Munster 21 Harlequins 7
MUNSTER secured a deserved, if hard-fought, victory over Harlequins in their opening Heineken Champions Cup tie at Thomond Park on Sunday evening, although they never truly looked like securing all five points on offer.
Munster out-half JJ Hanrahan opened the scoring with a penalty in the 13th minute after young Harlequins number 10 Marcus Smith had kicked two touch finders dead, which granted Munster early territory in the opposition half.
With the greasy underfoot and handling conditions scoring opportunities were always going to be at a premium, so it was extremely costly for Munster when Hanrahan kicked the ball dead when kicking to touch for a 5m lineout penalty in the 20th minute.
Quins dominated possession and territory for the next ten minutes or so, although Smith was wide with two pulled penalty attempts in the 29th and 31st minutes, as Munster struggled to regain control after Hanrahan’s blunder.
Munster then had a huge let off in the 33rd minute when captain Alex Dombrandt had a try disallowed after a pass from winger Cadan Murley to Ben Tapuai earlier in the move was adjudged to have gone a fraction forward.
Having weathered the storm, and somehow having not conceded any points to the English side during this purple patch, Munster got their first bit of possession in the opposition half in seventeen minutes, when prop James Cronin won a penalty with a trademark jackal, which allowed Hanrahan to kick another penalty in the 37th minute.
A minute later Tadhg Beirne made a barnstorming run up the centre of the pitch and a scrambling James Chisholm killed the move illegally when the Munster man was eventually tackled to the deck, which saw him receive ten minutes in the sin bin. Unfortunately, Hanrahan was unable to kick the resultant penalty as he hooked his kick wide, to leave the score 6-0 at the break.
To have any hope of securing a four-try bonus point Munster had to take advantage of the sinbinning, but any hopes of that went south when Stephen Archer was sinbinned himself for obstructing Danny Care after the Quins’ scrum-half had taken a quick tap penalty in midfield.
Moments later Damien de Allende ripped the ball off of Ben Tapuai in Munster’s 22 and when Man of the Match Beirne picked up the loose ball he hacked the ball downfield a full 70m to give Munster an excellent platform.
They soon won a penalty and from the resultant maul Harlequins openside Will Evans was adjudged to have collapsed the maul illegally and prevented a certain try, so referee Pascal Gauzère awarded Munster a penalty try in the 50th minute, while Evans was yellow-carded.
Munster would have hoped to kick on at this point, but livewire Quins winger Murley wiggled over in the corner in the 56th minute after a poor missed tackle by Andrew Conway, and Smith added the difficult touchline conversion to get his side back in the tie.
Harlequins number eight Alex Dombrandt was lucky to only get a yellow card in the 63rd minute when he was guilty of a no-arms tackle on replacement out-half Ben Healy, and Healy punished the indiscretion when he banged over the resultant penalty from well inside his own half.
Munster wrapped up the game when blindside Gavin Coombes scored from a trademark drive from close range in the 70th minute after a popped pass from Craig Casey, for his first-ever try in this competition and his seventh try in eight games.
Hanrahan (2 pens), Healy (1 pen), Coombes (1 try), Penalty try
Murley (1 try), Smith (1 con)
Haley; Conway, Farrell, De Allende, Earls; Hanrahan, Murray; Cronin, O'Byrne, Archer; Kleyn, Beirne; Coombes, O'Mahony (capt), Stander.
Healy for Hanrahan (59), O’Donoghue, F. Wycherley and Casey for Stander, Kleyn and Murray (65), Marshall and Ryan for O’Byrne and Archer (67), J. Wycherley for Cronin (70), Scannell for Conway (76)
Brown; Earle, Northmore, Tapuai, Murley; Smith, Care; Marler, Baldwin, Louw, Tizard, Young, J. Chisholm, Evans, Dombrandt (capt).
R Chisholm for Brown (54), Steele for Care (65), Lang for Murley (67), Lawday for J. Chisholm (68), Elia, Baxter and De Carpentier for Baldwin, Marler and Tizard (70)
Pascal Gauzère (Fra).