Sean Farrell reports from Thomond Park
FOR THE BEST part of half an hour, Gloucester made a pretty good fist of the challenge facing them in Limerick.
But their day changed irrevocably on 28 minutes when Danny Cipriani became the latest victim of tighter controls around high tackles. The 30-year-old out-half, by no means a heavy hitter, was issued a red card as his shoulder came into contact with Rory Scannell’s head while the centre carried in the opposition 22.
On first viewing, referee Alexandre Ruiz did not even signal a penalty for the collision, but a delayed call for the TMO review made it clear that Cipriani was in trouble. For this was a textbook case of the kind of impact World Rugby are trying to reduce in the game.
It was avoidable for Cipriani, he is agile enough to get his knees bent and enter the tackle lower, but he must have wore a sour smile when seeing his team-mate Billy Twelvetrees escape sanction for a far more violent high tackle on Dan Goggin minutes later.
Munster already led by the time the prodigiously talented 10 was sent off, taking advantage of Tom Savage’s yellow card to stretch 14 Gloucester men. Peter O’Mahony popped a clean pass left to set Darren Sweetnam raiding. The wing hit Duncan Williams inside, and though the scrum-half couldn’t detect Tommy O’Donnell in space on his right, from that platform Munster whipped the ball left-to-right with Joey Carbery, Sweetnam and Andrew Conway linking to put Mike Haley over in the corner.
In truth, that 21st minute score to break the deadlock was worth a sigh of relief after Johan Ackermann’s side had dominated early territory and disrupted line-out ball.
Cipriani’s final positive influence on the contest was a supremely sweet penalty strike from 45 metres to narrow the gap back to 5-3 for Gloucester.
There were signs that Munster were moving through the gears, with Tadhg Beirne poaching line-outs and forcing the visitors’ frustration to out itself within a scuffle.
The faithful could sense Munster were gathering control and the sense was verified minutes later when Cipriani was handed his marching orders. Carbery kicked the straightforward penalty offered up after the hit, but from there on in Munster had bonus point in mind.
A rolling maul allowed Rhys Marshall to rumble over for Munster’s second try on 35th minute, but there was a most bittersweet feeling when the teams untangled from another scuffle to depart for half-time.
Though there was a 15-3 interval advantage to celebrate, the sight of O’Donnell writhing in agony on the turf stirred a wealth of sympathy inside the 23,068 watching on.
Marshall hobbled to the dressing room at the halfway mark too, but it was his replacement Kevin O’Byrne who lit the match on the second half with an offload to meet a rampaging Beirne. No ordinary second row, the former Scarlet opted to kick and chase beyond the last defender. Although he didn’t win the race against the Gloucester back three, the field position was reward enough for Munster. And they didn’t leave until Carbery, shunning the two-man overlap on his left cut his way over the try-line.
Three down, one to go.
Inevitably Carbery was at the heart of the bonus point try when it arrived. First, releasing glorious behind-the-back offload and then delaying a pass to perfection to set Sammy Arnold through the gap to rapturous applause.
Job done with 23 minutes to spare. Gloucester shook off the temptation to start thinking about the Shannon Airport departures lounge and responded with tries through Munster oldboy Gerbrandt Grobler and Jason Woodward.
By the time Woodward grounded a second for the Cherry and Whites though, Conway got in for Munster’s fifth, another move adorned with Carbery’s super slick passing as he seamlessly caught and released the wing to strike from close range.
Against the team that inspired Munster into producing their ‘miracle match’ in 2003, Johann van Graan will be keen to pick the bones out of the closing stages of this comfortable win over 14 men. Rather than use their dominance to maintain a stranglehold, the hosts allowed Gloucester enjoy a purple patch late on and the visitors’ push for Ben Morgan’s try was enough to tempt Arnold into a deliberate knock on. Before his yellow card his pack withstood maul pressure, after it the back row rumbled over.
That try signalled a time to depart for some supporters, but Stephen Archer’s post-restart high tackle on Morgan meant there was another review stoppage before the full-time whistle arrived.
With Archer joining Arnold in the bin, Munster ended the match with a one-man disadvantage.
There will be plenty of time spent picking over this game both inside and outside of Munster, but the southern province can take immense satisfaction from ending round two top of Heineken Champions Cup Pool 2, while Exeter Chiefs ceded further ground with defeat in Castres.
Tries: M Haley, R Marshall, J Carbery, S Arnold, A Conway
Conversions: J Carbery (4/5)
Penalties: J Carbery (1/1)
Tries: G Grobler, J Woodward, B Morgan
Conversions: B Twelvetrees (2/3)
Penalties: D Cipriani (1/1)
MUNSTER: 15. Mike Haley (JJ Hanrahan ’67), 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Dan Goggin, 12. Rory Scannell (Sammy Arnold ’47), 11. Darren Sweetnam, 10. Joey Carbery, 9. Duncan Williams (Alby Mathewson ’47), 1. James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’47), 2. Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne ’40), 3. John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’59), 4. Jean Kleyn (Billy Holland ’60), 5. Tadhg Beirne, 6. Peter O’Mahony (c), 7. Tommy O’Donnell (Arno Botha ’37), 8. CJ Stander.
GLOUCESTER: 15. Jason Woodward, 14. Matt Banahan, 13. Billy Twelvetrees, 12. Mark Atkinson (Owen Williams ’62), 11. Tom Marshall (Tom Hudson ’44), 10. Danny Cipriani, 9. Callum Braley (Ben Vellacott ’52), 1. Val Rapava Ruskin (Ciaran Knight ’64) , 2. Franco Marais (Henry Walker ’23), 3. Josh Hohneck, 4. Tom Savage, 5. Ed Slater (Gerbrandt Grobler ’53) 6. Freddie Clarke (Gareth Evans ’60), 7. Jake Polledri, 8. Ben Morgan.
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