Blood on the grass as Munster and Exeter Chiefs do battle
Stander try is converted by Carbery to level matters at 10 all with 15 minutes to go
Munster’s CJ Stander scoring a try against the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park stadium as Joey Carbery celebrates. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Pandemonium in the park! The Munster effect came to southwest England and, like every Premiership club, Rob Baxter’s heavies were unable to solve the Irish provincial conundrum.
An obvious weakness proved defensive strength as Duncan Williams saved Munster from certain defeat before CJ Stander finished an attack, blown down field, that left two Exeter forwards, Sam Skinner and Dave Ewers, laid out.
Blood on the grass, Ewers returned after passing the HIA, Skinner did not. This accidental head-collision happened as Tommy O’Donnell charged towards the post. Stander’s try was converted by Joey Carbery to level matters at 10-all with 15 minutes to run in this brutal, calamitous return of European entertainment.
Munster might have accepted the final score before kick-off, especially when Keith Earls was hamstrung, but having sliced their attacking blade agonisingly close to Exeter’s jugular on several occasions they sailed towards Shannon airport with some regret.
“We were up against an incredible side,” countered Peter O’Mahony. “It was so hard out there.”
Constant tomahawk chants could not transform Sandy Park into the usual Indian burial ground for visitors. Too much red about the place, like a rising tide when each English giant was felled.
Too much Tadhg Beirne and Carbery guile, far too much Peter O’Mahony street smarts (Jerome Garces eventually clocked the early lineout lifting) and plenty more besides.
Nothing rattles them anymore. Certainly not the stripping of scrumhalf reserves as Williams impressed, some misjudged box kicking into the swirl aside, on his rare moment in such stifling conditions.
The unbeaten hosts sought to rip Munster heads clean off, with Beirne losing his blue scrum cap in the opening exchanges. They need to go lower to stymie the former Clongowes bruiser.
The stadium was rammed with 12,749 bodies to witness Gareth Steenson, Ulster exile, local leader, open the scoring on 18 minutes when Niall Scannell was punished for colouring outside the lines.
So much activity on the ground, Luke Cowan-Dickie’s superb turnover was matched moments later by Beirne’s arched frame and clean rip. This sparked a Munster march of 28 phases deep into enemy territory before Carbery squared matters.
Exeter responded with an unstoppable trudge as Ewers shunted Cowan-Dickie over the try line. Steenson’s conversion almost cost Munster dearly as Andrew Conway’s attempted block proved a fraction late and he landed on the outhalf. Steenson stayed down but Jerome Garces checked the replay and gave Conway a pass.
“We are trying to find vicious collisions in every moment on the rugby field,” said Exeter coach Rob Baxter. “Some of them are just rugby things.”
The 10-3 lead was nothing in this weather. Munster had the hurricane and their coach Johan van Graan took measures to remedy scrum concerns with Cronin and John Ryan rolled into the fray on 46 minutes.
O’Mahony denied Carbery a three-pointer moments later but the maul fractured before Chris Cloete dived over. Garces signalled an Exeter penalty.
Henry Slade, the slick England centre, eventually slipped into space to put Matt Kvesic behind the cover, but Williams tracked to wrap and steal possession from Phil Dollman. Not many people will voice concern about the 32-year-old Cork reserve ever again. He saved Munster.
Stander’s try had multiple contributors, including Stu Townsend putting ball out on the full, and Carbery squared matters as players started dropping like modern rugby players tend to after so many nakedly violent collisions. Take Sammy Arnold’s eight-minute cameo only to be forced off for JJ Hanrahan with a throat injury that send him to hospital overnight.
Gruesome but thrilling to the bone.
Munster should only improve as Carbery eases towards a fascinating groove – his line kick on 73 minutes muted the Exeter crowd. He looked like someone else, a natural 10, until Beirne stole a vital lineout and he looked exactly who he is; a young man learning on the job.
Beware those gales.
Never mind, Munster defended 22 phases in their 22 to escape with reputation enhanced.
SCORING SEQUENCE - 18 mins: G Steenson pen, 0-3; 31 mins: J Carbery 3-3; 38 mins: L Cowan -Dickie try, 3-8; G Steenson con, 3-10. Half-time. 64 mins: CJ Stander try, 8-10; J Carbery con, 10-10.
EXETER: P Dollman; J Nowell, H Slade, I Whitten, S Cordero; G Steenson (capt), S Townsend; B Moon, L Cowan-Dickie, H Williams; D Dennis, S Skinner; D Ewers, D Armand, M Kvesic.
Replacements: O Atkins for D Dennis (42 mins), J Yeandle for L Cowan-Dickie, A Hepburn for B Moon, T Francis for H Williams (all 57), T Layday for S Skinner (64), L Cowan-Dickie for D Ewers (64-74).
MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, D Goggin, R Scannell, D Sweetnam; J Carbery, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O’Mahony (capt), C Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: J Cronin for D Kilcoyne, J Ryan for S Archer (both 45 mins), R Marshall for N Scannell (57), T O’Donnell for C Cloete, S Arnold for D Goggin (both 60), JJ Hanrahan for S Arnold (68), N Cronin for Williams (73), S Archer for J Ryan (79).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France).