Munster end Champions Cup pools with a statement win over Wasps

Crowd of 13,047 returns to Thomond Park as province make it four pool wins from four

Simon Zebo celebrates scoring the first of his two tries against Wasps. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Simon Zebo celebrates scoring the first of his two tries against Wasps. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Munster 45 Wasps 7

Munster made something of a statement with this bonus point victory in front of a crowd of 13,047 at their Limerick citadel, duly emerging from the disrupted pool stages as one of only five sides to complete four wins from four.

It was still to be determined whether they will play Exeter or Sale in the two-legged Round of 16, depending on the former’s meeting with Montpellier, but their win had some interesting ramifications.

Wasps only needed a bonus point to advance but were never in the hunt despite beating the champions Toulouse a week ago - a result which along with their previous win over Leicester was hard to credit on this evidence.

As a consequence, this result confirmed the anticipated all-Irish meeting of Connacht and Leinster over two legs on successive weekends, while also pitting Ulster against Toulouse - something of a short straw for Dan McFarland’s team after finishing second in Pool A.

Wasps actually had more of the ball and possession, but were mostly repelled by some ferocious defending; Jack O’Donoghue, Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne and Stephen Archer putting in big shifts.

Gavin Coombes’ muscular carrying further underlined their dominance of the gainline, but it was the ambition and attacking intent which so enamoured the home crowd, and was something of a riposte to Munster’s band of critics. As well as his unerring boot, Ben Healy was full of inventiveness and dexterity outside an assured Conor Murray.

More than 13,000 saw Munster’s win over Wasps. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
More than 13,000 saw Munster’s win over Wasps. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Munster made six line breaks to none, and there were officially 10 offloads, although it seemed like more. Granted, after a superb first-half performance and securing the bonus point by the 44th minute, the offloads stopped sticking before Munster finished with a two-try flourish.

They lost both Keith Earls, due to an unspecified ‘strain’, and David Kilcoyne, through illness, prior to the game, with Simon Zebo and Jeremy Loughman being promoted from the bench, where their places were filled by Josh Wycherley and Alex Kendellen in a redesigned 6-2 split.

There was no sign of any disruption, Munster springing from the blocks with plenty of intensity and intent, and no little skill and variety.

That was abundantly evident in the 21-phase attack - featuring penetrating carries by Mike Haley out wide and Gavin Coombes closer in - before Beirne took a hard outside in line off Conor Murray. The ball appeared to deflect forward, but Murray had the presence of mind to pick up and touch down as everyone else froze, and replays showed that it was Dan Robson’s hand that had played the ball.

Healy, playing sublimely, converted and would have added a try had he controlled a loose offload near his own line by Charlie Atkinson.

But Healy did add a penalty after a wild pass by Atkinson, and after a trademark lineout steal by Peter O’Mahony gave Munster another foothold from which, in a pre-ordained strike move off a lineout, Healy chipped for Zebo gathered on the full and took the tackle by Nizaam Carr to score.

It was his 24th Champions Cup try for Munster, eclipsing Anthony Foley’s record in Europe, reward for some good video analysis most likely, and prompted a re-run of that old familiar ‘Zee-bo’ chants, which the beaming Zebo was happy to encourage.

But when Jack O’Donoghue was pinged for going off his feet, Wasps went to the corner and though the maul was held up they pummelled the Munster line off a tap penalty before Robson squirmed over.

But Wasps’ error count soon led to a another turnover in contact and Coombes stormed off the base of the ensuing scrum, beating Robson and bouncing Atkinson before being hauled down, with O’Donoghue quick to pick up and dive over.

Munster required a huge defensive set from a procession of penalties, losing Coombes to the bin for going off his feet, but holding up three lineout drives and withstanding nine phases of close-in charges before Jean Kleyn won a turnover penalty.

Alas there was then a prolonged and worrying stoppage as a team of medics and assistants treated the Wasps flanker Thomas Young before he was stretchered off with his neck in a brace.

Munster also survived another scrum inside their 22 when Atkinson threw another wild pass and on the resumption the shoe was on the other foot as Munster resumed their offensive.

Munster celebrate after Rory Scannell rounds off the scoring against Wasps. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Munster celebrate after Rory Scannell rounds off the scoring against Wasps. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Twice they went to the corner and after good carries by Diarmuid Barron and Rory Scannell, the latter doing well to the present the ball, Loughman was on hand to complete the close-range finish.

With that Munster had their bonus point by the 44th minute. Some of their accuracy deserted them, Coombes pushing an offload and Zebo a pass out wide to Scannell, before they failed to execute a five-metre lineout as the crowd yearned for more.

They still had more defensive sets to negotiate, Beirne completing one by earning a trademark penalty in the jackal, and it looked as if Conway had added a fifth with a good finish off Jack Crowley’s lovely, floated pass only for it to be ruled fractionally forward.

But the finale was scripted perfectly. After Atkinson was binned to complete a forgettable day, Munster worked an overlap off their lineout drive, lovely passes by Crowley, Scannell and Healy enabling Zebo to power through two tackles to finish in the corner.

Crowley even nailed the touchline conversion and, in overtime, Zebo came off his wing to make a break before any of four players could have scored off Casey’s long pass. In the event, it was the deserving Scannell who scored their sixth try.

Scoring sequence: 9 mins Murray try, Healy con 7-0; 16 mins Healy pen 10-0; 18 mins Zebo try, Healy con 17-0; 27 mins Robson try, Atkinson con 17-7; 30 mins O’Donoghue try, Healy con 24-7; (half-time 24-7); 44 mins Loughman try, Healy con 31-7; 78 mins Zebo try, Crowley con 38-7; 82 mins Scannell try, Crowley con 45-7.

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Ben Healy, Conor Murray; Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, Gavin Coombes. Replacements: Scott Buckley for Barron (50 mins), Josh Wycherley for Loughman, John Ryan for Archer, Fineen Wycherley for Kleyn, Alex Kendellen for Coombes (all 59 mins), Craig Casey for Murray (66 mins), Jack Crowley for Haley (55-68 mins) and Healy (68 mins), John Hodnett (70 mins). Sinbinned - Coombes (35-45 mins),

Wasps: Ali Crossdale; Marcus Watson, Paolo Odogwu, Michael le Bourgeois, Josh Bassett; Charlie Atkinson, Dan Robson; Tom West, Tom Cruse, Elliott Millar-Mills, Elliott Stooke, James Gaskell, Brad Shields (capt), Thomas Young, Nizaam Carr. Replacements: Ben Morris for Young (37 mins), Rodrigo Martinez for West, Sam Spink for le Burgeois (both 47 mins), Gabriel Oghre for Cruse (50 mins), Will Porter for Watson (52 mins), Rob Miller for Robson (62 mins), Pieter Scholtz for Millar-Mills (64 mins), Tim Cardall for Carr, Cruse for Oghre (both 68 mins). Sinbinned - Robson (51-61 mins), Atkinson (77 mins).

Referee: Tual Trainini (France).

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