Munster coach Johann van Graan has got off to a terrific start. On Sunday his team broke Leicester’s eleven-year record becoming the first to claim double victories in the back-to-back stage of the Champions Cup as they added a 25-16 away win to the 33-8 Thomond Park triumph a week previously.
In fact, Leicester had lost just two of their last 36 home games in the competition. Munster are now in control of Pool 4 with their next fixtures against French opposition, Racing 92 (away) and Castres Olympique (home) in January.
The Irish provinces had a great weekend as Leinster, Ulster and Munster all won their doubleheaders for the first time in Champions Cup history.
Despite Matthew Tait’s 12th minute try, when he found a gap in the Munster defence, the visitors worked extremely hard to grind out a solid victory thanks to a 42nd minute CJ Stander try allied to five penalties and a conversion from Ian Keatley.
On the day it was Leicester ill-discipline that cost them dearly, their penalty count in the first half was ridiculous leaving French referee Mathieu Raynal no option but to yellow card Dan Cole after he conceded five first-half penalties.
Discipline was something that van Graan had worked at, he told the media, “I thought we adapted quite well to the referee last week and even better this week. We knew this was going to be a totally different battle. So I’m very happy with the composure and maturity shown by the team. We want to go to the next level. This team is hungry to grow, and very happy with the away result.”
As for Leicester, they will need wins over Racing 92 and Castres to stand any chance of surviving in the competition and that looks like an impossible task.
Over both games, Munster frustrated and outplayed Leicester. In the first leg, they were well worth the bonus point win with tries from Rhys Marshall, Simon Zebo, Peter O’Mahony and Chris Cloete.
In all 25,355 spectators braved the bitter cold for the late evening game in Thomond Park which saw Sam Arnold emerge with the man of the match award and Munster take control of Pool 4.
On the day, the visitors shaded it with 51% of possession but Munster maintained their intensity to score over 30 points for the second year against the Premier side.
Commenting on the game, Leicester manager Matt O’Connor said, ““We were inaccurate, you can’t come here and be inaccurate. I thought we didn’t look after the ball well enough, I think we turned the ball over 20 times. They took their chances in the first half and from there were very diligent and cynical, killing the ball whenever we had opportunities.”
Munster was first to the scoreboard with a penalty from Ian Keatley after a Leicester infringement when they went off their feet while struggling to clear their lines after a surging run from Andrew Conway.
The home side’s first try came after a period of Munster pressure and Rhys Marshall broke the line, juggling Murray’s pass on his way past Luke Hamilton and Tom Youngs before crossing the whitewash. Keatley’s conversion made it 10-0.
It’s great to see Keatley return to form this year and claiming the No 10 shirt as his own after a spell when his confidence seemed to desert him. He added the second penalty in the 26th minute after a Dan Cole infringement.
On the half-hour, Keatley kicked a delicately weighted pass into the path of the on-running Simon Zebo who made no mistake with the try before delighting supporters with an exuberant celebration routine.
With five minutes remaining, Leicester finally got on the scoreboard thanks to a George Ford penalty however the crowd were more exercised when Tom Youngs managed to escape being carded after a high tackle on Chris Cloete. The resulting penalty was converted by Keatley.
Youngs was in the wars again within moments when he was penalised for a big hit on CJ Stander after entering the tackle from the side and once again referee Garces took the lenient view.
Munster took a 23-3 lead into the dressing rooms at half-time and there was no let-up in the second half. Five minutes after the restart Andrew Conway appeared to suffer a neck injury when he collided with Telusa Veainu in the tackle. There was some concern when a mobile stretcher was called for but Conway managed to walk off with some help.
Veainu also left the field and it was later reported that he had suffered a broken jaw in the clash. They were substituted by Darren Sweetnam and Nick Malouf respectively.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony brushed aside all speculation about his contractual arrangements when he finished off a fast-moving attack before celebrating a third try in the corner after 55 minutes.
Leicester had some consolation when Harry Thacker crossed for a try in the 64th minute to cut the deficit to 28-8. The score spurred Munster on and just three minutes later Chris Cloete was in for the bonus point try from a rolling maul on his Champions Cup debut to complete the scoring at 33-8.
In the dying minutes of the game, Leicester tried hard to cut the margin but Munster’s defence held firm setting them up for an interesting return to Welford Road.
Munster’s next home game will be on St Stephen’s Day when they face the annual derby game against Leinster at Thomond Park with the kick-off at 3.15pm.