Gavin Coombes plays key role as Munster hold off Northampton

West Cork native nabbed two tries and won a vital penalty in the closing stages at Thomond Park
Gavin Coombes plays key role as Munster hold off Northampton

Munster’s Gavin Coombes celebrates scoring his side's second try with teammates. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Munster 27 Northampton Saints 23 

A FIRST-HALF red card to Jack O’Donoghue turned what was looking like a routine Heineken Champions Cup victory for Munster into a right slog, but ultimately Gavin Coombes’ first-half brace was enough to get the win over Northampton at Thomond Park on Saturday afternoon.

Munster got off to a super start when Joey Carbery slotted an early penalty after an effective counterattack by Mike Haley had milked the early penalty, and in the ninth minute, they crossed for their opening try when Coombes crashed over from close range after Munster had backed themselves to go down the line.

Saints hooker Mike Haywood was sin-binned for a body check on Carbery in the 11th minute and while it took a while, Munster crossed again before Northampton got back to 15 when a Coombes inside pass put Jack O’Donoghue away for a 20th-minute try after some sublime controlled rugby from the home side.

O’Donoghue was not celebrating for long, as he was issued a straight red in the 22nd minute when his shoulder made contact with the head of Northampton second row David Ribbans.

Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue leaves the field after being shown a red card. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue leaves the field after being shown a red card. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Munster needed to kill such notions, and when they won a penalty close to the Northampton line it was that man Coombes to once again demonstrate his party piece by driving through a cluster of Saints defenders to score in the 28th minute, to give a Munster a 24-0 half time lead.

The Saints won a scrum penalty early in the second half and it gave them the platform to pummel the Munster line, and although the Munster defence initially held firm the English side were able to move it left to winger Tommy Freeman, who finished in the 44th minute to get them on the board.

The Saints front row had the Munster scrum in trouble again soon after, and they elected to take the three on offer, as Fin Smith split the posts in the 49th minute.

Munster turned down a shot at the posts and probably instantly regretted the decision when Northampton crossed again in the 57th minute when a chip through from centre Rory Hutchinson put Joey Carbery in all sorts of trouble in his left corner, and when the Saints pack drove over him, winger James Ramm was able to pick and blast over from close range, to make it 24-17.

Northampton’s Tommy Freeman with Jack Crowley and Gavin Coombes of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Northampton’s Tommy Freeman with Jack Crowley and Gavin Coombes of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

After Munster turned down another three-pointer Northampton looked to be about to cross for what could have been a levelling score in the 68th minute, only for Mike Haywood to be penalised for a neck roll when attempting to clean out Antoine Frisch.

Smith landed another penalty in the 71st minute to make it 24-20, but Jack Crowley replied with one of his own in the 76th minute to stretch the lead back out to seven.

Northampton landed a 79th-minute penalty to give them a chance at the win, but Munster held out, just.

Scorers for Munster: Carbery (1 pen, 3 cons), Crowley (1 pen), G Coombes (2 tries), O’Donoghue (1 try).

Northampton: F Smith (2 cons, 2 pens), Freeman, Ramm (1 try each).

MUNSTER: Haley; Nash, Frisch, Crowley, Daly; Carbery, Casey; Kilcoyne, N Scannell, Salanoa; Kleyn, Beirne; O’Donoghue, O’Mahony (c), G Coombes.

Subs: Ryan for Salanoa (47), Wycherley for Kilcoyne (53), R Scannell for Carbery (58), Kendellen for Kleyn (60), Hodnett and Patterson for O’Mahony and Casey (65).

SAINTS: Furbank; Freeman, Proctor, Hutchinson, Ramm; F Smith, Mitchell; A Waller, Haywood, Hill; Ribbans, Moon; Salakaia-Loto, Lawes, Ludlam (c).

Subs: R Smith for Ramm (14), Ramm for R Smith (24), Dingwall for Proctor (47), Coles and Scott-Young for Moon and Lawes (63), E Waller for A Waller (68), R Smith for Haywood (72).

Referee: Tual Trainini

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