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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 24 October, 2018
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Munster's big players deliver the big moments and more talking points from Leicester

Ian Keatley, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony produce huge performances at Welford Road.

Ryan Bailey reports from Welford Road

Simon Zebo, Rory Scannell and Peter O’Mahony celebrate after the game 17/12/2017 Source: Inpho

MUNSTER MAINTAINED THEIR unbeaten start to the Champions Cup and seized complete control of Pool 4 with a famous win over Leicester this afternoon. You can find our match report from Welford Road here, or read on for some immediate reaction.

Munster’s big players stand up

A truly memorable victory built on truly heroic performances from those in red as they came to Welford Road and did what no team has ever done in 18 years and inflict back-to-back December defeats on their old foes.

All week the Munster players spoke about the magnitude of this game in the context of their season and they delivered a display befitting of the occasion to tighten their grip on the pool and take a giant step towards the knock-out stages.

It was a victory built on composure, discipline, a perfectly-executed game plan and the reliable boot of Ian Keatley, as the out-half kicked six penalties and converted CJ Stander’s second-half try.

Munster were again superior to Leicester in nearly every facet as they maintained their composure to come back from a rocky start to grind out a first win at Welford Road in 11 years.

Peter O’Mahony wasn’t going to be anything other than colossal, Keatley is in outstanding form, Kevin O’Byrne, on his first European debut, barely put a foot wrong and then there was the likes of Stander, Sam Arnold, Chris Cloete and Rory Scannell all putting in huge shifts.

And, crucially, in this almighty arm-wrestle of a contest, they won the big moments; O’Mahony stole three Tigers lineouts, Stander carried hard and was a nuisance at the breakdown and Keatley held his nerve at the death with two clutch kicks.

A memorable night under the Welford Road lights for Munster and their red army.

Keatley a joy to watch

Ian Keatley kicks a penalty 17/12/2017 Source: Inpho

The smile on Ian Keatley’s face as he walked into the media room in the bowels of Welford Road’s south stand said it all — and his punch of the air as he sent the ball sailing between the posts in the final minute told you how much this win meant to the out-half and Munster.

After last week’s armchair ride at Thomond Park, Keatley was never going to be afforded the same time and space tonight and two fumbles in the opening minutes was a reflection of the pressure Leicester put him under.

But he responded brilliantly, launching a penalty from his own half deep into Tigers territory, from which Munster won consecutive penalties and then got on the board from.

From there, he pulled the strings with courage, confidence and conviction again. His kicking from the tee near-faultless and what’s noticeable is how sweetly he’s striking it; none of the six penalties and conversion he landed looked like missing.

The minor blot being that missed penalty in the final quarter which, on another day, may have proved crucial but Keatley showed great resolve to nail the next from a similar position to extend Munster’s lead.

The Ireland international looks a different player these days, and it’s an absolute joy to watch.

 

Van Graan’s perfect start

Dave Kilcoyne celebrates his side scoring a try 17/12/2017 Source: Inpho

An early Christmas present for the Munster fans and the perfect platform for the southern province to mount a serious challenge in both the Pro14 and Champions Cup competitions.

Today’s win means they head into round five and six four points clear of Racing 92 and within sight of the quarter-finals, and a pivotal home tie. Of course, there is still a long way to go but Munster, on the back of three wins and a draw, have put themselves in a great position.

The head coach, in officially just his third game in charge, masterminded a remarkable victory and along with Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones deserve huge credit ahead of the busy inter-pro period over Christmas and New Year.

As the Munster fans waited outside the away dressing room this evening, and renditions of The Fields of Athenry and Stand Up and Fight reverberated around an empty ground, van Graan was a touch emotional as he spoke about an incredible first four weeks in his new job.

He spoke of his pride in the team and the way they fought to the end but also the areas where they can improve moving forward — and that’s the thing, Munster are still building and they’re only going to get better.

Onwards and very much upwards. The small matter of a St Stephen’s Day inter-pro against Leinster next up.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

Munster take big step towards quarter-finals with momentous win at Welford Road

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Ryan Bailey

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