Exeter Chiefs 7
Sean Farrell reports from Thomond Park
IT WAS A night for the brave and those with no little faith.
Munster’s proud home record was in danger from English visitors again, but three nerveless Joey Carbery penalties delivered victory and with it progress to the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals as pool 2 winners.
Billy Holland congratulates Joey Carbery on the winning penalty. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
It was a breathless, frenetic and incredibly physical contest and a steady flow of steam rose out of continuously-colliding bodies and into the cool Limerick air.
Munster were far from perfect, they had little over a third of possession and saw little in the way of try-scoring opportunities. But thanks to a gutsy resistance effort led by Tadhg Beirne, they will pick over the enforced errors content in the knowledge that they will have a match to play on the last weekend in March.
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While many teams went into action this weekend with a member of staff wearing follicles thin in an effort to figure out permutations, the pool 2 finale was a perfect self-contained storm.
One quarter-final berth was on the line and there was no use hoping for a runner-up spot.
Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO
The absence of a safety net meant this match delivered every bit of ferocity it promised, and more. Battle lines were already drawn deep through early stages before CJ Stander ripped the jersey off Jonny Hill’s back and flung it out of a seventh-minute maul. There was retribution on the Munster number 8, separated from his scrum-cap before long.
Carbery nudged Munster ahead while Hill dressed himself, but any wishful notion that this Chiefs side would be overawed by their first visit to Thomond Park was brutishly dispelled by the muscular breakdown efforts of Matt Kvesic and the pack he anchored.
The latter forced a 13th minute turnover penalty on the Munster 10 metre line. Joe Simmond’s perfect kick to the corner gave the visiting pack just the sort of sniff of blood they thrive on and Don Armand was soon barrelling over the line through Conor Murray.
It was the aerial battles which kept Exeter from getting a firm upper hand in the contest. Simmonds could not steady himself under Murray’s box kicks and, after a technical hiccup, the scrum earned Carbery a second shot at the posts to make it a one-score game midway through the half.
Exeter went in at half-time with that 6-7 lead in tact, but they could have been far better off than that. Their defensive pressure forced errors from Munster’s attack and their groundwork forced kickable penalties. Twice though, the Chiefs stuck to their early-season tactic of forgoing the kicking tee in favour of a line-out.
Beirne gets the plaudit for a vital turnover. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
On 30 minutes, Tadhg Beirne dug in deep to force a vital turnover penalty in front of his own posts and the interval was warmly welcomed by Thomond Park along with the sight of an error in the corner of the hosts’ 22.
The second-half was perched on a knife-edge. Munster were a score away from a winning position. Exeter were a converted try away from taking over the pool lead. There was a mood shift around the stands as the importance of pool points came to the fore over current scorelines. Every tackle mattered, every ruck was roared on and Garryowen chasers were kingmakers while the ball was aloft.
Nobody chased harder that Andrew Conway, and it was he who brought Munster closest to the second half’s opening score all of 20 minutes after the restart – his grubber to the corner was turned over, but the Chiefs held their ground and their lead.
Beirne’s heroics eventually came to an end with what looked like a knee injury after the hour mark. But even before he finished his slow march to the touchline, his replacement Billy Holland was filling the void by making a magnificent line-out steal on his own five-metre line.
Jean Kleyn stepped into the breach too with a turnover win. And from the line-out platform he earned, O’Mahony was taken out in the air, Carbery grabbed the tee and nailed his 20th straight successful kick since the December loss in Castres to edge Munster into the lead.
The knife edge was finally tilted against the Chiefs. And there was a fitting end as Peter O’Mahony – in doubt until yesterday after ‘popping his rib’ last weekend – careered into his 16th tackle of the match. And he continued battling to own the ball while the red flags rose to acclaim his effort.
Munster will end tonight among the top four seeds, but they must wait and hope Leinster don’t overtake them in that position when the pool stage concludes tomorrow.
Penalties: J Carbery (3/3)
Tries: D Armand
Conversions: J Simmonds (1/1)
Munster: Mike Haley, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell (Dan Goggin ’57), Keith Earls, Joey Carbery, Conor Murray (Alby Mathewson ’65); Dave Kilcoyne (Jeremy Loughman ’66), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’70), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’55), Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne (Billy Holland ’66), Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell (Arno Botha ’40), CJ Stander.
Exeter Chiefs: Jack Nowell, Santiago Cordero. Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto (Ian Whitten ’58), Tom O’Flaherty, Joe Simmonds, Nic White; Alec Hepburn (Ben Moon ’53), Jack Yeandle (Luke Cowan-Dickie ’57), Harry Williams (Greg Holmes ’67), Dave Dennis (Mitch Lee ’50), Jonny Hill, Sam Skinner, Don Armand, Matt Kvesic.
Referee: Jerome Garces.
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