Thomond Park was awash with red at the end of an excellent game that produced excitement and high drama as well, of course, as an unlikely victory against a near full strength Northampton. Munster’s young guns in this experimental side reacted positively to the promptings from a crowd of over 5,000, and left Northampton beaten for the second successive time in their pre-season programme.
For spells, it looked like Northampton’s New Zealand internationals, Bruce Reihana, Mark Robinson and Carlos Spencer would hold the key to victory. Indeed Spencer nearly did it for them when he manufactured a superb try 12 minutes from the end.
But Munster’s determination swung this game and coach Declan Kidney described the result as “extraordinary.”
“It was extraordinary in the sense that we had a lot of young players, guys from the academy and straight from their clubs. They were a little bit overawed in the first half but grew in confidence as the game went on. There were many positives to take from this result and from the performance. It spices things up certainly.”
The downside was that Mike Mullins sustained a serious injury. Mullins ruptured an Achilles tendon and will be out of action for several months. “That was the sad note,” observed Kidney, “but we have to focus on the good things that came out of this match, and there were a number of them.”
Munster dominated the early exchanges and took the lead with a Paul Burke penalty after eight minutes. Then, after conceding a well worked try to Reihana, the out half struck a second time to restore Munster’s lead.
Northampton took the lead again through Reihana with a penalty and Munster failed to take advantage of subsequent territorial advantage. Mossie Lawlor and Rob Henderson were both held up short.
Although playing against a stiff breeze in the second half, Munster gave as good as they got. The crowd delighted in a smashing 54th-minute try from Paul Devlin, the product of intense Munster pressure. Burke converted for a 13-8 lead.
After Munster made a raft of changes, the score turned back in Northampton’s favour after 68 minutes when Spencer’s dazzling run allowed Darren Fox take a simple scoring pass. Reihana added the extra points before kicking a penalty for a five points lead.
But Munster were far from finished, launching a furious assault in the ensuing minutes. Their reward came when substitute scrum half Frank Murphy opted to take a quick tap from a penalty, and he sent Rob Henderson in for a try that replacement out half Jeremy Manning converted.
This was only a friendly but there were joyous scenes at the end, and that reflected the effort produced throughout, but particularly in that tense closing spell.
MUNSTER: B. Martin, P. Devlin, M. Mullins, R. Henderson, M. Lawlor, P. Burke, M. Prendergast, F. Roche, J. Flannery, T. Buckley, D. Ryan, M. O’Driscoll, J. O’Sullivan, S. Keogh (captain), J. O’Connor.
Replacements. B. Murphy for Mullins (injured, 14), F. Murphy for Prendergast, J. Manning for Burke, D. Fogarty for Flannery, I. Dowling for Lawlor, E. McGovern for Roche (all 60), P. Burke for Henderson (injured, 77).
NORTHAMPTON: B. Reihana (captain), S. Lamont, J. Clarke, D. Quinlan, B. Cohen, C. Spencer, M. Robinson, T. Smith, D. Hartley, B. Sturgess, Damien Browne, J. Percival, M. Easter, Daniel Browne, D. Fox.
Replacements: M. Lord for Percival (injured, 19), M. Soden for Easter, S. Mallon for Quinlan (both 40), J. Rudd for Lamont (50), C. Budgen for Sturgess (55), D. Richmond for Hartley (57), R. Davies for Clarke, A. Rae for Browne, A. Vilk for Cohen, B. Jones for Robinson (all 68).
Referee. A. Lewis (Leinster)
Connacht 22 Leicester Tigers 17
Connacht earned themselves the perfect pre-season boost with a momentous victory over English premiership outfit Leicester Tigers at the Galway Sportsground last evening.
Admittedly the Tigers were missing their top flight English and Lions stars, like Martin Corry, Lewis Moody, Ben Kay, Graham Rowntree, and Ollie Smith, but in this first meeting of the two clubs, Connacht played a structured game, opting to take their kicks at goals, with a 100% record.
They led the two-time European champions at the break by 19-10, and although the Tigers finished with a superior 3-1 try count, it was not enough to see off the Irish province.
Result: Ulster 9 London Irish 17.