Fourteen-man Munster hold off Northampton in Champions Cup thriller
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: Munster held off a second-half surge by Northampton Saints to complete a thrilling Champions Cup Pool B double over the Premiership side by a 27-23 margin at Thomond Park on Saturday, despite a first-half red card for Jack O’Donoghue.
Munster, who now lie fourth, led 24-0 at the interval thanks to a brace of tries from Gavin Coombes and a solo score from O’Donoghue, but the latter’s dismissal gave Northampton impetus in the second period.
Tommy Freeman and James Ramm crossed for Saints after the break, with Fin Smith adding 13 points from the tee, but the visitors were unable to get that final score to cap their superb comeback and they had to be content with a losing bonus point which leaves them bottom of the pool.
Munster opened the scoring after just two minutes, Joey Carbery dissecting the uprights from long range.
A first try for the Irish province soon followed. Coombes was the beneficiary of a tap and go after a penalty awarded deep in Northampton territory, the Munster No.8 powering over from close range.
It was to get worse for Northampton as hooker Michael Haywood was sent to the sin bin for a late challenge on Carbery.
A second try followed midway through the first half. Coombes was again involved as he made the offload to an onrushing O’Donoghue, who scampered home unopposed. The timing of the pass impeccable.
O’Donoghue would go from hero to villain in a matter of moments, though, as he was shown a red card for a high tackle.
However, Coombes was in the action once again on the half hour, after Munster were awarded a penalty deep in Northampton territory. A series of pick-and-goes followed, with Coombes the eventual try-scorer as he powered over from close range.
Northampton finally broke their duck in the second period after winning a penalty deep in Munster territory. Saints moved the ball from right to left and into the hands of Freeman, who dotted down for the Premiership side. Smith then added a penalty to reduce the deficit further.
The visitors continued to capitalise on their man advantage by moving the ball quickly through their hands. Midway through the second period, Ramm executed a perfect kick-chase down the right flank and powered over from a pick-and-go.
Smith and Jack Crowley exchanged penalties to leave the score 27-20 heading into the final few minutes. Smith then opted to kick another penalty, rather than kick for the corner, to close the deficit to four, but Saints were unable to make anything of the restart.
Munster close their Pool B campaign with a trip to five-time Champions Cup winners Stade Toulousain, while Northampton host defending champions Stade Rochelais in Round Four.
Tries: Coombes 2, O’Donoghue
Cons: Carbery 3
Pens: Carbery, Crowley
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Freeman, Ramm
Cons: Smith 2
Pens: Smith 3
Red card: Jack O’Donoghue (Munster, 22′ – foul play, high tackle)
Yellow card: Mike Haywood (Northampton, 10′)
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Jack Crowley, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Roman Salanoa, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Scott Buckley, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 John Ryan, 19 John Hodnett, 20 Alex Kendellen, 21 Paddy Patterson, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Liam Coombes.
Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Tommy Freeman, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 James Ramm, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Lewis Ludlam (captain), 7 Courtney Lawes, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Alex Moon, 4 David Ribbans, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Smith, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Alfie Petch, 19 Alex Coles, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Fraser Dingwall, 23 Courtnall Skosan.
Referee: Tual Trainini (France)
Assistant Referees: Adrien Descottes (France) & Christophe Bultet (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)