Munster battle their way past Harlequins in feisty Thomond Park scuffle

Inaccuracies cost home side a bonus point against a side that had three players sinbinned

Munster’s Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Marcus Smith and Nathan Earle of Harlequins during the Heineken Champions Cup match at  Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Munster’s Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Marcus Smith and Nathan Earle of Harlequins during the Heineken Champions Cup match at Thomond Park. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

 

Munster 21 Harlequins 7

A feisty affair on the pitch and a spicy one off it too judging by the volume of sound in a crowd-less affair. On a wet night in Limerick, Munster made heavy weather of finally putting Harlequins away and move on to a daunting assignment in Clermont Auvergne next Saturday.

There were a mite too many inaccuracies at the set-piece, the breakdown and, although they only conceded one try, at times in defence too for Munster to ever be wholly comfortable without ever looking like they wouldn’t win at the same time.

Harlequins were a bit too pumped up for their own good, and actually got off lightly in only incurring three yellow cards. At their best, Munster would have exploited that to better effect.

On the plus side, Tadhg Beirne led the charge up front, where Munster eventually won the gainline, and were well directed by Conor Murray at the base, although interestingly it was the young guns who steered them home, notably 21-year-old Ben Healy and the decisive try was scored by 23-year-old Gavin Coombes on his European debut.

On a grim night in Limerick, the Thomond Park echo chamber made tooting car horns clearly audible in celebration of events in Croke Park. Heavy rain beforehand and during the first half made for a greasy if well maintained surface and a blustery wind didn’t help the kickers either. Pascal Gauzère’s performance didn’t help the game at all.

Playing into the wind in the first half, Murray’s box kicking caused all manner of grief for Harlequins’ back three and while a 6-0 lead probably didn’t reflect their supremacy, by the same token they had an almighty escape too.

Harlequins did not contest the Munster lineout in the air or even on the ground, thus enabling one man to make a tackle as the maul wasn’t engaged. It’s a daft law, and dangerous too, which was followed by Joe Marler daftly tackling Peter O’Mahony off the ball for JJ Hanrahan to open the scoring.

James Chisholm, who had been agitator in chief of some all-in handbags earlier, then caught Murray late and in his back after a box kick which somehow all four officials missed or, in the case of Gauzère, was deemed permissible.

Munster found some momentum, with good lines from Jean Kleyn and Beirne, the latter offloading to O’Mahony, before Hanrahan crosskicked to Coombes and Mike Haley touched down by the corner flag. Gauzère wrongly called Chris Farrell’s pass forward but Haley didn’t appear to ground the ball on the line when hit by Marcus Smith.

Munster’s Gavin Coombes gets over for a try during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Harlequins at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster’s Gavin Coombes gets over for a try during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Harlequins at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

However, Hanrahan contrived to overhit a penalty from the 22 into the corner, a costly error. Instead, Quins came calling off a lineout and a scrum, and after Smith compounded two wayward kicks earlier by missing the penalty, he missed from 46 metres following Stander’s deliberate knock-on after having to hurriedly replace the ball on the tee.

Quins looked to have scored the first try when Danny Care crosskicked for Alex Dombrandt to touch down but Caden Murley’s earlier pass to Ben Tapuai after a big counter was clearly forward on review. A lucky reprieve for Munster.

Murray followed up with his sliding take of a high ball with another good box kick, and Hanrahan judged the diagonal wind into his face to make it 6-0 after great strength in the jackal by James Cronin.

Better still Beirne picked and went fully 50 metres from a good carry by Stander, but Hanrahan allowed too much for the wind when missing from 40 metres, although Chisholm was binned for blatantly coming in from the side as Munster skipped off 6-0 ahead.

On the resumption, Hanrahan’s grubber into touch looked wasteful, as was Kevin O’Byrne’s crooked throw outside Quins’ 22 and Haley’s ill-advised offload. A smiling Jerry Flannery, Quins’ forwards coach, led the loud cheering from the sidelines, and the numerical advantage was undone when Stephen Archer was binned for tackling Care after a quick tap.

Even so, Hanrahan and Damian de Allende held up Tapuai in the tackle and the latter ripped the ball for Beirne to hoof the ball way downfield with his left boot. Care needlessly conceded a penalty in the corner when clearly nudging Keith Earls over the touchline as he chased Murray’s clever box kick.

He was fortunate not to be yellow carded but when Will Evans pulled the maul down he was binned and Gauzère awarded a penalty try.

But he was soon pinging Kleyn when Mike Brown seemed to merely run into him after passing, and after going to the corner, Murley scored wide out off Care’s blindside skip pass when badly missed by Andrew Conway especially and O’Mahony.

No sooner were Quins back to 15 men than Dombrandt was binned for another cheap late hit, this one on the newly introduced Healy. He picked himself up and landed a booming penalty from inside his own half.

Soon after he was hit late again, this time by Marler but after Craig Casey was tackled in the air by Smith, Healy found a long touch right into the corner. The maul inched forward, and when sacked Coombes muscled through two tackles for a fine finish to mark his European debut.

Munster couldn’t push on for the bonus point, but backed up their best defensive set of the match with a big scrum as the young guns off the bench continued to make their impact. But there were also two more lineout malfunctions.

It was that kind of night.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 13 mins: Hanrahan pen 3-0; 37: Hanrahan pen 6-0; (half-time 6-0); 50: Penalty try 13-0; 55: Murley try, Smith 13-7; 63: Healy pen 16-7; 70: Coombes try 21-7.

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (capt), CJ Stander.

Replacements: Ben Healy for Hanrahan (59 mins), Rhys Marshall for O’Byrne, Fineen Wycherley for Kleyn (both 61 mins), John Ryan for Archer, Jack O’Donoghue for Stander, Craig Casey for Murray (all 65 mins), Josh Wycherley for Cronin (69 mins), Rory Scannell for Conway (75 mins).

Sinbinned: Archer (48 mins).

HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Nathan Earle, James Lang, Ben Tapuai, Cadan Murley; Marcus Smith, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Scott Baldwin, Wilco Louw; Hugh Tizard, Glen Young; James Chisholm, Will Evans, Alex Dombrandt (capt).

Replacements: Ross Chisholm for Brown (55 mins), Tom Lawday for Chisholm, Scott Steele for Care (both 65 mins), Willie Edwards for Murley (67 mins), Elia Elia for Baldwin, Santiago Garcia Botta for Marler, Richard DeCarpentier for Evans (all 73 mins),

Sinbinned: Chisholm (39 mins), Evans (51 mins), Dombrandt (62 mins).

Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France).

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