Owen Williams has Ronan O’Gara moment to end Munster’s winning run
Leicester outhalf struck last minute penalty to grab win for home team at Welford Road
Owen Williams of Leicester kicks a long range, last minute, match winning penalty at Welford Road. Photograph: Inpho
Leicester 18 Munster 16
A decade after Ronan O’Gara performed one of rugby’s most celebrated match defining moments, Leicester Tigers outhalf Owen Williams, was offered the opportunity to mimic the achievement and inscribe his name on a special Welford Road memory.
There were 52 seconds remaining, his side trailed by a point and he squared up to a penalty four metres inside his own half. O’Gara had landed his in worse conditions but that’s a footnote. The silence on the night when Welford Road was full to bursting with a European record attendance of 24, 133, was deafening.
It was almost possible to hear Williams breathe. He watched, stooped to watch from a crouched position, as his kick cleared the bar by a few millimetres. The explosion of noise shook the stadium: redemption for the Tigers, acute disappointment for Munster.
The Irish province scored the only try of the match but Williams six from six with the placed ball proved a winning hand when weighed against Tyler Bleyendaal’s four from seven. It would be wrong to dwell too much on that statistic.
The game lacked quality for the most part but more than atoned in terms of the nail-biting, gut-wrenching tension, and the plot twists in the final five minutes; Niall Scannell’s try, Bleyandaal’s conversion that he watched on his backside having slipped; from 15-9 down, Munster looked to have escaped to victory at 16-15.
Munster are still in control of the pool and the most salient aspect of this defeat is that the group absorb the lessons. Munster were good enough to win the match but too many errors undermined their hopes. They got a little narrow in attack and they forced play when they shouldn’t have.
They lacked a little patience and the execution was a little off on the day. This is a blip, for a team that is still developing. It reinforced rather painfully the importance of executing the basics and also going forward retaining the courage to play to win as they have done so well over the past seven matches.
There were positives, notably the maul and the performances of players like John Ryan, Niall Scannell, his brother Rory, Donnacha Ryan to single out a handful. There was no faulting the application from everyone.
The first 40-minutes was a hotchpotch of errors for the most part, box-kicks that drifted too far and handling mistakes, occasionally interspersed with passages of rugby clarity. These were generally individual contributions rather than collective cohesion and continuity.
There were exceptions, both teams, managing to make metre-heavy gains through the rolling maul and in doing so force penalties. Tyler Bleyendaal punished Leicester from one such indiscretion and missed with another opportunity in first half injury time.
His return of two from four first half opportunities with the placed ball in some respects encapsulated the nature of the game, substandard and nervy. There will have been other bugbears for Munster’s Rassie Erasmus.
When the Tigers were reduced to 14 players for 10 minutes in the half when Manu Tuilagi received a yellow card for a late shoulder on Rory Scannell - it is Leicester’s sixth card of that colour in the tournament this season - the home side actually won that period 6-0, through two penalties from outhalf Williams.
Both those scores can be traced to Munster mistakes and what will cavil was that indiscipline looked the only way in which the Tigers would register a score. The home side won the kickoff, switched play hither and tither, but after 62 seconds Munster’s excellent tighthead prop John Ryan pilfered possession at a ruck in his 22.
That too was emblematic of the contest. The number of turnovers at the breakdown was appreciable, five in the first 30-minutes. It made the game even more stilted because typically the first option was to hoof the ball away.
Munster dominated the first couple of scrums, their maul was hugely effective, but the initial conservatism in ambition, coupled with some shoddy execution from time to time, denied them the points on the scoreboard that their ascendancy deserved.
They battened down against the initial Tigers storm and when that petered out they set about building a score. Two Bleyendaal penalties took them 6-0 up after 17 minutes but when the outhalf missed with a third chance the visitors endured a fallow period on the scoreboard.
Tuilagi went to the bin, Leicester were gifted six points initially through mistakes and then indiscipline to draw level. Bleyendaal had a chance in injury time to give Munster the lead and some momentum going into the dressing room but watched his effort drift wide.
The first half represented two teams intent on not losing rather than opting to occasionally take a calculated gamble. Everyone expected a recalibration tactically after the interval but from for the third quarter the fare actually got worse, particularly from a Munster perspective.
A spiralling error-rate negated an early Bleyendaal penalty after the resumption. His counterpart Owen Williams kicked three in succession, the last of which also saw referee Pascal Gauzere brandish a yellow card to Simon Zebo for a late tackle on Adam Thompstone. It was a marginal call but could have been for cumulative offences.
It had originated with Munster attacking the Tigers line only for a Jaco Taute pass to go astray six metres from the Leicester line and Thompstone raced away only to be dragged down 50-metres further up-field.
Leicester, tantalised by winning the game, then started to implode giving away a succession of penalties that allowed Munster to kick their way into the home side’s 22 and then maul to within inches of the line. From the final infringement Munster beautifully constructed their maul and with Niall Scannell at the tail marched the Tigers backwards.
The Munster hooker timed his foray round the side to perfection, driving through a couple of tackles to touch down. Remarkably Bleyendaal managed to convert despite slipping onto his backside as he struck the ball.
Leicester captain Tom Youngs was sent to the bin for good measure, in what looked like a final postscript. This gamey Munster side had snaffled a victory from defeat, or so everyone thought.
Then came that scarcely believable denouement. With 52 second left, Taute was penalised for not releasing in the tackle, and up strode man of the match Owen Williams to walk in the footsteps of a Munster icon a decade earlier and land the match winning blow; a little snapshot of history was reprised, albeit sporting different colours.
9 mins: Bleyendaal penalty, 0-3; 17: Bleyendaal penalty, 0-6; 32: O Williams penalty, 3-6; 38: O Williams penalty, 6-6. Halftime: 6-6. 44: Bleyendaal penalty, 6-9; 49: O Williams penalty, 9-9; 53: O Williams penalty, 12-9; 66: O William penalty, 15-9; 75: N Scannell try, Bleyendaal conversion, 15-16; 79: O Williams penalty, 18-16.
Leicester Tigers: G Worth; P Betham, J Roberts, M Tuilagi, A Thompstone; O Williams, B Youngs; E Genge, T Youngs (capt), P Cilliers; E Slater, G Kitchener; L Hamilton, B O’Connor, L McCaffrey. Replacements: G Bateman for Cilliers 50 mins; M Fitzgerald for Kitchener 50 mins; L Mulipola for Genge 61 mins; M Williams for McCaffrey 61 mins; T Brady for Betham 71 mins; H Thacker for Worth 77 mins.
Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Ryan, B Holland, P O’Mahony (capt), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: J Cronin for Kilcoyne 49 mins; J Kleyn for for Holland 49 mins; J O’Donoghue for O’Donell 64 mins; A Conway for Earls 68 mins; D Williams for Murray 71 mins; S Archer for Ryan 74 mins; R Marshall, J Cronin, S Archer, J Kleyn, J O’Donoghue, D Williams, I Keatley, A Conway.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France).
Yellow cards: M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers) 29 mins; S Zebo (Munster) 65 mins. T Youngs (Leicester Tigers) 74 mins.