Fixture: Munster Rugby vs London Irish
Competition: Pre-season friendly
Date: 2nd September 2022
Stadium: Musgrave Park
Declan Kidney’s London Irish travel back across to the Emerald Isle for another preparatory fixture ahead of the 2022/23 season, facing his old side Munster Rugby at Musgrave Park.
After a nail-biting 31-29 win over Jersey Reds, Irish is seeking consecutive wins before their Gallagher Premiership opener against Worcester Warriors, now facing a Munster side reeling from a first pre-season loss against another Premiership side, Gloucester Rugby.
The Cherry and Whites took a three try, 21-point lead after the first forty was up, but only managed one more try in the second period as Munster youth was flexed in the second stanza with Calvin Nash, Alex Kendellen and Ruadhán Quinn all scoring in the 28-19 defeat.
Having labelled it as ‘a game of two halves’ and ‘big performances’, Head Coach Graham Rowntree nevertheless spoke encouragingly about the experience; stating he was ‘buoyed’ by his side’s attacking phase play and pointing to new acquisition Malakai Fekitoa’s ‘classy’ contributions off the bench.
Previous Forwards Coach Rowntree took the reins at Thomond Park following on from the departure of Johann van Graan to Bath Rugby this season, the latter accompanied by JP Ferreira.
The Red Army finished in the quarter-finals of the novel United Rugby Championship and also in the Heineken Champions Cup last year, crashing out to fellow province Ulster Rugby and Stade Toulousain, respectively.
Friday’s meeting of the Clubs will see them compete for the Jack Wakefield Memorial Trophy, in memoriam of the young London Irish supporter whose untimely passing came in 2005.
The silverware is contested by the Exiles in every challenge match against an Irish province, and whilst their last official competitive meeting came in 2011, this is in fact the 10th meeting in 15 seasons between the famed Clubs.
The boss- Graham Rowntree:
A stalwart of English top-flight rugby, Graham Rowntree assumed his first Head Coaching role of his career with Munster this offseason having already signed a two-year extension to his contract in Limerick in the new year.
Rowntree joined the province as Forwards Coach from the Georgian national team upon completion of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, now working with eight new signings this term which include Chris Moore (previously a teammate of Tom Hitchcock at Exeter University), plus new centre pairing Antoine Frisch and Malakai Fekitoa.
The former prop played the majority of his on-field career with Leicester Tigers after joining from Nuneaton aged 17, winning six league titles and two Heineken Cups and representing England and the British and Irish Lions internationally.
Prior to his time in Ireland, Rowntree experienced coaching with Tigers, the England national team under Martin Johnson and Stuart Lancaster, the British and Irish Lions and Harlequins.
One to watch- Alex Kendellen:
Kendellen’s try-scoring exploits last week against Gloucester Rugby will come as a surprise to few in Ireland, who is now in his third season with Munster Rugby at 21-years-old.
The openside flanker on the night, equally adept at number eight, finished off a penetrating Munster advance for his side’s second of three tries with a pick and go from a ruck just short of the line.
Whilst Exile Henry Arundell shared the top try-scoring crown in the most recent edition of the Under-20 Six Nations Championship, Kendellen won the same title by scoring six tries in five games for Ireland under-20s the year previous.
After making his competitive debut for his province against Scarlets in the 2021/22 Pro14, the Cork native registered 20 appearances and three tries for Munster in all competitions last year, winning the John McCarthy Award for Academy Player of the Year and then being awarded with a senior contract.
Kendellen spoke of the ability to absorb from Munster’s veteran talents last term, stating: “I’m building confidence with every game, I’m learning from players who have played on Lions tours, from Irish internationals all around me, all the backrows have helped me massively, the likes of Gav Coombes who really took me under his wing for the 18 months I have been in here and I’m enjoying every minute that I’m playing in the Munster jersey.”
The promising back-row talent also guided his school Presentation Brothers College to the Munster Schools Senior Cup as captain off the back of two semi-final tries against St. Munchin’s College, yet the trophy being ultimately shared with Christian Brothers College due to Covid.
Classic Encounter: London Irish 23-17 Munster Rugby – 9th October 2010 – Heineken Cup
The Mighty Exiles made an epic start to their first Heineken Cup encounter of the 2010/11 season by beating Irish province Munster Rugby at the Madejski Stadium by 23 points to 17.
The first half was the battle of the fly-halves, Ryan Lamb and Ronan O’Gara bashing away at the scoreline from their respective boots, including a Lamb drop-goal, which resulted in a 15-6 lead at the break for Toby Booth’s side.
A moment of magic and anticipation from Topsy Ojo saw the flying winger intercept a loose Munster ball and race away from his own half and over the whitewash for a two-score advantage for Irish.
In between some displays of excellent Irish defence and a rangy Delon Armitage penalty kick, O’Gara clawed back the game with place kicks of his own before a belated and unconverted Sam Tuitupou try meant the Red Army took away a losing bonus on a memorable night.
Tries: Topsy Ojo
Penalties: Ryan Lamb (4), Delon Armitage
Drop-goals: Ryan Lamb
Tries: Sam Tuitupou
Penalties: Ronan O'Gara (4)
Munster Rugby Head Coach Graham Rowntree maintains that despite a loss against Gloucester Rugby, there are positives to extract from the 28-19 defeat at Musgrave Park.
“We’ve had a good look at a lot of players in a white-hot environment where our breakdown was properly tested,” Rowntree stated.
“In a pre-season game, that’s exactly what you want to see where you are at.
“We have loads of stuff to look at and work on for next week.”
The testing nature of Premiership opposition, particularly with the average age of Munster forwards utilised on the evening just 22.5-years-old, has given much encouragement to Rowntree and his staff ahead of the challenge of London Irish this week.
“There’s plenty for us to focus on, a big one would be our breakdown and the speed of our ball because that is the heartbeat of the game.
“We have done a lot of work on that, we haven’t done a lot of live work, but that’s why we play games like this.
“The breakdown will receive good attention and we’ll go through things individually and collectively what we can do better.”
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