Munster 19 Castres 13
Last Sunday’s one-off minor miracle in Coventry was always going to be a hard act to follow, all the more so against a Castres team that love making a game into a scrappy arm wrestle.
In the heel of the hunt, Munster are still dusting off the cobwebs from their enforced seven-week hiatus and the fall-out from their Covid affected trek to South Africa. For example, while the other three senior coaches could be seen conducting the warm-up, forwards coach Graham Rowntree was seemingly absent again here.
Munster had a plan. They attacked the blind side, and went wide-wide when they could. Their kicking game was at times very inventive, but they struggled to execute some of the basics such as their launch plays and couldn’t build any sustained pressure.
But they had enough set-piece supremacy and quality – not least in midfield where the free-running, in-form Damian de Allende gave the whole gamut of his World Cup-winning skills. Tadhg Beirne also continued where he left off in the Autumn Series and last week. It’s perhaps no coincidence that aside from being brilliant rugby players, these two are probably Munster’s most match-hardened players.
After the game, while happy to have accumulated nine points from their opening two Champions Cup matches from the most unpromising circumstances, Johann van Graan admitted it wasn’t the prettiest.
“It was an ugly win, not great on the eye. It’s not the performance we wanted but we just spoke in the dressing-room that some players came back this week and some will be coming back next week. So I’m very happy with the nine points but we can certainly perform better.”
The Castres president, Pierre Yves Revol, had said his club did not want to travel for the game – maintaining the Covid situation was the same in Ireland as in the UK. To their credit though, their multi-national squad – drawn from eight different countries – weren’t of a mind to roll over and have their bellies tickled.
Physical and confrontational up front, they employed effective line speed in defence and couldn’t be shaken off.
As he does, referee Matthew Carley was also an over-bearing influence, as evidenced by his 13-12 penalty count in Munster’s favour.
Although Thomond Park certainly wasn’t full to the rafters, the last sizeable Saturday crowd for some time were in full voice from before the off, giving their heroes the customary ovation on their slow jog back to the dressing-room from their warm-up. The end would be much more muted.
They were baying to make their influence tell but were largely becalmed by a stodgy stop-start first-half which altogether better suited to, well, a stodgy Castres who like stop-start games.
It could have been worse for Munster, de Allende’s tip-on pass almost giving Bastien Guillemin an intercept and free run from halfway, but the winger fumbled.
Instead, there was a nice tip-on by Jean Kleyn (something beyond his skillset when he first arrived) to Beirne. The enormous Castres tighthead Wilfred Hounkpatin didn’t roll away and Ben Healy, in his first Euro start, thumped over the 45 metre penalty.
Munster couldn’t build any sustained pressure. Conor Murray looked sharp and flung some long passes, hitting Farrell with a flat skip pass off a nice launch play, but his offload didn’t go to hand. Healy’s inside pass to Keith Earls off another was read like an open book by Benjamin Urdapilleta and Simon Meka, lock Theo Hannoyer latching over an unresourced ruck.
Finally Munster reached both edges after the first quarter, but Murray’s grubber was covered by Hounkpatin to relieve the pressure valve.
Earls’ vision on the counter eventually broke the game open. His crossfield kick pass was gathered by Conway, who chipped ahead and Beirne’s brilliance in the jackal enabled Healy to make it 6-0.
A clean lineout steal by Jack O’Donoghue saw Farrell run diagonally and time his pass perfectly for Patrick Campbell, who had the awareness and skill to execute a 50/22. Playing with an advantage, de Allende was held up just short when straightening onto Healy’s cleverly delayed pass. A few phases later, de Allende tried again from Murray’s long pass, but the TMO Ian Tempest adjudged there had been ‘separation’ as the ball went from de Allende’s right hand to his left via Santiago Arate.
It didn’t look obvious.
There was only minor consolation in a third Healy penalty, but Urdapilleta made it 9-3 at the break after Beirne had been pinged for not releasing.
The crowd contented themselves by singing along to The Cranberries’ Zombie during the interval, after which Thomas Larregain was wide from almost halfway before Guillemin again fumbled an intercept try from halfway when Healy left a long pass by Earls.
Castres had replaced their frontrow at half-time, and substitute tighthead Antoine Guillamon was penalised for dropping to his knees at his first scrum. “Give him a red card,” offered one wag in the crowd. Munster needed something indeed, but Healy’s penalty from halfway was just wide.
Farrell overplayed his hand once more, but despite a couple more inexact handling moves, de Allende scooped up loose ball to make something out of nothing with a barnstorming run, his offload and another by Earls to Stephen Archer keeping the move alive.
A quick recycle wide and a deftly delayed pass by O’Mahony then gave O’Donoghue a narrow touchline corridor to work with, but he withstood a double hit by Kevin Kornath and Larregain to somehow touch down one-handed inches from the corner flag.
This time, after another interminable delay, Carley and Tempest finally awarded O’Donoghue his first European try, and Healy landed a magnificent conversion from the right touchline.
Munster went for the jugular rather than an orthodox exit, but Healy’s chip eluded Conway. Despite an alert piece of covering and a touch-finder by de Allende, Urdapilleta landed his second penalty.
