Munster enjoy big opening night of positives as Thomond roar returns

Simon Zebo and Gavin Coombes grab doubles while RG Snyman’s impresses off bench

Simon Zebo offloads during Munster’s United Rugby Championship opener against the Cell C Sharks at Thomond Park on Saturday night. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Simon Zebo offloads during Munster’s United Rugby Championship opener against the Cell C Sharks at Thomond Park on Saturday night. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Munster 42 Cell C Sharks 17

Johann van Graan stalled during the week when quizzed about his future with the province but if he wanted to do his talking on the pitch about where he sees both himself and Munster, then this was a pretty good way to start.

The feelgood factor in front of over 11,000 supporters at Thomond Park on Saturday night was increased by the return of Simon Zebo from Paris and World Cup winning lock RG Snyman from injury, but perhaps what will enthuse Munster fans even more was the expansive style of play utilised by Van Graan’s men to take the South African visitors apart.

Six tries on opening night as supporters flocked to the Limerick citadel for the first time since February last year was an encouraging way to kick off their United Rugby Championship campaign and they will be looking for more of the same when the Stormers come to Thomond Park next Saturday.

Zebo bookended his return with tries early and late as Munster’s all-time top try scorer took his haul to 62 in 145 appearances. Keith Earls is hot on his heels with 59 in 181 games but perhaps the guy to watch is 23-year old Gavin Coombes, whose brace on Saturday night has taken his haul to 19 in just 38 matches.

He looks set to slot into CJ Stander’s number eight shirt with the same ease that Zebo returned, and having been capped during the summer against Japan and USA, he seems poised to continue his rapid progress.

But, inevitably, this one was all about Zebo, not least when he pounced on a kind bounce to sprint home down the left from halfway to score inside six minutes.

Munster’s Gavin Coombes is tackled by Phepsi Buthelezi of the Sharks at Thomond Park. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Munster’s Gavin Coombes is tackled by Phepsi Buthelezi of the Sharks at Thomond Park. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

“He definitely has what I term ‘X-factor’ and that came through in the first try and then the ability to work hard when we needed it when the Sharks got a bit of momentum from that try – the kick-off that he won back. It’s those small things that have improved,” said Van Graan.

“He is definitely coming back a more experienced, more rounded player. And he certainly hasn’t lost his skillset, like you saw.

“Look, we are very glad that he is back and he’ll play an important role in our team going forward.”

So, too, will Snyman. His debut in August last year lasted just eight minutes against Leinster. There was a further knee problem last May and then that firepit incident that required a skin graft.

He came on for the final 15 minutes and the Springbok lock will be a key figure for Van Graan for this season.

“When we recruited RG we saw something in him that can make a big difference to our team and specifically to our group. When you look at players you don’t look only at what they can do on the pitch but also off the pitch. In my view he’s a phenomenal rugby player and an incredible human being so we missed those two things last season, the fact that we couldn’t have him.

Munster’s RG Snyman offloads during the game against the Sharks. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster’s RG Snyman offloads during the game against the Sharks. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

“And the excitement to have him available for this season. I want to stress again that he’s come through such a lot both on and off the pitch that I’m certainly not going to rush him back into the starting team. We’ll take our time and when he’s ready for that I will pick him.

“We only saw glimpses tonight. I mentioned the poach and the offload, the carries will come, the hits will come, the lineout steals will come. The one thing I didn’t mention is that kick-off he took, his movement on the floor, so I certainly rate him very highly, that’s why I signed him and he’s a massive, massive part of our group going forward.”

Zebo’s early try gave Munster a platform which they built on before the break with superb scrumhalf Craig Casey sniping over and Coombes finishing a trademark close drive to lead 20-3 at the break.

Coombes struck again after 51 minutes from another tapped effort to wrap up the bonus point and while a disappointing Sharks side picked off a couple of tries, one of them a rare mistake from Joey Carbery when a long pass was intercepted, Munster finished in style.

Chris Cloete scored against the side where he spent some of his academy years and Zebo got their sixth after Ben Healy marked a good cameo off the bench with a penalty from inside his own half. It was that sort of night for Munster.

SCORING SEQUENCE: 6 mins: Zebo try, 5-0; 28: Carbery pen, 8-0; 31: Bosch pen, 8-3; 35: Casey try, 13-3; 40+3: Coombes try, Carbery con, 20-3. Half-time; 51: Coombes try, Carbery con, 27-3; 56: Chamberlain try, Bosch con, 27-10; 68: Healy pen, 30-10; 70: Penxe try, Bosch con, 30-17; 77: Cloete try, Healy con, 37-17; 79: Zebo try, 42-17.

MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, D Goggin, R Scannell, S Zebo; J Carbery, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, F Wycherley; P O’Mahony, J O’Donoghue, G Coombes.

Replacements: K Knox for Ryan, T Ahern for Kleyn (both 53 mins), D Barron for N Scannell, J Loughman for Kilcoyne, C Cloete for O’Donoghue (all 60), B Healy for Carbery (64 ), RG Snyman for Wycherley (66), R Osborne for Casey (73).

SHARKS: C Bosch; Y Penxe, W Kok, M Louw, T Abrahams; B Chamberlain, R Pienaar; K Mona, K van Vuuren, T du Toit; R Roets, G Grobler; D Richardson, H Venter, P Buthelezi.

Replacements: K Mchunu for Venter (34 mins), Venter for K Mchunu (39), N Mchunu for Mona (50), R van Heerden for Roets (53), N Gumede for Venter (58), J Ward for Kok, F Mbatha for van Vuuren (both 64), K Mchunu for du Toit (72), H Andrews for Pienaar (73), S Nohamba for Louw (75).

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU).

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