Munster caught short after Leicester show killer instinct
Anthony Foley’s side play some of best rugby of season but errors prove costly
Leicester Tigers’ Fraser Balmain and Munster’s Dave Foley and Mark Chisholm during the European Champions Cup, Pool Four match at Welford Road, Leicester.
Leicester 17 Munster 6 Another one that got away. As in the first meeting a week ago, Munster will reflect on how much of the game they had, and how, again, the main difference was that Leicester took their chances and Munster didn’t. Akin to last week, they really should have been much closer on the scoreboard.
There was plenty to admire in the way Munster sought to take the game to Leicester, the way they kept the ball in hand, and how the forwards showed some good skills in inter-linking with backs. And there was offloading from an Irish side! Indeed, in many ways, Munster played their best rugby of the season.
Some of the offloading and support lines were top notch, as Munster played with plenty of ambition, albeit at times maybe a little too much, and certainly a little too far behind the gainline when there wasn’t enough zip on the ball.
PresenceMike SherryJohn Ryan
CJ Stander and Robin Copeland charged from the front with some outstanding carrying – indeed Stander was Munster’s leading carrier (15) and tackler (16).
Conor Murray had a big game until a couple of costly forward passes in the third quarter as Munster went for the jugular while Leicester were down to 14 men, Francis Saili had probably his best game yet in Munster red (if pushing things a little) and the back three were all lively and threatening runners.
Yet they coughed up too many turnovers and half-chances, and ultimately until a couple of interventions in the last quarter by Leicester’s flying Tongan fullback Telusa Veainu, the game hinged on Leicester turning one penalty into the corner into seven points, whereas Munster failed to do so. Ian Keatley also left six points behind and Freddie Burns three points in what is a tricky ground for place-kicking when breezy.
Munster suffered a blow before kick-off when Donnacha Ryan was ruled out with a stomach bug, Dave Foley being promoted (he tackled his socks off), while Billy Holland was drafted in from A duty. But their positive approach and willingness to play through the hands belied their run of three successive defeats.
A couple of solid scrums and a couple of huge box-kicks by Murray, chased and won by Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo, gave them a good footing. Holding their depth and varying their running angles, Mark Chisholm might have passed on to Conway on his outside instead of stepping back inside, but in any case Brendan O’Connor didn’t roll away and Keatley opened the scoring.
After Conway counter-attacked, and Cronin and Earls offloaded off the deck in turn, with Foley continuing the move, this led to another penalty, but Keatley was wide from 40 metres.
Munster deserved a six-point lead, but Mike Sherry executed a couple of choke tackles on Ayerza and O’Connor, the latter when helped by Stander.
But penalties against Stander, for not releasing after the tackle, and against Keatley, for a high tackle on Telusa Veainu at the behest of the home crowd and French touchjudge Salam Attalah (who somehow didn’t see Adam Thompstone blatantly blocking Simon Zebo off the ball earlier) led to a kick to the corner and a try by Ed Slater when diving over Foley and inside Chisholm from their first visit to the Munster 22.
By contrast, when Munster eschewed three likely points by going to the corner, Leicester withheld the drive and then forced a turnover penalty. A double hit by Murray and Stander on Vereniki Goneva relieved a bout of pressure, but when Munster didn’t roll away after the tackle, Burns made it 10-3.
A good poach by Stander atoned for a poor 22-metre restart by Keatley, and when the Leicester sub Dom Barrow was penalised and binned for tapping the ball from Murray’s hands at the base from an offside position, even Jerome Garcès shook his head in disbelief. Keatley closed out the half by making it 10-6 and Munster began the second half with renewed purpose. Alas, after a big break by Cronin, Saili beat Michael Fitzgerald only to be denied a try by Peter Betham, and then Murray’s floated pass for Cronin to dive over in the corner was forward.
Deflating After Murray’s pass off a lineout to Cronin was also forward, Munster settled for a shot at goal as Barrow’s bin period came to an end, to get within a point. Keatley’s miss from 35 metres felt hugely deflating.
With Leicester back to 15 men, Munster were caught out playing too much in their own half and were indebted to a poach by the outstanding Cronin, before Burns too missed an eminently kickable penalty.
But a defensive lineout creaked again, putting Munster under ferocious pressure. However, when Lachlan McCaffrey’s loose pass off the base of a five-metre scrum eluded Ben Youngs, Saili picked up on the run and set off on a 90-yard dash to the line. He was chased down by Veainu, after the latter took out Keith Earls off the ball to the blissful ignorance of Garcès, before he passed inside to Zebo who was hauled down by Adam Thompstone.
Instead, when Leicester came knocking again, Peter Betham’s show-and-go left Chisholm for dead before he popped the ball off the deck for Veainu to score untouched.
Munster kept playing, and Copeland and Stander kept charging, but Saili forfeited their last chance when his offload went into touch. Munster will have an acute sense of what-might-have-been. Scoring sequence – 7 mins: Keatley pen 0-3; 24 mins: Slater try, Burns con 7-3; 36 mins: Burns pen 10-3; 40 (+1) mins: Keatley pen 10-6; (half-time 10-6); 66 mins: Gonivea try, Burns con 17-6. LEICESTER TIGERS: T Veainu; A Thompstone, P Betham, M Smith, V Goneva; F Burns, B Youngs; Marcos Ayerza, T Youngs, D Cole, M Fitzgerald, G Kitchener, E Slater (capt), B O’Connor, L McCaffrey. Replacements : D Barrow for Kitchener (37-50 mins), M Aguero for Ayerza (45-50 and 71 mins), T Croft for Fitzgerald (52 mins), F Balmain for Cole (58 mins), T Bell for Burns (67 mins), H Thacker for T Youngs (72 mins), S Bai for Gonivea (73 mins), S Harrison for B Young (76 mins). Sin-binned: B (40-50 mins). MUNSTER: A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; J Cronin, M Sherry, J Ryan, M Chisholm, D Foley, R Copeland; D O’Callaghan, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: J O’Donoghue for O’Callaghan (51 mins), T O’Leary for Murray (60 mins), D Kilcoyne for Cronin, R Scannell for Keatley (both 63 mins), N Scannell for Sherry, B Holland for Chisholm (both 70 mins), M Sagario for Ryan, L Gonzalez Amorosino for Hurley (both 75 mins). Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France).