Posts Tagged ‘Munster’

Another week, another last-minute win for Munster.

It was back to league competition this weekend, as the Heineken Cup is on hiatus until the second weekend of January. In the Pro 12, Scarlets traveled to Cork to face Munster, and came very close to a rare win at Thomond Park, a notoriously difficult stadium for away teams. Both sides were understrength, as Munster coach Rob Penney and his Scarlets counterpart Simon Easterby opted for squad rotation after consecutive weeks of intense European competition.

Bad conditions prevented the two sides from playing much running rugby, and they went into halftime tied 3-3. Scarlets took the lead a few minutes into the second half thanks to a converted John Barclay try, and Munster responded with two penalties to cut the Scarlets’ lead to 10-9. Scarlets went down to 14 men in the 73rd minute, and then had to play the last four minutes of the match with just 13 men after Michael Poole joined his teammate Rob Evans in the sin bin. As with last week, Munster found themselves in possession after the siren, knowing any mistake would mean defeat.  And once again, it was JJ Hanrahan, (this week playing flyhalf), in the center of the action.  Some good work from the Munster pack got them within a few meters of the Scarlets’ tryline, and then Hanrahan spotted Ronan O’Mahony – in acres of space thanks to Munster’s numerical advantage – and duly found him with a crossfield kick. It appeared that Munster and Ireland prop Dave Kilcoyne had knocked on in the build-up, but after consultation with the Television Match Official (TMO), referee Nigel Owens decided to award the try.

Meanwhile, in the English Premiership, Saracens made a huge statement with a dominant 49-10 victory over perennial contenders Leicester. Much-maligned England wing Chris Ashton scored two tries, while rising star Billy Vunipola also touched down for Saracens.

Finally, in the French Top 14, Toulon were rampant, defeating Montpellier 43-10. The result raised a few eyebrows. Toulon were just two points ahead of Montpellier in the league standings going into the match, but you wouldn’t have guessed it – such was the gulf in class between the two sides. Several of Toulon’s bevy of international stars got themselves on the scoresheet, with South African Juan Smith, Australian Drew Mitchell, and Englishman Steffon Armitage all scoring tries.

Below, O’Mahony’s winning try for Munster.

The Heineken Cup brought rugby fans two fantastic games on Saturday, underlining once again what a shame it would be if we were to lose the premier European club competition. The political situation is complex, and there are many financial interests at stake, but the bottom line is that the Heineken Cup is a wonderful showcase for the game we love, and benefits all of the clubs involved. As fans we can only hope that the bigwigs sort out their differences and keep the competition alive in one form or another.

Perpignan v Munster provided sheer heart-pounding drama – it was a brutally physical, tight contest that Munster were leading 13-12 when Italy center Tommaso Benvenuti scored a try for Perpignan in the 77th minute. That put the French side ahead 17-13 with just a few minutes to play. Munster managed to regain possession, but they were going nowhere, with their backs throwing some uncharacteristically sloppy passes. The siren sounded, indicating 80 minutes were up, and Munster knew they could not afford any errors, or the game would be lost. They showed incredible resilience to get back on the front foot, and then 21-year old JJ Hanrahan, who had only just been substituted on, produced a moment of magic – a sidestep that will live long in the memory of Munster fans. Hanrahan went over in the corner, and amazingly Munster had won the game 18-17.

Meanwhile, Leinster v Northampton Saints was the more fascinating in psychological terms. Leinster had humiliated Saints a week ago in Northampton, and everyone was wondering whether the English side would be able to recover in time for their trip to Dublin. Their response was a credit to everyone involved with the club. Northampton dominated the collisions and consistently got over the gainline, as the back row of Calum Clark, Tom Wood, and Samu Manoa (who was named Man of the Match) were outstanding. Leinster clearly missed the influence of Sean O’Brien at the breakdown and in the loose. Yet the Leinster defense held strong, and the Irish side only trailed 7-3 at halftime. The seesaw battle continued in the second half as the two teams traded penalties, and then a drop goal from replacement scrumhalf Kahn Fotuali’i put Northampton 13-9 ahead with time nearly up. Leinster fought their way back down the field as the siren sounded, going through more than 20 phases, camped out on the Northampton line for many of them. The Saints defense was resolute though, and finally Leinster and Ireland number 8 Jamie Heaslip knocked on. To add insult to injury, Saints wing Jamie Elliott pounced on the loose ball and ran it back for a try, robbing Leinster of the losing bonus point.