By Simon Lewis
Munster eased past Heineken Champions Cup pool rivals Gloucester at Thomond Park today to notch up their first win of the Pool 2 campaign with a bonus-point victory.
Gloucester, who had topped the pool after the opening round following a home win over Castres, were undone by poor discipline, losing lock Tom Savage to an early yellow card and then fly-half Danny Cipriani to a red before half-time.
That allowed Munster, who had opened their account with a draw at Exeter Chiefs seven days earlier, to impose their game on the visitors and tries before half-time from Mike Haley and Rhys Marshall were followed after the break as Joey Carbery and Sammy Arnold brought up the try bonus point before Andrew Conway sealed a good European afternoon for the two-time champions with a fifth under the gaze of Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, who names his Guinness Series squad this Tuesday.
Yet Schmidt and his Munster counterpart Johann van Graan will not have been pleased with a premature switch-off from the province which saw Gloucester gunning for a try bonus point and two players yellow-carded in the last five minutes.
It was a miserable opening 40 minutes for Gloucester and head coach Johan Ackermann, who first saw lock Tom Savage sin-binned for a no-arms tackle in attempting to clean out Munster’s Dan Goggin, catching the centre in the head.
Savage’s temporary absence from the 17th minute saw Munster open the scoring, using their width against a stretched defence to put in full-back Mike Haley for his first European try since joining from Sale Sharks during the summer.
Joey Carbery missed the touchline conversion and Munster further let Gloucester off the hook by handing them a penalty from the restart, Peter O’Mahony going off his feet in a ruck, from which Cipriani clawed back three points to lessen the impact of his team-mate’s yellow card.
Much worse was to follow, though, as Cipriani saw red for another no-arms challenge on 31 minutes. The fly-half, omitted from England’s November Test squad named last week, stood his ground as Rory Scannell was tackled and made contact with the centre’s head. Referee Alexandre Ruiz consulted with his TMO Phillippe Bonhoure before giving the Gloucester playmaker his marching orders.
Munster took their chance to extend their lead from the subsequent Carbery penalty and three minutes before the break the home pack took further control as hooker Rhys Marshall touched down a superb driving maul after Munster had found touch from a penalty, one of eight conceded by Gloucester in the opening half. Carbery added two points with the conversion and Munster went into the interval with a healthy 15-3 lead.
Munster were forced to make a change for the second half as Marshall failed to reappear having limped off the field at the half-time, Kevin O’Byrne replacing him.
Munster barely missed a beat, though, Carbery scoring his first European try in red on 50 minutes before Arnold racked up the bonus point with a clever running line off Carbery’s short pass.
Yet there was something of a sting in the tail as Munster eased off the pressure, allowing Gloucester to score three late tries through their former lock Gerbrandt Grobler, Jason Woodward and Ben Morgan.
To compound the errors, Arnold and substitute prop Stephen Archer were sin-binned in the dying minutes and centre Dan Goggin had to be helped from the field on full-time after going down in contact.
MUNSTER: M Haley (JJ Hanrahan, 67); A Conway, D Goggin, R Scannell (S Arnold, 46), D Sweetnam; J Carbery, D Williams (A Mathewson, 46); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne, 46), R Marshall (K O’Byrne, h-t), J Ryan (S Archer, 58); J Kleyn (B Holland, 66), T Beirne; P O’Mahony - captain, T O’Donnell (A Botha, 37), CJ Stander.
Yellow card: Arnold 77, Archer 79
GLOUCESTER: J Woodward; M Banahan, B Twelvetrees, M Atkinson (O Williams, 62), T Marshall (T Hudson, 44); D Cipriani, C Braley (B Vellacott, 53); V Rapava Ruskin (C Knight, 64), F Marais (H Walker, 22), J Hohneck,; T Savage, E Slater - captain (G Grobler, 53); F Clarke (G Evans, 60), J Polledri, B Morgan
Red card: Cipriani, 28 mins
Yellow card: Savage 17-27
Replacement not used: F Balmain
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)