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Vengeance in the biting December air as wounded Tigers fight for their lives

Matt O’Connor accused Munster of ‘cynical’ play while also suggesting Andrew Conway was responsible for Telusa Veainu’s broken jaw.

Tempers flared during Saturday's game in Limerick.
Tempers flared during Saturday's game in Limerick.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

LEICESTER TIGERS ARE expected to be boosted by the return of Manu Tuilagi and Matt Toomua for Sunday’s return leg against Munster, but already there is an added layer of intensity and hostility to the Welford Road showdown.

Humiliated in Limerick for the second year running, there was more than a hint of vengeance in the air on Saturday night as Matt O’Connor, the Tigers coach, made two serious accusations in the aftermath of his side’s 38-10 defeat.

Not only did O’Connor claim Munster were ‘cynical’ in their work around the breakdown but then accused Andrew Conway, the Munster winger, of ‘smashing his head’ against the face of Telusa Veainu, who left Thomond Park with a broken jaw.

O’Connor questioned referee Jerome Garces’ failure to let Conway, who concussed himself in the accidental collision shortly into the second half, go unpunished for his role in the incident.

“Conway smashed Veainu in his face with his head,” he said. “You saw it, I saw it. Duty of care, isn’t there?”

An incensed O’Connor elaborated.

“Well, one guy’s got a broken jaw. That’s what I’m annoyed about. Surely there’s a duty of care? How’s it not a high tackle when he clashed heads and smashed him in his face with his head? We’re talking about seat-belt tackles, which are an absolute non-event. And a bloke’s got a broken jaw.”

Cue the arrival of Johann van Graan for his first Thomond Park press conference deep in the bowels of the east stand.

“He’s [Conway] okay,” said the South African. “Obviously, he took a big knock, got a bit of blood all round, but he is fine.”

Andrew Conway suffers an injury whilst attempting to tackle Telusa Veainu Conway and Veainu collided during the second half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

When asked if the Ireland international had knocked himself unconscious, van Graan said: “I’m not sure. I can’t comment on that. A good thing was he got up and walked off the field, which I’m pretty happy with. This game is a collision sport and I’m glad that both guys got up and walked off that field. I thought that’s the spirit of rugby, two teams going at each other for 80 minutes but at the end of the day, we are all people and the well-being of players is pretty important.”

Leicester captain Tom Youngs, himself fortunate to escape a yellow card in the first half for a clear neck roll on Chris Cloete on the ground and then a shoulder to CJ Stander’s head, wasn’t prepared to get involved.

“We were second best, end of,” he said. “We came up short and we got beat. I’m not going to get into a discussion about the referee.”

Peter O’Mahony, colossal throughout the 80 minutes, a performance rubber-stamped with his first try of the season and a celebratory fist pump, thought Garces had a good game.

“You play the referee, you play your opposition, you play lots of different things,” he remarked.

“If we were penalised three or four times then we’d change. I thought Jerome had a fine game. We were at the end of a lot of penalties at the breakdown.”

Back to the rugby. O’Connor believes his side can turn it around next week and keep their hopes of progression alive.

“It is going to be mental next week, it is going to be all mental,” he added. “We’ll go into next Sunday with a lot of confidence that we can be a lot better than that.”

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