Munster 10 Saracens 3
Sean McMahon reporting from Thomond Park.
A bumper crowd at Thomond Park paid witness to a pretty scrappy display from two European heavyweights as the famous Limerick venue was subject to some monsoon conditions as Storm Atiyah made itself known.
Despite this, Johann van Graan’s side got the job done by securing a win against the reigning European champions.
Much was made of Mark McCall’s decision to rest a number of international players but any pre-match suggestions that Munster should be targetting a bonus-point win were quickly put to bed as the visitors dominated the ball and looked quite dangerous in the opening 10 minutes.
The conditions also played havoc throughout this game. Munster’s 10-3 lead with a strong wind at their backs at halftime was disappointing as the conditions only deteriorated further as the match went on.
However, they managed to repel a number of Saracens attacks in the second half without ever really threatening to deny the English side a losing bonus point.
With the clock in the red, Arno Botha received a red card for a high fend on Nick Tompkins. This gave the English side one last opportunity with a lineout in Munster’s 22 but Jack O’Donoghue stole it and the men in red kicked to touch to secure a hard-earned victory.
Saracens laid down an early marker when some superb work at the breakdown won them an early penalty as Munster tried to launch an attack off a lineout. The English side went through numerous phases in the Munster 22 but the red line held firm until they were forced to grubber through in hope more than anything – Mike Haley collected and cleared with ease.
Just before the 10-minute mark, Munster finally got into Saracens territory and it was Andrew Conway who was at the fore with a midfield half-break from an inside pass followed by a lovely offload to Rory Scannell a few phases later. The southern province were battering away at the English side’s line until Stephen Archer spilled the ball forward as Saracens breathed a side of relief.
The lineout was difficult for both sides with the wind swirling around the famous Limerick ground and O’Mahony took advantage of this with a great lineout steal on the Saracens 22 to keep the pressure on their opponents.
Munster’s best opportunity to open the scoring stemmed from a lovely chip over the top from Keith Earls. The winger produced a hard chase to tackle a scrambling Matt Gallagher and some excellent support work at the breakdown led to a Munster penalty just metres from the Saracens line.
Bravely, JJ Hanrahan kicked the ball to the corner and from the resulting lineout, Tadhg Beirne was eventually held up over the line to give Munster a 5m scrum underneath the posts. However, the men in red failed to cross the whitewash once again and with another penalty on the table, captain Peter O’Mahony quickly pointed to the posts so Munster could come away from the red zone with something for their efforts.
A dangerous break from Saracens loosehead Richard Barrington put Munster under severe pressure but play was eventually called back a few phases later when it became evident that Maro Itoje didn’t use his arms to clear out Mike Haley. Romain Poite opted not to review the footage in any particular detail and the England lock’s face said it all as other referees could easily have shown a card for such an infringement.
Munster continued to dominate territory and possession but kept coming up short as they searched for that elusive try but they finally got it on the half-hour mark. Johann van Graan’s side were making incremental progress in the Saracens 22 with tight carries until the ball fell to Scannell who threw a delightful, flat skip pass to Keith Earls on the wing. The Moyross man was hauled down just short of the line but Peter O’Mahony gathered the ball on the next phase and was able to stretch over the line to score. JJ Hanrahan converted to give Munster a 10-0 lead.
On the resumption, Niall Scannell gave away a needless penalty which allowed Ben Spencer a shot at goal. The ball came back off the posts but Munster were soon scrambling as Chris Farrell’s attempted clearance downfield ricocheted off Stephen Archer to give Saracens possession in a dangerous position.
The southern province infringed once again as they were defending their line and this time Spencer made no mistake with his attempt as he got his side on the scoreboard.
Saracens dominated the opening period of the second half just like they did the first but Munster continued to repel – a penalty from Spencer came back off the post for a second time only for O’Mahony to clear Munster’s lines unlike Farrell in the first half.
Munster were stuck in their own 22 and the driving wind and rain only made it more difficult to get some respite but a Billy Holland lineout steal and a Tadhg Beirne steal on the deck finally brought the southern province into the English side’s half where they would spend much of the remainder of the half grappling with a Saracens rush defence aided by the wind and rain.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, O’Mahony stole a Saracens lineout by out jumping Itoje on halfway and as the England second-row attempted to disrupt the ensuing maul, he did so illegally which allowed the home side to kick to touch just outside the Saracens 22.
However, the promising position, like so many which came before, was cut short as a handling error, this time from replacement prop John Ryan, put an end to Munster’s chance of denying their opponents a losing bonus-point.
At the death and with the clock in the red, Arno Botha received a red card for a high fend on Nick Tompkins. This gave the English side one last opportunity with a lineout in Munster’s 22 but Jack O’Donoghue stole it and kicked to touch to secure a hard-earned victory.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin (O’Connor 69′), Niall Scannell (O’Byrne 79′), Stephen Archer (Ryan 55′); Jean Kleyn (Wycherley 62′), Billy Holland; Tadhg Beirne (O’Donoghue 62′), Peter O’Mahony (c), CJ Stander (Botha 69′).
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Liam O’Connor, John Ryan, Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Donoghue, Nick McCarthy, Sammy Arnold, Arno Botha.
Saracens: Matt Gallagher, Rotimi Segun (Malins 62′), Alex Lozowski (Tompkins 64′), Brad Barritt, Alex Lewington, Manu Vunipola, Ben Spencer (Whiteley 69′); Richard Barrington (Carre 55′), Jack Singleton, Titi Lamositele (Ibuanokpe 64′), Will Skelton (Kpoku 64′), Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Jackson Wray.
Replacements: Kapeli Pifeleti, Rhys Carre, Josh Ibuanokpe, Joel Kpoku, Sean Reffell, Tom Whiteley, Max Malins, Nick Tompkins.