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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 16 December, 2018

Keatley the driving force behind Tigers mauling, but Munster stress it's only half time

The out-half received a standing ovation for a performance of class and character.

Keatley salutes the Thomond faithful as he makes his way off after a classy performance.
Keatley salutes the Thomond faithful as he makes his way off after a classy performance.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

VINTAGE MUNSTER on one of those European nights under the Thomond lights; passion, intensity and bravery in bucket loads. And a bonus-point win to boot, a result which sees the province — unbeaten in three pool games — seize control of their own European destiny. A pretty good night’s work all told.

And never has a standing ovation, the one Ian Keatley received as he was hauled ashore three minutes from time, felt as appropriate or deserved. That same walk two years ago, in this very fixture, was greeted with ironic jeers from a small section of the Thomond Park faithful. Not on Saturday night. How sweet that must have been.

“I’m happy, but exhausted,” the out-half said afterwards.

This was a performance of class and character as Keatley continued his rich vein of form and demonstrated his renewed confidence and swagger in driving Munster to a big win –Tyler Bleyendaal’s return from injury isn’t as urgent now.

“It was a very good result,” he continued.

“In fairness, Leicester threw everything at us. I think we got a few rub of the greens and we built momentum and capitalised very well. We made our chances stick.”

No more so than in the first half when Keatley’s ingenuity carved the Tigers defence apart. A quick glance to see the space, the poise to execute the delicate chip and the accuracy to leave Simon Zebo with the simple task of collecting and diving over the whitewash. Perfection.

“Zeebs saw the space and called it and I always back him.”

Two missed conversions from the far touchline blotted the copybook. A difficult angle, the wind swirling, game won. Not a bit of it, he has set the standard and expects to nail them.

“I’d still back myself to get them,” says Keatley. “The Thomond Park wind, you look at the flags and they are going left to right, but it’s actually bouncing off the stadium and it comes right to left. It’s a tricky wind.

Ian Keatley Keatley kicked three penalties and two conversions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I still think I should have got those kicks.”

Perhaps his right knee was causing him a bit of distress after getting it caught in the turf on this near touchline not long into proceedings. He looked in trouble, but it was no night to be rolling around. There was a job to be done, a game to be won.

But it’s only half time.

“A week is a long time in rugby and we know that,” Keatley stresses. “We’re going to make sure we recover well and come Tuesday we’re going to be back in focused because we know what we need to do next week.”

His captain, Peter O’Mahony, agrees. History has taught them lessons, last year’s defeat at Welford Road coming a week after their 38-0 demolition of the Tigers in Limerick.

“You look back at last year, we were beaten up physically over there,” the flanker says.

“That is something we need to address and it is very difficult, because Leicester are a proud side, Welford Road is an incredibly difficult place to play and you are going back-to-back against a team who are coming off a loss. It is a difficult thing to do, because you are up against an animal backed into a corner.”

Munster are building nicely, though. That’s four straight wins during which Johann van Graan’s side have scored 21 tries. Saturday’s first-half performance was among their best of the season.

“It is probably up there,” O’Mahony concurred. “This is the time of the year when you need to be putting your best performances together, which is positive, but we really do have plenty to work on. We conceded a maul try. Our discipline, which we talked about during the week, was poor, certainly towards the end of the second half.”

Van Graan, having enjoyed an ideal introduction to Champions Cup rugby, quickly pointed out it wasn’t faultless. O’Mahony was fuming his side conceded from a Tigers maul in the second half. Work to be done.

Peter O’Mahony celebrates after the game O'Mahony says there is still much room for improvement. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You’ve got to be building a squad,” the captain says. “You see the good teams around the world, club and international teams have strength in depth. We haven’t always had that but we are certainly getting there.

“If we want to win in Europe it is something that we need. There are knocks and other guys got to step up. It’s good to see young guys, who might seem a long way away in the academy or a development contract, you’re not. You are a bang or a bruise away from playing in Europe and you’ve got to be ready. It is difficult at times when you are young. We have all been there when you are thrown [into the deep end]. The guys who swim and get stuck in are the guys who are going to play regularly for Munster.”

O’Mahony was immense in the trenches, popping up everywhere to frustrate and thwart the Tigers with countless steals. The IRFU can’t let him leave, can they?

“There is stuff going on in the background. As I said last week, performance is paramount for me now.”

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):

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Ryan Bailey

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