Munster stayed in pole position to qualify top of a brutally tight Pool 2 in the Heineken Champions Cup with a superb 41-15 victory over Gloucester at Kingsholm.
In a titanic Anglo-Irish European encounter, Johan van Graan’s men produced a superb team performance to lead 20-3 at half time thanks to tries from Joey Carbery and Rory Scannell.
Gloucester scored through Ollie Thorley and Fraser Balmain after the break, the first following a thrilling 35-phase passage, but Munster weren’t to be denied a bonus-point success.
Keith Earls, Andrew Conway, and a Carbery intercept completed the scoring on a night to remember for Munster as the latter ended the game with 26 points.
Here’s why they came out on top.
Joey Carbery wasn’t sure if he wanted to swap Leinster for Munster this summer, but he showed real class at Kingsholm to end the game with the man of the match award and a 26-point haul.
The young out-half was simply superb, scoring a try in either half and providing an inch-perfect display from the kicking tee. Carbery will still likely start the Six Nations as back-up to Johnny Sexton, with Ireland but he couldn’t have made much more of a statement than he did against Gloucester. Among a string of highlights, Carbery’s kick ahead for Andrew Conway’s try was a real stand-out moment. With little on outside him, Carbery’s grubber through was just sheer class and it cut out three Gloucester defenders in one fell swoop. He was replaced late on by Tyler Bleyendaal, but the smile he wore on the bench in the final few minutes said everything about his display. Sheer class.
Conor Murray had an interrupted start to the season with Munster and Ireland keeping his injury quiet, but the superstar scrum-half produced the goods on the big occasion in a majestic performance. That a Test match animal like Murray stood-out should be no real surprise such is his class, but behind a strong Munster pack he ran the game to help his side to success.
It was clearly a tactic from Van Graan for Murray to put boot to ball and after two early box-kicks went a touch long, the 29-year-old was spot on in that regard.
He tested Gloucester’s back three on every occasion he sent the ball skywards, giving the Munster chasers a chance to compete.
In the first half alone Gloucester dropped so many of Murray’s box-kicks you soon lost count and it gave Munster priceless territory. He also delivered a wonderfully timed pass for Carbery’s first-half try which cut out two Gloucester defenders with almost effortless ease. If Ireland head coach Joe Schmdit was watching on ahead of the Six Nations, he would surely have been purring with delight.
Munster’s scrum stands up to be counted
Referee Romain Poite is notoriously no nonsense at scrum time and he was the same again at Kingsholm, giving a penalty at almost every set-piece in the first half. Fortunately for Munster, he seemed to favour them on the whole. In truth, there were a few marginal calls from the French official. That said, Munster’s front row had the edge and they were backed up by locks Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne who both excelled in the tight. Away from home and in such a febrile atmosphere as Kingsholm, Munster needed their front five to produce the goods. That they did and in spades too with the scrum a real weapon.
Brilliant Beirne and stand-out Stander
On the big European stage, Munster’s forwards stood up to be counted. Ireland duo Beirne and CJ Stander were simply outstanding. Beirne was pinged for an early penalty, but he was everywhere in the first quarter as he mixed some fine set-piece work with an exceptional display in the loose. He really is a fine forward, a man who has it all. Stander, meanwhile, was similarly brilliant. He did what he does best, picking up from the base of the scrum and barrelling his way into the Gloucester defence time after time. Both he and Beirne were as good in attack as they were in reverse and at the heart off a magnificent forward display.
O’Mahony provides a moment of worry
The only downside on a fantastic night for Munster was the loss of captain Peter O’Mahony to injury early in the second period. The flanker had been an immense presence in the first half, producing one early guttural roar as his team won a scrum penalty. He also provided a real line-out option for his team before leaving the field. O’Mahony went down after making a tackle. He was able to limp from the field himself and free from medical aid, clutching the side of his chest. Both Munster and Ireland will be hoping the injury isn’t too serious with the Guinness PRO14 and Champions Cup run-ins, plus the Six Nations, upon us in the next few months.