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Keatley's night of redemption, back-row dominance and more talking points from Thomond

Plus, was Munster’s defensive performance down to the work of Andy Farrell?

Simon Zebo celebrates after the game Simon Zebo was one of four try-scorers for Munster tonight. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park

MUNSTER WERE AT their dominant best this evening as they seized control of their Champions Cup destiny by clinching a bonus-point 33-10 win in the first of the back-to-back clashes against Leicester Tigers. Our match report is here, and below we take a closer look at their performance.

The perfect start for JVG

The new Munster head coach could hardly have asked for much more from his first visit to Thomond Park, as he watched his side completely overpower Leicester en-route to a victory which has the potential to be a defining one in their season.

It must be stressed that the 10-time English champions are not the side they once were, but Munster deserve every bit of credit for clinically dispatching the visitors; as much as Leicester were rugged and rudderless, the southern province were superb in every department.

The hosts certainly warmed to the task and despite a disruptive lead-in to this weighty two-legged affair, they brought a huge level of physicality to proceedings and dominated at the breakdown and set-piece.

To a man, they were outstanding. Peter O’Mahony, Chris Cloete, Sam Arnold, Andrew Conway, Rhys Marshall and Ian Keatley, to name just a few, stood out as they landed four knock-out blows to once again humiliate Matt O’Connor’s Tigers.

Munster will, however, be aware Leicester can’t be as bad next week and the return game at Welford Road is sure to be a completely different contest to tonight. You only have to look back 12 months for evidence of that.

For now, van Graan and his players can reflect on a job well done as they sit pretty at the top of Pool 4 with the ball now very much in their court.

Keatley’s night of redemption

Ian Keatley kicks at goal Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ian Keatley’s return to form is, without doubt, one of the stories of the season as the Munster out-half, booed by a certain section of the home fans in this very fixture two years ago, produced a performance of class and character to help his side to a big win.

This game was always going to hinge on whether Keatley’s form would hold and how effective his half-back pairing with Conor Murray would be, and the out-half certainly delivered a masterclass. George Ford and Ben Youngs didn’t get a sniff.

By the time he was called ashore after 78 minutes, the maximum five points had already been secured and it spoke volumes that he received a standing ovation from the Thomond Park faithful.

Two missed conversions from the touchline aside, Keatley was immense and everything he touched came off during an evening which suggests he is now fulfilling the potential as a play-making 10 he always had.

The vision to spot the space in behind the Leicester defence was bettered only by the execution of a delicate chip, which allowed Simon Zebo latch onto the bouncing ball to cross for Munster’s second score before half-time. Game, set and match.

Munster’s back-row dominance

Peter O’Mahony celebrates scoring a try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Peter O’Mahony was always going to be colossal tonight, the Munster captain’s reaction to his try in the far corner telling its own story.

With his future still up in the air, the Ireland flanker didn’t miss the opportunity to provide a reminder, if any was needed, of his value to this team and Irish rugby as a whole. He was relentless around the breakdown and combined with the performance of Chris Cloete and CJ Stander, Munster were dominant in the trenches.

Cloete, the diminutive openside who can also play as a scrum-half, has made a huge impression during his short time in red and performances like this have already made him a crowd favourite around these parts.

Credit must go to Munster’s defensive effort, too, as they thwarted Leicester Tigers on more than one occasion with blistering linespeed and a level of aggression set early on by big hits from Marshall, Rory Scannell and Cloete key to that.

Certainly the work Andy Farrell has done with the squad over the last fortnight in the absence of a permanent defence coach appears to have paid dividends, although O’Mahony was quick to point out afterwards that nothing much has changed in their systems.

Munster just got their defence, like most things, spot on tonight and it was more than enough to secure a bonus-point victory which sets them up nicely for next week’s trip to Welford Road.

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Ryan Bailey

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