Arch-finisher Steph Reynolds can forge a Gloucester future at full-back, tips Nigel Davies
MUNSTER RUGBY 28 GLOUCESTER RUGBY 17
INCH-PERFECT finisher Steph Reynolds can prove a viable full-back option, believes Nigel Davies.
Speed merchant Reynolds raced in for the try of the day at Thomond Park, lighting up a dank, rain-soaked Limerick with a score of top quality.
The Munstermen outscored Gloucester four tries to three, but boss Davies was pleased with his side’s dogged resolve.
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Fit-again Jimmy Cowan, Reynolds and Koree Britton claimed the Gloucester scores.
Debutant wing Andrew Conway, full-back Denis Hurley, out-half JJ Hanrahan and flanker CJ Stander grabbed the home tries.
Newport-born Gloucester academy flyer Reynolds is more comfortable – and experienced – on the wing.
But with Martyn Thomas carrying a shoulder niggle and Olly Morgan still a long-term casualty, rugby director Davies admitted he has had to expand his 15-shirt options.
Reynolds has only featured occasionally at full-back for Hartpury RFC – but under the rain-soaked Thomond Park aerial bombardment he stood up well.
Throw in his fulsome finish in mere inches of space, and Davies was left delighted with Reynolds’ effort.
Davies explained: “When you’re playing against a side of the quality of Munster who will challenge you everywhere, you’ve really got to be on your mettle.
“Any crack and they would expose that.
“So Steph had to extremely hard to cover that back-three – and that’s exactly what he did.
“He did a fine job considering the fact that he’s not a natural.
“We’ve got to look at him there, obviously we can play him on the wing, but the back-three skill-set has to be similar across the board.
“It was worth exploring our options, and I think that went well.
“I’ve got nothing but praise for him really in his first game for Gloucester at full-back.”
Munster pinned Gloucester into their own half with superior tactical nous right from the off.
Former Leicester wing Johne Murphy crossed the whitewash after just seven minutes – but a forward pass from fly-half Ian Keatley ruled out the score.
The hosts refused to loosen the screw, but still could not convert their dominance.
Four penalty lineouts and as many five-metre attacking scrums came and went, but still no try.
Gloucester battled manfully, but were fortunate to escape without conceding, especially when Charlie Sharples produced a fine try-saving tackle covering onto the opposite wing.
The Cherry and Whites then managed to score with their first foray into Munster territory.
All Black half-back Cowan was enjoying his first action since February when he tore knee ligaments.
The 31-year-old looked generally sharp, and it was his smart grubber down the blindside right-wing tramline that caught Munster napping.
Cowan raced after the cheeky dink, slid onto the loose ball – and got there first.
Jonny Bentley could not convert, but Gloucester had the lead.
That advantage lasted just three minutes though.
Munster attacked with pace, Casey Laulala causing untold problems for the Gloucester defence.
Then Keatley produced an accurate crossfield chip, allowing Conway to collect and race home for a debut to remember.
Ryan Mills – another returning after lengthy knee trouble – raced out the line, reading Munster’s intentions well next.
The physical centre was just unable to snare Murphy, though – and the ex-Tigers wing made the extra man in the line that led to Munster’s second try.
Full-back Hurley was able to race over when Gloucester ran out of numbers.
Keatley’s second conversion left the home side leading 14-5 at the break.
Reynolds blasted in his stunning score after the restart.
Former Cornish Pirate Bentley exhibited all the flair that led Davies to bring him to Kingsholm this summer.
The wily Kiwi’s sleight of hand bamboozled the defence on the short side, giving Reynolds the slimmest of margins in which to operate.
The arch-finisher has already proved himself adept at converting chances though.
And so it proved again, as he stepped at full tilt, to squeeze between two defenders in less than a square yard, and race home.
Munster raise their tempo immediately though, JJ Hanrahan running in easily after Gloucester failed to defend a lineout in their own 22 adequately.
Then flanker Stander capped a series of tight drives for try number four.
There was still time for Gloucester to add some much-merited respectability to the scoreline though.
And that came in the shape of replacement hooker Britton, who capped Gloucester’s relentless tight-driving phase on the Munster whitewash.
MUNSTER: Tries: A Conway (20), D Hurley (38), JJ Hanrahan (47), CJ Stander (67). Cons: I Keatley 4 (20, 38, 47, 67).
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Cowan (7), Reynolds (42), Britton (73). Cons: B Burns (73).
REFEREE: A Rolland.
MUNSTER: D Hurley, A Conway, C Laulala, I Dineen, J Murphy, I Keatley, D Williams, J Cronin, M Sherry, J Ryan, D O’Callaghan, B Holland, CJ Stander, N Ronan, J Coughlan.
Replacements from: N Scannell, D Casey, A Cotter, S Archer, P Ryan, I Nagle, D Foley, D Kenny, W Ryan, S Buckley, B O’Mahony, C Sheridan, G Hurley, JJ Hanrahan, J Holland, C Bohane, M Kelleher, N Kenneally, R O’Mahony.
GLOUCESTER: S Reynolds, C Sharples, T Molenaar (M Tindall, 41), R Mills, J Simpson-Daniel (D Cheshire, 75), J Bentley (B Burns, 68), J Cowan (D Robson, 52), D Murphy (J Gibbons, 68), D George (K Britton, 41), Y Thomas (R Harden, 54), E Stooke (L Lokotui, 54), W James, M Cox (S Kalamafoni, 48), A Hazell (capt) (M Cox, 78), G Evans (T Savage, 56).