Munster 26 Exeter Chiefs 10
A sublime Peter O’Mahony performance inspired Munster to victory in the second leg of their Heineken Champions Cup tie against the Exeter Chiefs at Thomond Park to ensure the Reds qualified for the 20th quarter-final of their long history.
The game was right in the melting pot until as late as the 153rd minute of the tie, when a ridiculous Simon Zebo pass put Damian de Allende away in the left corner for the killer score (to make it 34-23 over the two legs), but up until that moment, it was a real 50/50 arm wrestle.
The returning captain Peter O’Mahony set the tone early on with a brilliant poach in front of his own posts and shortly afterward John Hodnett won another turnover penalty, this time inside Exeter’s half, which out-half Joey Carbery duly slotted from 40m in the 5th minute to give Munster an early lead.
Like in the first leg Exeter were the dominant side in the early stages, and when Munster lost a lineout inside their own 22 it presented the English side the opportunity to batter away at the Munster line, and when they were awarded a penalty close to the Munster line their scrum-half Sam Maunder took a quick tap and managed to somehow wriggle under a pile of Munster bodies to score in the 14th minute. And to compound the try concession, Conor Murray was yellow-carded in the same instance for not retreating ten.
Despite being down a man Munster trucked it up the middle in the 17th minute, with number eight Jack O’Donoghue to the fore, and when a penalty was awarded Munster had no hesitation in taking the points, through another Carbery kick, to make it 6-5.
Despite Exeter having plenty of possession early on Munster’s proficiency at the breakdown meant they were unable to capitalise, with the brilliant Munster back row pilfering five turnovers in the opening 23 minutes, and another O’Mahony jackal provided the platform for Munster’s first attack inside the Exeter 22, which ended with Carbery using his deft footwork to find a hole to score an excellent 25th-minute try, after being fed by O’Mahony.
Exeter’s out-half Joe Simmonds had a chance to leave the tie level at but his 45m penalty drifted wide, to leave it 13-5 at half time and 21-18 in the tie.
The Chiefs continued to dominate possession, having as much as 67% of the ball by the early stages of the second half, and the pressure eventually told when number eight Jacques Vermeulen burrowed over from close range to put the away side into the lead in the tie again in the 48th minute.
A big moment was required, and unsurprisingly it was O’Mahony who provided it, with two huge hits in a row that resulted in another turnover penalty being awarded to Munster inside Exeter’s half, and Carbery split the posts in the 59th minute to put Munster a single point ahead in the tie.
Carbery used the significant wind at his back to land a monster penalty from halfway in the 65th to extend Munster’s lead, as he extended his record from the kicking tee to five from five, which compared to zero from three for his opposite number Sam Simmonds.
In the 73rd minute Munster finally put some daylight between themselves and Exeter when they scored arguably the try of the round in the left corner.
Mike Haley flung a speculative pass out wide to Simon Zebo on the left and just as he looked to be heading into touch he threw an outrageous reverse inside pass to the supporting Damian de Allende and the World Cup winner crashed over to send the Thomond Park faithful into ecstasy.