MUNSTER travelled to their now familiar Premiership opposition last weekend.
They made the journey knowing that a win would almost put them in the quarter-final stages of the competition. Their familiar foe however had bounced back from a heavy defeat in Limerick last year to take a scalp from the red army on their home soil.
Leicester had not lost back-to-back games on their home turf in 18 years and Munster have been waiting 11 years to win in Welford Road. Leicester had some complaints regarding referee decisions a week earlier, with Munster certainly coming out the better of the whistle in Thomond Park.
Leicester started on the better side of French referee Mathieu Raynal. However the tide had turned by half-time with the official getting booed off the pitch for the interval.
Munster had a shaky start, taking three attempts at a five metre lineout, Leicester defence holding out but not without incurring an infringement. Munster had to settle for three points from the boot of Ian Keatley. Keatley and Ford exchanged penalties but it was Leicester who crossed the whitewash first.
The home side went off the top from a lineout on the 10-metre line; then a forward pod set up in the middle of the pitch gave them a good platform. Leicester snapped back on the blind side with a lovely pass from second row Kitchener to Matthew Tait on the deep line.
Tait’s pace was not matched by Peter O’Mahony and Dave Kilcoyne, left covering the blind, and he sped through untouched. Tait, in only his fifth start this season reverting back to his more comfortable full back, was a potent threat in green. Such a clean break in these early stages sent Munster hearts a flutter. Would this be a repeat of last seasons bounce back from Leicester?
Chris Cloete, was keen to get in on this action, he was in the back line for a shortened lineout, Tulagi, perhaps a little rusty after his return from injury, he bit in and left the space for the grateful Cloete. Scannell couldn’t get close enough for the offload the flanker was desperately searching for. Unfortunately the fine break ended with a ball on the deck.
Ten Leicester penalties in the first half disrupted any momentum for the home side. Dan Cole made some aggressive counter attack at rucks, but his enthusiasm at the breakdown was overcooked and it earned him a stay in the sin bin.
Munster were keen to milk every infringement with even Murray stepping up to the kicking tee. Only coming to the kicking duties after he was asked to step up as cover for some injuries he clearly fancied his chances on the long range effort. His effort at the stroke of half time had the legs but drifted just wide. This miss aside Munster still had the 12-10 lead going into the break.
Leicester started the second half brightly with Tom Youngs reacting quickest to a loose ball and showing a nice turn of foot to warm the home fans. However they were still at 14 men and looked disjointed. Peter O’Mahony, the ink on his new centralised contract keeping him in Munster for the next three seasons.
The Man of the Match plucked Leicester’s line out throw straight from Kitchener’s hands; he popped it down to Murray who found a gap at the tail of the lineout. The Leicester forwards were slow to transition from attack set up to defence leaving too much space for the scrum half. Murray ghosted through to within a metre and CJ Stander obliged with the last yard.
Munster now had a nine-point cushion. They needed calm heads to hold this lead.
However the heat of battle does strange things. John Ryan gave away a stupid penalty in front of their own posts at 60 minutes. From with the ruck he reached his hand out to slap the ball from Ben Youngs’ grasp. A moment of madness that the substitute prop would instantly regret but it cost his team a man on the pitch for 10 minutes.
Munster thankfully held out during his absence but it took several last ditch efforts and some arduous defensive work.
Leicester will again have complaints on some referee decisions but in truth Munster were simply more clinical and ruthless at the breakdown. They took their chances well and made any visit to the opponents 22m count on the scoreboard, with Keatley providing 20 points from the kicking tee.
A comfortable spot atop pool four is their just reward.