But another pinpoint Murray box kick and well-timed chase and tackle by Conway earned an attacking penalty and again Munster went for the jugular. But they didn’t get their lineout set-up and instead settled for another Healy three-pointer.
With that, the young guns, Jack O’Sullivan, Craig Casey and Jack Crowley were given the last 10, and now the game opened up.
Castres were immediately given a brief lifeline when O’Mahony missed the wobbly flight of the restart and Antoine Zeghdar latched onto the ball, but Beirne won a clean turnover and hoofed clear, Crowley also finding grass further downfield before Earls linked with de Allende on the counter but Conway’s grubber went out on the full.
Castres were now swinging from the hip too, Louis le Brun’s no look pass out the back from Urdipaletta’s kick pass leading to a penalty into the corner. A tap penalty then led to the industrious Kornath swivelling and muscling over.
Two minutes to go and a one-score game. The crowd hummed and hushed, all the more so when Beirne tried to transfer a lineout take to Jack O’Sullivan, but he spilled it.
Beirne almost pulled off one more turnover before, bizarrely, Urdapilleta kicked the ball dead inside his own 10 metre line to settle for their second losing bonus point. That perhaps summed up either their lack of ambition, or lack of interest, or maybe pragmatism.
An anti-climactic end to an anti-climactic night.
Scoring sequence: 8 mins Healy pen 3-0; 29 mins Healy pen 6-0; 35 mins Healy pen 9-0; 40 mins Urdapilleta pen 9-3; (half-time 9-3); 58 mins O’Donoghue try, Healy con 16-3; 53 mins Urdipaletta pen 16-6; 70 mins Healy pen 19-6; 78 mins Kornath try, Urdipaletta con 19-13.
Munster: Patrick Campbell; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Ben Healy, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), John Hodnett, Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron for Scannell, Josh Wycherley for Kilcoyne, Keynan Knox for Ryan (all 53 mins), Jason Jenkins for Kleyn (63 mins), Jack O’Sullivan for O’Donoghue, Craig Casey for Murray, Jack Crowley for Healy (all 70 mins), Alex Kendellen for Hodnett (72 mins).
Castres: Thomas Larregain; Bastien Guillemin, Thomas Combezou, Pierre Aguillon, Filipo Nakosi; Benjamin Urdapilleta, Santiago Arate; Wayan de Benedittis, Gaetan Barlot, Wilfred Hounkpatin, Loic Jacquet (capt), Theo Hannoyer, Nick Champion de Crespigny, Simon Meka, Kevin Kornath.
Replacements: Brice Humbert for Barlot, Julius Nostadt for de Benedittis, Antoine Guillamon for Hiunkpatin (all half-time); Jack Whetton for Hannoyer, Rory Kockott for Arate (both 50 mins), Mateaki Kafatolou for de Crspigny, Antoine Zeghdar for Nakosi (both 66 mins), Louis le Brun for Guillemin (70 mins).
Referee: Matthew Carley (England).
Wife of detained Richard O’Halloran wants Coveney to travel to China
Richard O’Halloran, a 46-year-old father of four, has been blocked from leaving China since February 2019 over a legal dispute involving a Dublin-based aircraft leasing firm he works for.
His wife Tara said she had not received contact from anyone in Government or the Department of Foreign Affairs since November and she is concerned about the lack of progress in efforts to find a solution to the commercial dispute and secure Mr O’Halloran’s release.
She told The Irish Times that her children had to endure “third Christmas on FaceTime” with their father and his parents, who are in their 80s, “fear they are never going to see him”.
“We are very much at a place where we don’t know what else to do. We are really now pulling on the Government to try and do something immediately. It is nearly three years,” she said.
“We need some action. We are just asking that Simon Coveney go to China and meet face-to-face with the foreign minister or whoever it needs to be. Nothing is working that they have done in the past. We are in a place where we are really desperate.”
Last May, Mr Coveney met Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Guiyang, China as part of Ireland’s two-year membership of the UN Security Council and used the opportunity to raise the case of the businessman.
Mr O’Halloran travelled to Shanghai almost three years ago in an attempt to resolve a commercial dispute involving the Chinese owner of China International Aviation Leasing Service (CALS), the aircraft leasing company he works for.
The dispute centres over Min Jindong, the chairman and main shareholder of CALS, and his raising of funds from Chinese investors to buy an Airbus aircraft that predates Mr O’Halloran’s employment with the company. The airplane has been leased to a Finnish airline.
Mr O’Halloran testified as a witness in the prosecution of Min for fraud. The Dubliner is not suspected of any wrongdoing, nor has been charged with any crime.
The Chinese authorities are demanding the money used to buy the plane be returned to Chinese investors and Mr O’Halloran has been prohibited from leaving the country.
CALS is not in a position to repay the money. A proposal made by Irish businessman Ulick McEvaddy, who became a director of the company to try to secure Mr O’Halloran’s release, offered to make monthly payment’s to the Chinese authorities from the aircraft’s lease income.
