Munster winger Keith Earls makes a break in the nail-biting Heineken Champions Cup pool win over Exeter Chiefs at Thomond Park on Saturday night
NERVELESS Joey Carbery landed a high pressure 72nd minute penalty to help Munster secure their passage into the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup for a record 18th time as two-time winners ground out a 9-7 victory over the stubborn Exeter Chiefs before a sell-out crowd of 26,276 at Thomond Park on Saturday night.
Carbery kicked all nine points for Munster, three priceless penalty goals, as Johann van Graan’s side did just enough to survive a hugely demanding test from the fired-up Chiefs on their first visit to Limerick.
Munster are going to be on the road for their quarter-final fixture at the end of March, with Edinburgh the most likely opponent.
Munster have won their last 12 home games in the Champions Cup, but it took a strong final 10 minutes from the home side to come out on top in an arm wrestle of a contest, where both sides made more than their fair share of errors.
This was a high intensity contest, with every inch of pitch fought over tooth and nail. However, in terms of attacking quality, there was little on show in the high stakes encounter.
Munster made the better start and a Joey Carbery penalty on six minutes helped the home side into a useful 3-0 lead.
"These aren't games you want to miss - they're special nights"@Munsterrugby captain Peter O'Mahony pays tribute to the fans after another famous European evening at Thomond Park#C4rugby #MUNvEXE pic.twitter.com/lCTz8iPvC0— Channel 4 Sport (@C4Sport) January 19, 2019
However, Exeter signalled their intent from the outset, making it abundantly clear that they had come to play. And why not? Their matchday squad included six players who have been included in England’s 6 Nations squad, including four of Rob Baxter’s starting line-up at Thomond Park, while two more members of Eddie Jones’ squad were on the Chiefs’ replacements’ bench.
Off a penalty award from half-way in the 13th minute, the Chiefs opted for a kick to the corner. The won clean line-out ball and mauled up to the Munster tryline, before flanker Don Armand dotted down from close range. Joe Simmond’s excellent conversion made it 7-3 to the visitors, much to the delight of their large band of travelling support.
Munster closed to within a single point of their opponents in the 23rd minute, however, when Carbery knocked over an excellent penalty from the Chiefs’ 10-metre line.
In their pre-match press briefings, Munster had pointed to just how well Exeter kept the football when in possession ot it. It was somewhat strange, then, to witness the regularity with which Munster players opted to kick the ball back to the visitors, knowing how difficult it would be to prize the ball back from their grasp
The first half raced along quickly as French official Jerome Garces did not need to stop the clock for much by way of injury or consultation with the TMO.
Munster continued to huff and puff in the second half, getting within a sniff of the tryline on a couple of occasions, but never quite managed to dot the ball down over it.
A terrific line-out steal from Billy Holland, who replaced Tadhg Beirne in the Munster second row in the 67th minute roused the capacity crowd to get behind the home charges once more.
Soon after Munster earned a penalty just inside Exeter’s 10-metre line and Carberry showed admirable composure to land the crucial kick.
SCORERS: Munster: Joey Carbery three pens. Exeter Chiefs: Don Armand try, Joe Simmonds con,
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O'Mahony (capt), Tommy O'Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Arno Botha, Alby Mathewson, Tyler Bleyendaal, Dan Goggin.
EXETER CHIEFS: Jack Nowell; Santiago Cordero, Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto, Tom O'Flaherty; Joe Simmonds, Nic White; Alec Hepburn, Jack Yeandle (capt), Harry Williams, Dave Dennis, Jonny Hill, Sam Skinner, Don Armand, Matt Kvesic. Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Moon, Greg Holmes, Mitch Lees, Sean Lonsdale, Jack Maunder, Gareth Steenson, Ian Whitten.
REFEREE: Jérome Garcès (France)