Positives to take fromearly excursion to Munster
GRAFITTI in Limerick shows allegiance the same as anywhere else.
But in Thomond town the spray paint in the streets does not denote gang affiliation.
Everything in this Munster-mad city revolves around the rugby.
Mechanics graft to breathe new life into clapped-out bangers, in the shadow of Thomond Park, of course – but also with Peter Stringer constantly watching them work.
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The impish scrum-half's face is tattooed on to the doors of a garage just a stone's throw from Munster's world-famous, imposing stadium.
Such is the fanaticism in a region once obsessed with the River Shannon, now entranced by red-clad raiders.
The murals and shrines can hail the glorious past all they like, but Munster are finally getting to grips with life after their golden Heineken Cup generation.
Granted the leviathan lock Paul O'Connell is still going strong, but the Limerick outfit are still working out how to thrive without the likes of Stringer and Ronan O'Gara.
This pre-season clash was an opportunity for Rod Penney to sharpen up his Pro12 league-standard squad – to test his Munster men minus the majority of their international stars.
Gloucester duly followed suit, Nigel Davies clearly keeping his Heineken Cup powder dry.
The Cherry and Whites will be back in these parts in October for a European humdinger – when every aspect of the contest will be entirely different.
On Saturday night, half the Thomond Park ground was closed, leading to an eerie atmosphere.
Come the time these two teams meet in Europe, there will be no repeat – and not even standing room either.
Such a shame more punters were not on hand to witness Steph Reynolds' first-class finish.
The 19-year-old continues his rapid Kingsholm rise, once again displaying his uncanny knack of scoring in the space of a sixpence.
If Munster are adapting to Ian Keatley at out-half rather than the now-retired O'Gara, so Gloucester are readying themselves for an autumn and Six Nations without Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees.
Kiwi playmaker Jonny Bentley and talented young centre Ryan Mills will be the midfield axis in Burns and Twelvetrees' absence.
But both will be hell-bent on breaking the England duo's midfield monopoly.
Neither Bentley nor Mills did their cause any harm out in Ireland.
The only sticking point revolved around Gloucester's tactical kicking – in the driving rain it needed to be more precise.
Munster made the better of the tactical contest, squeezing the Cherry and Whites for territory. On the rare occasions when Gloucester hit the front foot Bentley and Mills came alive, and that's where they will definitely feel most comfortable.
Mills was making his comeback after the knee surgery that robbed him of the majority of last season.
The 21-year-old was clearly feeling his way back in – what Gloucester will want to see next is for him to hit the line at pace, and breaking tackles.
He has all the ability. With a touch more bravado that will come as he settles, he can be a star performer this term.
Bentley has panache too, the kind of flair that's right at home in this high-octane backline.
The former Cornish Pirate's trickery befuddled the Munster defence, allowing Reynolds the split-second to finish in the right corner just after half-time.
Had this been Burns and Simpson-Daniel in a Premiership match, the plaudits would have been both widespread and superlative.
Ultimately Gloucester deserved to lose this match, but the Kingsholm men ought to gain more in the long run for the insight drawn from defeat.
The Cherry and Whites dominated the scrum and the early signs suggest they can be a set-piece force under the new engagement rules.
The call system 'crouch, bind, set' reduces the impact of the hit and alters the scrum dynamic drastically.
Many old-school techniques are back in vogue, much to the delight of forward-play purists – and maybe Gloucester too.
Yann Thomas continued his impressive progress at tighthead, while Rupert Harden went well in a second-half cameo too. Dan Murphy had control at loosehead, and Dan George was more than solid at hooker.
While the hit might not be pivotal any more, timing remains just as crucial.
In one late scrum on Munster's put-in, Gloucester delayed the drive until the ball was at the home number-eight's feet.
That late surge caught Munster unawares, and totally disrupted their ball.
No doubt it is a tactic Gloucester will employ again.
The home side bossed the first quarter, pegging Gloucester back into their own half for the entire opening 15 minutes.
Munster failed to convert four penalty lineouts and four attacking scrums in the Gloucester 22.
And then Jimmy Cowan scored from Gloucester's first advance into enemy territory.
The All Black's smart blindside grubber caught Munster napping, and he nipped in first to the loose ball to touch down.
The riposte was as clinical as it was immediate, with Andrew Conway latching on to a pinpoint chip from Keatley.
Full-back Denis Hurley crossed when Mills was unable to snag Johne Murphy cutting off his wing to make the extra man.
Reynolds produced the finish of the tie after the break, but Munster hit back with two scores the result of tight driving play, from JJ Hanrahan and CJ Stander.
Then Koree Britton capped a series of dogged Gloucester drives on the Munster whitewash for a patient score to finish the night.
Reasonable from Gloucester, but this was a phoney war on two counts.
First this was the final stage of Gloucester's development phase of pre-season.
And second Davies was keen not to show his Heineken Cup hand.
Gloucester will show something entirely different on their next trip to Limerick.
Davies wants the Cherry and Whites to show something entirely different on Friday night's Kingsholm double-header against Plymouth and the Scarlets too.
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: 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).
SCORERS, 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.