Mr O’Halloran’s brother David wrote to Mr Coveney and other politicians last week calling for the the Government to “forcefully” demand his release through Irish, EU and UN channels.
“David came over at Christmas time to visit the family and he was just so upset by the effect that this has had on everybody,” said Tara O’Halloran.
Echoing her brother-in-law’s plea in his letter, she said her husband’s situation was “not a commercial matter or legal matter anymore – it is a human rights matter”.
Her husband was in “a very low place” and felt “abandoned,” while her children are “absolutely devastated” as they had hoped their father might have been home before Christmas.
A spokesman for the department said it was “very actively engaged” on Mr O’Halloran’s case and continued to provider consular advice, support and assistance to him.
“The department remains fully committed to this case and will remains until Mr O’Halloran is permitted to return to Ireland,” he said.
“As with all consular cases, it would not be appropriate to discuss the specific details of the case.”
gardaí search houses in Dublin and Offaly
Gardaí investigating the murder of national school teacher Ashling Murphy have carried out searches of properties in Dublin and Co Offaly.
Both properties are understood to be linked to a man believed to be the chief suspect in the 23-year-old’s murder.
Ms Murphy was killed by strangulation as she was jogging along a stretch of canal near Tullamore on Wednesday afternoon.
The man attended a Dublin hospital on Thursday in the company of a family member where he received treatment for what doctors initially believed were self-inflicted wounds.
He remains in hospital under Garda supervision while detectives await medical clearance to interview him.
It is not clear when he will be physically and mentally assessed for interview but gardaí were hopeful this will happen imminently.
The Irish Times understands this suspect has lived in south Dublin and in the midlands, where he has family members.
His family members have told gardaí they do not believe he is capable of committing such a crime.
One property in Co Offaly, near Tullamore, has been searched. Gardaí in Dublin have also searched another house in south Dublin.
Gardaí are confident they are nearing a breakthrough in the investigation and that DNA evidence will prove crucial in their inquiries.
Gardaí believe Ms Murphy, a talented musician from the townland of Blueball just outside Tullamore, tried to fight off her attacker, resulting in the man who killed her leaving forensic evidence at the scene.
Forensic evidence was used to exonerate a man arrested on Wednesday in Tullamore and he was released without charge late on Thursday night.
Gardaí have examined the crime scene, a Falcon Storm mountain bike they suspect was used by the killer, Ms Murphy’s remains and the clothes she was wearing when she was killed.
They believe when the forensic results yielded from those examinations are cross-checked with any suspects it will prove instrumental in catching the killer.
The Falcon Storm bike they believe was used by the killer on their way to the scene was recovered after and is now a crucial piece of evidence in the case.
The killer was also seen by a number of people at the scene and statements have been taken from those eyewitnesses.
Gardaí are investigating a complaint from another woman who has told them she was followed on the canal tow path where Ms Murphy was killed about two hours before the murder.
Gardaí are also examining CCTV footage recorded around Tullamore on Wednesday looking for images of anyone riding the Falcon mountain bike.
Sources expressed satisfaction with how that part of the investigation was progressing. Gardaí have appealed to anyone who travelled between Tullamore town centre and the wider approach roads to Grand Canal Way around Cappincur on Wednesday to come forward.
They are especially keen to speak to anyone with footage of road users, including CCTV, dashcam, GoPro or mobile phone images.
Michael Tormey remembered as ‘gentle giant’ at Funeral Mass
Mr Tormey, who had no known links to crime, was shot outside his home on Thomond Road in the early hours of the morning. The 49-year-old had worked as a security doorman and salesman.
Family, friends and other mourners gathered for his Funeral Mass in Our Lady of Assumption Church in Ballyfermot on Saturday.
Speaking at the Mass, his brother Brian described Mr Tormey as a “big teddy bear,” who was always generous. He recalled growing up how his brother had bought him his first Manchester United jersey. “I wore it to threads, I’ll always remember that,” he said.
Mick, as he was known, “loved belting out the tunes” on karaoke, his brother said. “He was nice, and he had nothing but laughter, I can’t understand why this was done,” he told those gathered.
Shauna, his daughter, also spoke about how her father loved to sing, and remembered how he “would sing Phil Collins with me until we had no voice left”.
She told mourners of memories of her father teaching her how to ride a bicycle, and roller blade in Marley Park, and of their favourite snacks.
“There was nobody else in the world who enjoyed a Meanies sandwich or a Burger Bites sandwich with me, and you’d always have room for more than one, I will always miss you, I will always love you,” she said.
Kaitlyn, his step-daughter, said when Mick came into her mother Amy’s life six years ago, he “changed our lives for the better”.
Fr Adrian Egan, who delivered the Funeral Mass, said Mr Tormey was a “gentle giant,” who did not have “a bad bone in him”. His life was “brutally” taken outside his own front door, he said.
He was known to be able to “talk for Ireland,” with a trip down to the shop taking upwards of two hours, on account of him stopping to chat with people along the way, he said.
The family had been “overwhelmed” by the support of the local community in Ballyfermot in the days after the killing, Fr Egan said.
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