-anticipated debut off the bench.

Carbery made his Munster debut in the second half. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Carbery showed several glimpses of his attacking creativity, sending O’Callaghan over for Munster’s fifth try with a clever skip pass.

There were also promising signs of a playmaking connection with Hanrahan, who moved from out-half to fullback to accommodate Carbery’s introduction.

Hanrahan had an excellent game himself in both positions, looking fired up for the new challenge Carbery’s arrival poses to him, and it was another debutant who was perhaps most impressive of them all.

Garryowen scrum-half Neil Cronin – who has, admittedly, played for Munster before during a spell with the province in 2014/15 – was excellent across his 67 minutes, showing off sharp passing, good decision-making and a sense of composure as he brought his All-Ireland League class into the Guinness Pro14.

Springboks-capped number eight Arno Botha demonstrated his ball-carrying quality on debut too, while new fullback Mike Haley had one lovely side-step and some good communication in the backfield, although there was one loose pass and a poor kick.

Academy back Shane Daly didn’t get many opportunities in attack on his debut but made a brilliant try-saving tackle early in the second half to prevent what looked like a certain Cheetahs try.

Darren Sweetnam was superb for Munster. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Munster’s pack was strong, with Jean Kleyn as aggressive as ever, John Ryan looking in good physical shape and openside O’Donnell as busy as ever.

Sweetnam was the deserved man of the match, as he continued his superb form by scoring a try and causing havoc for the Cheetahs defence with virtual every touch of the ball, as well as making some solid hits in defence. It looks like it could be a big season for the Bandon man.

Van Graan was able to give his entire bench a decent run-out too, with Stephen Archer making a welcome return from a pec injury and academy back row Gavin Coombes making his debut after an excellent pre-season.

All in all, it was a highly satisfying day’s work for Munster as they built a deserved 12-0 half-time lead and then did the majority of their try-scoring damage in the last 30 minutes of the contest.

The Cheetahs were disappointing, in truth, and next Friday’s visit to Scotstoun to take on Glasgow Warriors will provide us with a far better barometer of where Munster are early in this season.

Munster celebrate Rory Scannell’s first-half try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Cheetahs missed an early chance to nudge in front off the tee as out-half Tian Schoeman was wide with a very kickable penalty, and Munster gradually moved into control as Sweetnam began to show his class and the home side’s scrum got on top. 

Sweetnam created the first score as Munster struck clinically on kick return, Haley and Hanrahan shifting the ball from left to right in the backfield before Sweetnam stepped Nico Lee and scorched into the Cheetahs’ 22.

He drew in final defender Schoeman and flicked away a lovely right-handed offload to allow the supporting Scannell to finish in the right corner.

Sweetnam soon came close to scoring a try of his own after breaking off a Hanrahan inside pass but he was bundled into touch a few metres out from the left touchline.

Number eight Botha was growing as a ball-carrying force and was involved just before Munster’s second five-pointer as a clever lineout move from five metres out sent him hurtling at the tryline.

Botha was stopped just short but loosehead Kilcoyne picked and jammed over to the left of the ruck, going through Schoeman for a TMO-confirmed try that Hanrahan converted.

Arno Both carried impressively for Munster. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The explosive Botha had one more linebreak before half-time, sneaking cleverly off the base of a Munster ruck, but the otherwise superb John Ryan knocked-on inside the Cheetahs 22 to leave the home side 12-0 to the good at the interval.

Van Graan’s side needed a stunning try-saving tackle from Daly early in the second-half, after it appeared Rabz Maxwane had sent Cheetahs fullback Malcolm Jaer in for a try. 

Having spent last season with the Ireland Sevens, Daly showed his work rate and pace to sweep across and dive out to chop Jaer down metres out from the Munster tryline.

Schoeman missed another straightforward-looking penalty, before the Irish province regained control of the game.

Though they missed a clear chance in the left corner when Haley’s pass flew in front of Daly and into touch, brilliant counter-rucking from Hanrahan and Scannell under the Cheetahs’ posts yielded a penalty.

Hanrahan quick-tapped and two phases later, Cronin cleverly delayed a short pass off his left shoulder as he arced slightly away from a ruck, finding the late-arriving O’Donnell and sending him over untouched.

JJ Hanrahan lines up a conversion attempt. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Carbery’s introduction meant a shift to fullback for Hanrahan, with Haley going to the left wing and Daly heading off, but Munster soon settled into the reshuffle.

Captain Holland was almost the man to finish their fourth try with just over 15 minutes left, the second row storming onto another intelligent short pass from Cronin as he ran an arc away from a close-range ruck, but the TMO review ruled it out – even though it wasn’t entirely clear if Holland had lost control of the ball before dotting down.

They didn’t have to wait long for the bonus-point score though, as Hanrahan stepped his way over after a pass from Scannell and following some phase play in which Carbery and Hanrahan had linked up in promising fashion. 

The Kerryman converted his own try, then impressively slotted the extras after Carbery’s pass had put Dave O’Callaghan over in the right corner in the 72nd minute.

The Cheetahs put the ball down in midfield just a minute later and Sweetnam gleefully scooped it up to sprint home for Munster’s sixth from 50 metres out, Hanrahan converting again to send Munster fans home in optimistic form.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Rory Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Tommy O’Donnell, JJ Hanrahan, Dave O’Callaghan, Darren Sweetnam

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Conversions: JJ Hanrahan [4 from 6]

Cheetahs scorers:

Penalties: Tian Schoeman [0 from 2]

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin (HIA – Sammy Arnold ’44 to ’54, permanent ’60), Rory Scannell, Shane Daly (Joey Carbery ’53); JJ Hanrahan, Neil Cronin (James Hart ’67); Dave Kilcoyne (Brian Scott ’63), Mike Sherry (Rhys Marshall ’51), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’47); Jean Kleyn (Darren O’Shea ’58), Billy Holland (captain); Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell (Gavin Coombes ’63), Arno Botha.

CHEETAHS: Malcolm Jaer; Rabz Maxwane, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Nico Lee, William Small-Smith (Ryno Eksteen ’80); Tian Schoeman (Ernst Stapelberg ’58), Shaun Venter (Tian Meyer ’57); Ox Nche (Charles Marais ’51), Jacques du Toit (Joseph Dweba ’70), Luan de Bruin (Aranos Coetzee ’51, blood reversal ’63 to ’70); Justin Basson (Walt Steenkamp ’58), JP du Preez; Junior Pokomela, Oupa Mohoje (captain) (Aidon Davis ’14),  Jasper Wiese.

Referee: Dan Jones [WRU].

Attendance: 12,265.

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