Munster warm to their task to blow Leicester away

Bonus-point win puts van Graan’s side in control of Pool Four after three games

Munster captain  Peter O’Mahony celebrates scoring a try in the Champions Cup game against Leicester at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony celebrates scoring a try in the Champions Cup game against Leicester at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Munster 33 Leicester Tigers 10

Bonus-point victory secured. Leicester, worryingly, leave Limerick humiliated. Familiar narrative. Matt O’Connor and Geordie Murphy do slighted as good as any Munster man.

And a redemption of sorts. On 74 minutes Ian Keatley did the same walk that two long years ago was greeted by a smattering of insults.

On this night the chorus was warm affection and true respect.

Much earlier, Keatley legged it across the pitch to make a kamikaze tackle only for his foot to catch the turf.

Season over! JJ Hanrahan, your time has come.

Not at all. Keatley roared in agony but quickly figured this was no weather to be rolling on the frozen green. Up he hopped for the next play, next ruck, next chip over and fifth kick from as many looks in the opening 40 minutes.

There he is, the shadow Ireland 10 playing like he always belonged.

Clearly, fatherhood and clocking up 30 birthdays can turn any hard worker into a sturdy soul.

Munster’s Simon Zebo celebrates scoring a try with Andrew Conway and Jean Kleyn. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/inpho
Munster’s Simon Zebo celebrates scoring a try with Andrew Conway and Jean Kleyn. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/inpho

Tyler Bleyendaal’s neck can heal in its own good time, Hanrahan may keep seeking consistency for his talent.

Keatley’s name is above the door now.

The long freeze also belonged to an utterly free-wheeling Simon Zebo.

The man is himself now, mistakes and all as he attempts the spectacular as no strict regime will douse his flames ever again. The second try, to make it 20-zip on the half hour, was celebrated a lá Hugo Sánchez at Mexico ’86.

That’s Zebo – flair and mettle in equal measure – as he finished off Keatley’s perfect chip with dance and dab. His late intervention makes him irreplaceable. On and off the field.

All 23,503 creatures were stirring. The red populace knew not the cold during this battle.

These poor Tigers needed Jerome Garces’s interval blow to thaw out.

Especially their captain Tom Youngs. A neck roll on Chris Cloete here, a shoulder dunt to CJ Stander’s head there saw him cough up two penalties but Garces kept the yellow card to himself.

All Leicester initially had in response was a George Ford penalty, instantly cancelled by Keatley to leave it 23-3 at the turn.

Rhys Marshall bagged the first try on 19 minutes after some nifty handling caught Youngs watching Stander.

By the way, Peter O’Mahony was a colossus. Two perilously stolen possessions kept Munster streaming through Leicester’s defence. The manner he slammed down the third try felt like a statement.

Imagine the ructions if they let him leave.

Others kept the flame ablaze. Dave Kilcoyne keeps on carrying. Sam Arnold was a super talent at underage and looks a coming force at 13.

Rory Scannell has surely earned some time in Carton House. He can take a belt, that left boot travels and he’d tackle a horse.

Cloete is a small openside, who can play scrumhalf, devilishly existing somewhere between Heinrich Brüssow; then Richardt Strauss over opposition ball. Jean Kleyn was first into the scuffle when Logovi’i Mulipola pinned O’Mahony (the return leg at Welford Road will be tastier than an East Midlands derby).

Andrew Conway was having another stormer until knocked senseless by Telusa Veainu. Head clash. Both departed dazed and confused.

On 63 minutes Leicester were denied a mauled try by Marshall’s miracle turnover but the Tigers came again with Harry Thacker coming up with the score. Ford converted.

There is a performance in them yet.

But not here. Munster pin-balled down the other end with their lineout driving Cloete over for the bonus. Keatley missed a second touchline conversion in an otherwise clean night. Sore knee aside.

That was it. Hard night over for Leicester but they get a chance to flip it next week. Only half-time.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 8 mins: I Keatley pen, 3-0; 19 mins: R Marshall try, 8-0; I Keatley con, 10-0; I Keatley pen, 13-0; 30 mins: S Zebo try, 18-0; I Keatley con, 20-0; 35 mins: G Ford pen, 20-3; 37 mins: I Keatley pen, 23-3. Half-time. 56 mins: P O’Mahony try, 28-3; 65 mins: H Thacker try, 28-8; G Ford con, 28-10; 67 mins: C Cloete try, 33-10.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.

Replacements: D Sweetnam for A Conway (47 mins), B Scott for D Kilcoyne (54 mins), J Ryan for S Archer (60 mins), K O’Byrne for R Marshall, D O’Shea for J Kleyn (both 69 mins), J O’Donoghue for P O’Mahony (71 mins), D Williams for C Murray (72 mins), JJ Hanrahan for I Keatley (74 mins).

LEICESTER: Telusa Veainu; Adam Thompstone, Matt Smith, Matthew Tait, Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Kyle Traynor, Tom Youngs (capt), Dan Cole; Michael Fitzgerald, Graham Kitchener; Tino Mapapalangi, Luke Hamilton, Sione Kalafamoni.

Replacements: N Malouf for T Veainu (47 mins), L Mulipola for K Traynor, D Barrow for M Mfitzgerald (both 50 mins), H Thacker for T Youngs, M Williams for T Mapapalangi (both 62 mins), C Baumann for D Cole, S Harrison for B Youngs (both 70 mins)

Referee: Jérome Garcès (France).

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