Munster captain Peter O’Mahony has praised his side’s strength in reserve after the province shut down Saracens with a second-half powerplay.
Anthony Foley’s side took full advantage at Thomond Park on Friday night when Saracens were reduced to 14 men following the sin-binning of substitute prop Rhys Gill for a spear tackle on CJ Stander.
It relieved the pressure that had mounted on Munster as they defended their line, completely shifted the momentum of the game to the hosts and broke the 3-3 half-time impasse thanks to an Ian Keatley penalty.
Even more impressive was that the display continued once Saracens were back to their full complement, with Munster’s replacement forwards front and centre in the 14-3 success.
Loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne grabbed the decisive try on the hour mark, less than a minute after being introduced for James Cronin, finishing off from a rolling maul and then making nine carries in the final 20 minutes.
Not only that but he and fellow front-row replacements, Eusebio Guinazu and Stephen Archer, helped win the contest at the scrum as Saracens were denied even a sniff of a losing bonus point.
“It was just such a pressure cauldron out there,” O’Mahony said of the period that relieved some intense pressure on the Munster line at the start of the second half. There were some moments there and it was probably down to one or two of them that were the step we needed to get down the line and put 10 minutes of pressure on them. We knew we had to hang in there and just keep turning up for each other...
“We had such a hungry bench, I thought Archie was great, the three front rowers who came on were brilliant – we had two or three scrum penalties when they came on and those things are invaluable for a game like that, for an arm wrestle like that. Robin (Copeland) and the boys who came on were eager to show what they could do and that’s a big thing for us, leaving it all out there. We’re a fit team but an important side to us is our bench.”
Copeland had come in for O’Mahony with 13 minutes to go as the captain hauled his battered body off after completing another 67 minutes in his comeback from two shoulder reconstructions last April. There were fears he suffered a setback in just his fourth game back, at one point clutching his shoulder, but only Cronin remains an issue from Friday’s game with Foley saying of the loosehead prop: “He went off with a bang and that’s something to be assessed. Peter holds everything (not just his shoulder). He’s fine. He puts his body out there for us and you can’t query him. With a six-day turnaround you’re just conscious that you don’t want him to break.”
O’Mahony also insisted there was no need for alarm.
“I don’t think I play rugby any more without niggles and bruises. I’m coming back, I’ve another couple of games to get back to full match fitness, probably a fair bit to go but, you know, just a few knocks.
“It was a great thing we talked about at half-time, ‘just leave yourself out there, leave everything you can out there for the next 20, 25 minutes because we’ve a really hungry bench coming on’.
“So I knew Robin was there and he’s such an unbelievable athlete and I think it was just time for me. I’m feeling good. It’s coming along all the time. It does take that much, it really does, to be at international level, six, seven, eight games, but I’m feeling good. I’m progressing.”
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