Munster have taken a commanding position in Pool 4 of the Champions Cup as they emerged 33-10 victors in a one-sided victory at Thomond Park.
First-half tries from Rhys Marshall and Simon Zebo, in addition to three penalties from the boot of Ian Keatley, had Munster motoring at the halftime interval and they pushed home their advantage in the second half with tries from Peter O’Mahony and Chris Cloete, securing the elusive bonus point in the process.
The foundations of this Munster victory was through their ferocious defence and excellent work at the breakdown which must be hugely pleasing for new Munster head coach Johann van Graan who will be delighted with what he saw in his first Champions Cup game in charge.
The opening ten minutes of this game was all about laying down a physical marker and both sides warmed to that particular task. Both teams went through a number of phases without making any major inroads but eventually, a break from Andrew Conway deep into the Leicester 22 yielded a penalty in front of the posts which Keatley duly converted.
The Tigers did respond somewhat as they went through a number of phases in the Munster half but the home side’s excellent line speed and physicality in the tackle led to a number of turnovers which alleviated any pressure which the Tigers attempted to build.
Munster got the game’s first try with a quarter of the match gone. Munster had a lineout deep in Tigers territory and they subsequently went through a number of phases before the ball came to Rhys Marshall who broke through the tackle attempts of the Leicester defence and touched down. Keatley added the two points and Munster were beginning to build a lead.
Munster looked to keep the pressure on as they aimed to pin Matt O’Connor’s side in their own half with some astute territorial kicking. The Tigers were soon pinned in their own half of the field for indiscipline at ruck time and Keatley, who was 100% from the tee up to that point, landed a great penalty from 40m out to extend Munster’s lead to 13-0.
Munster’s incredible physicality in defence led to yet another turnover for the home side and as Johann van Graan’s side built pressure in the Leicester 22′, Keatley spotted space and kicked the ball in behind the defence. Simon Zebo ran onto the loose ball before any Leicester defender and he was able to dot down for his side’s second try of the game to further extend the Munster advantage.
Leicester finally got within a few metres of the Munster line after some good build-up play and the pressure eventually told as Munster conceded a penalty, George Ford took the option to get the first points for his side and the Tigers reduced the deficit somewhat.
However, Munster soon restored the 20-point margin after Keatley added another penalty. The penalty came because of a neck roll by Tom Youngs on Chris Cloete, an infringement which the home crowd wanted to see yellow for but Youngs got the benefit of the doubt from referee Jerome Garces.
The second half began like the first half ended with Munster squeezing the life out of the visitors. Van Graan’s side went close to getting their third try just two minutes into the second half when Jean Kleyn spilled the ball when reaching for the line.
The game was delayed somewhat in the opening 10 minutes of the second half when a nasty collision took place between Telusa Veainu and Andrew Conway. Both players were permanently replaced as they both took blows to the head.
Munster continued to apply the pressure and their third try came on 56 minutes when O’Mahony went over in the corner after a turnover from the men in red led to the exploitation of an overlap.
Leicester did manage to get a try in the second half after some good lineout maul work led to replacement hooker Harry Thacker going over but Munster hit back almost immediately when they secured the bonus point through a lineout drive of their own.
With 10 minutes remaining and the bonus point in the bag, Leicester were adamant to put some pride back into their performance but the defence held firm at the end to ensure a 23 point margin of victory.
Munster: Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway (46′ Darren Sweetnam), Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton, Ian Keatley (74′ JJ Hanrahan), Conor Murray (73′ Duncan Williams), Dave Kilcoyne (Brian Scott 55′), Rhys Marshall (69′ Kevin O’Byrne), Stephen Archer (61′ John Ryan), Jean Kleyn (69′ Darren O’Shea), Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (c) (72′ Jack O’Donoghue), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.
Leicester Tigers: Telusa Veainu (46′ Nick Malouf); Adam Thompstone, Matt Smith, Matthew Tait (74′ Joe Ford), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs (69′ Sam Harrison); Kyle Traynor (50′ Logovii Mulipola), Tom Youngs (c), Dan Cole (69′ Chris Baumann), Michael Fitzgerald (51′ Dom Barrow), Graham Kitchener, Tino Mapapalangi, Luke Hamilton, Sione Kalafamoni
Referee: Jérome Garcès (France), Assistant ref: Ludovic Cayre (France), Assistant ref: Jonathan Dufort (France), TMO: Rowan Kitt (France).