A MAGNIFICENT drop goal from out-half Ian Keatley with the final kick of the game guided Munster to a pulsating 27-26 victory over Sale Sharks in their European Champions Cup Pool 1 tie at AJ Bell Stadium.
Keatley’s winning kick capped a terrific second half comeback from Munster who trailed by 16 points at half-time.
Wind-assisted Sale led 23-7 at the end of a hugely disappointing first half for Munster. The visitors did lead 7-3 after 10 minutes when Dave Kilcoyne barged over for a well-worked try after some excellent play from number eight CJ Stander.
However, Sale grabbed control of the game in the remaining minutes of the half with tries from flanker Magnus Lund and Johnny Leota on 28 minutes. Centre Leota and his midfield partner, Sam Tuitupou, who previously played with Munster were a constant threat with ball in hand. Sale out-half Danny Cipriani kicked 13 points during the opening period.
Munster lost flanker Tommy O’Donnell to the sin-bin after 33 minutes. Anthony Foley’s charges gave themselves a lifeline in the 55th minute when winger Andrew Conway showed neat footwork to beat the Sale defence, before touching down. Keatley’s conversion left it 23-14 to the home side.
And Munster drew within two points of their hosts in the 64th minute when Conor Murray touched down in the right corner. Keatley’s successful conversion left Sale 23-21 to the good.
Cipriani and Keatley traded further penalties to leave the English side 26-24 to the good after 71 minutes. And then Keatley showed admirable composure to land a dramatic, match-winning drop goal with the final play of the game.
Munster host Saracens in a glamour second round European Champions Cup game at Thomond Park on Friday night next, 7.45pm.
SCORERS: Sale: Magnus Lund, Johnny Leota try each, Danny Cipriani four pens, two cons. Munster: CJ Stander, Andrew Conway, Conor Murray try each, Ian Keatley drop goal, pen, three cons.
SALE SHARKS: Mike Haley; Tom Brady, Jonny Leota, Sam Tuitupou, Tom Arscott; Danny Cipriani, Chris Cusiter; Eifion Lewis Roberts, Marc Jones, Vadim Cobilas, Jonathan Mills, Michael Paterson, Magnus Lund, David Seymour (Capt), Mark Easter. Replacements: Ross Harrison for Cobilas, Mark Jennings for Tuitupou (both 57 mins), Andrei Ostrikov for Mills (61 mins), Josh Beaumont for David Seymour (72 mins), Alberto de Marchi for Lewis Roberts (76 mins).
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Duncan Casey, Stephen Archer, David Foley, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony (Capt), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: James Cronin for Kilcoyne, BJ Botha for Archer (both 44 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Hurley (56 mins).
REFEREE: Mathieu Raynal (France)