Rampant Reds braced for wounded Tigers

It may have been one of those special European nights at Thomond Park, when even Peter O’Mahony smiled, but the Munster captain soon reverted to ice-veined type when thoughts turned to next Sunday’s return match at Welford Road.
Rampant Reds braced for wounded Tigers

The skipper, brilliantly living up to his expectation that he could compartmentalise on and off-field matters after a week of speculation surrounding his IRFU contract negotiations for next season and beyond, led the charge, as Munster protected the gainline with ferocity.

When his side unlocked the Tigers’ defence, the Lions blindside flanker was one of the quartet of try scorers to deliver the bonus-point that puts Munster firmly in

control of their own destiny, unbeaten in three matches and top of Pool 4 by four points with three games to play.

Much can change between now and the end of the pool campaign in January, of course, and much will depend on next Sunday’s round-four appointment in the English East Midlands, where 12 months ago, Leicester rose phoenix-like from the ashes of their 38-0 humiliation in

Limerick the previous week to snatch an unlikely 18-16 victory with the last kick of the game.

O’Mahony is, naturally, keen to avoid a similar outcome this time around.

“You look back at last year, we were beaten up physically over there,” said the captain.

“That is something we need to address and it is very difficult, because Leicester are a proud side, Welford Road is an incredibly difficult place to play and you are going back-to-back against a team who are coming off a loss. It is a difficult thing to do, because you are up against an animal backed into a corner.

"You have to try and win the physical battle. It is not a big secret, that. I am not giving away our gameplan. If you do not physically dominate, especially a side like Leicester, you are going to struggle.”

Munster did just that at Thomond Park on a bitterly cold night, winning the breakdown battle and suffocating the Tigers to give new head coach Johann van Graan a dream Champions Cup debut. They dominated a rudderless Leicester side, their first-half performance, in particular, an echo of that demolition of 12 months ago at the same juncture in the pool campaign.

That day, there was the unquantifiable effect of Anthony Foley’s death fuelling Munster’s intensity against a bewildered visiting side.

Saturday’s Tigers were just as toothless, but for this year’s men in red it was pure and clinical ruthlessness.

Munster had victory firmly in their sights by 31 minutes, thanks to tries from hooker Rhys Marshall and irrepressible full-back Simon Zebo, both converted by fly-half Ian Keatley, whose decision- making and goal-kicking was outstanding throughout.

Keatley had transformed his side’s high-intensity start to the game into a 3-0 lead after eight minutes and then recovered from an injury to his right knee following an

attempted tackle on Jonny May to kick another 11 points with the affected leg.

He converted Marshall’s try soon after in the 20th minute after the hooker had run a smart line to receive Conor Murray’s flat pass, juggling the ball expertly to bring it under control and crash over from five metres out.

Another penalty followed, but Keatley’s best kick was the expertly judged chip into space that Zebo ran onto for Munster’s second try on 31 minutes.

Leicester full-back Telusa Veainu had deserted his post and, with green shirts closing in, the Munster fly-half dispatched the ball, side-footed, into the vacant area.

It bounced up perfectly for Zebo to score and unveil his most exuberant celebration to date, as if to emphasise the vacuum his departure to France next summer will create in terms of skill set and personality.

While Zebo shimmied, Leicester creaked. Their frustration as Munster conceded a penalty in front of their posts after a first period of sustained pressure was evident. George Ford had taken the three points to avoid a second consecutive Limerick blanking, but it had been a bitter pill to swallow and Tigers captain Tom Youngs was lucky to avoid the sin bin moments later when he neck-rolled the abrasive and wonderfully

irritating Chris Cloete at a ruck.

It cost his side another three points to hand Munster a 23-3 lead they would take to the

interval and Youngs’ good fortune continued when referee Jerome Garces kept his card in his pocket after a no-arms shoulder charge on CJ Stander.

It brought a scrappy end to an otherwise immaculate first half from Munster, perhaps the province’s best 40 minutes of the season to date, according to O’Mahony, who nevertheless added some second-half flaws as context.

“It is probably up there,” he said. “This is the time of the year when you need to be putting your best performances together, which is positive, but we really do have plenty to work on. We conceded a maul try. Our discipline, which we talked about during the week, was poor, certainly towards the end of the second half.”

O’Mahony had added a third try in the 56th minute, 10 minutes after Andrew Conway had looked to have momentarily lost consciousness after an ill-judged challenge on Veainu that ended the involvement of both players, Leicester’s full-back suffering a broken jaw that incensed their head coach Matt O’Connor.

His side had been beaten all ends up, though, when the Tigers got their maul rolling late on, scoring a try in the 65th minute through replacement hooker Harry Thacker.

Cloete would grab the bonus-point point three minutes later, before Munster had to withstand a late flourish from the visitors that also offered a reminder there is still plenty of work to do in the hostile environs of Welford Road.

The undeniable work-ons will help O’Mahony and his team-mates focus the minds in that regard.

MUNSTER:

S Zebo; A Conway (D Sweetnam, 46), S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan, 74), C Murray (D Williams, 73); D Kilcoyne (B Scott, 55), R Marshall (K O’Byrne, 70), S Archer (J Ryan, 61); J Kleyn (D O’Shea, 70), B Holland; P O’Mahony – captain (J O’Donoghue, 72), C Cloete, CJ Stander.

LEICESTER TIGERS:

T Veainu (N Malouf, 46); A Thompstone, M Smith, M Tait (J Ford, 73), J May; G Ford, B Youngs (S Harrison, 70); K Traynor (L Mulipola, 50), T Youngs -captain (H Thacker, 63), D Cole (C Baumann, 70); M Fitzgerald (D Barrow, 50), G Kitchener; V Mapapalangi (M Williams, 63), L Hamilton, S Kalamafoni.

Referee:

Jerome Garces (France)

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