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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 28 May, 2020


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It wouldn’t be Munster if there wasn’t something at stake in their final pool game. The Reds have travelled to Northampton Saints this evening, aware that their opponents will be seeking revenge for a certain drop goal last Autumn.

Munster have their injury problems, but still have plenty of experience within their starting XV: D Hurley; J Murphy, K Earls, L Mafi, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; D Ryan, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan.

The Saints, for their part, are without Chris Ashton and are playing for pride: B Foden; J Elliott, G Pisi, J Downey, V Artemyev; R Lamb, L Dickson; S Tonga’uiha, D Hartley, B Mujati, S Manoa, M Sorenson, C Clark, P Dowson, R Wilson.

The big news for Munster is Donncha O’Callaghan’s inclusion following Niall Ronan’s injury. The former’s selection sees Donncha Ryan move into the back row.

Paul O’Connell leads his side out on to the field.

The referee this evening is Frenchman Romain Poite. And we’re off…

Bright start from Munster. A couple of early breaks from Zebo and Coughlan. Very obvious football lines on the pitch too so will try and not get mixed up!!

Ryan Lamb misses his first attempt at goal after some great play by Phil Dowson earns Saints a penalty from Poite. The ball comes back off the posts and the hosts retain possession.

PENALTY NORTHAMPTON: The ten makes no mistake with his second kick – after Peter O’Mahony is pinged in the ruck. Saints ahead and looking to make it six wins in six games.

The Botha v Tonga’uiha battle in the scrum is one to keep an eye on given the South African hasn’t had much change from his direct opponent in recent clashes.

PENALTY NORTHAMPTON: A terrible offload from Mafi lands Munster in trouble in their own 22. They are driven back in the scrum and Lamb opts to kick for three points from the resulting penalty.

PENALTY MUNSTER: Munster respond in the best possible manner. Clark fails to release after Saints gather the re-start and Ronan O’Gara duly gets his side on the score board.

TRY NORTHAMPTON: Mafi is absolutely smashed by Samu Manoa just metres from his own line, and Poite awards a penalty try after Munster are driven back again and O’Mahony tries to kick the ball clear from Roger Wilson’s feet.

PENALTY MUNSTER: Lamb ventures offside while Munster attempt to build up some momentum. When the attack comes to naught, Poite goes back for kick and O’Gara adds his second of the evening.

Just a quick reminder: Munster need a losing bonus point to guarantee themselves a home quarter-final. They are qualified but who fancies facing Leinster or Clermont away from home at the moment?

PENALTY MUNSTER: Ryan, Botha and Varley notch up the carries count as Munster set about creating some pressure of their own. Saints are caught offside again and O’Gara adds another penalty kick.

DROP KICK NORTHAMPTON: Munster fail to gather the re-start and Ryan slots a drop goal between the posts.

TRY MUNSTER: It’s end to end here. Another poor re-start sees Zebo causing chaos in the Saints’ half and it’s Botha that eventually gathers and dives on the line. O’Gara adds the conversion and, all of a sudden, it’s level.

Neither coach will feel his side is  controlling this so far. We’ve had handling errors, poor set piece play, and some awful scrums (from Munster’s point of view). It’s still quite an open game though.

Munster turn over Saints ball at the breakdown, much to the delight of O’Connell, and O’Gara takes the chance to put his side ahead for the first time.

PENALTY NORTHAMPTON: Munster are destroyed in the scrum once again, allowing Lamb to draw his team level just before the break.

HALF TIME: Northampton will be wondering how they are not well ahead, given the dominance of their scrum. The answer: they are playing Munster. The Reds didn’t start particularly well but have battled their way back into the contest and currently have the point they need to secure a home quarter-final.

There’s a lot of rugby to be played yet though, and BJ Botha will spend the break wondering if there’s any way he can get back on an even footing against his scrum opponent.

ROG gets the second half underway and his re-start finds the paws of none other than Simon Zebo. Again.

TRY MUNSTER: The Reds retain possession through several front line phases and quick ball eventually makes its way out wide to Johne Murphy, who launches himself onto the try line. Poite checks the finish, but awards the score and O’Gara converts with ease.

Munster are back on the attack through Hurley and Earls but the move ends when Paul O’Connell fails to find a team-mate with a wayward pass. Northampton at sea right now.

TRY MUNSTER: Quick ball through the hands of O’Gara, Earls and then Hurley sees Zebo race clear down the touchline for Munster. Three tries and one more could see Munster progress as top seeds. To a chorus of boos, O’Gara misses the extras.

Tonga’uiha drops the ball inches short of the Munster try line. Saints need a win, of course, to secure a place in the Amlin Cup and are going for the big scores now in an attempt to salvage something from the game.

Poite has warned O’Connell about the Munster scrum again. Insisting that a second penalty try is possible.

TRY NORTHAMPTON: Another Northampton scrum, more pressure and another penalty try for the Saints. Lamb converts and it’s back to five points between the teams.

Conor Murray and Lee Dickson have both been yellow-carded for the handbags that following the try. Both scrum-halves trot off the pitch together with just over 20 minutes remaining.

Mafi and Varley are sharing Murray’s passing duties at the moment!

PENALTY MUNSTER: Mafi is caught at the edge of a ruck by Wilson but when the Saints fail to roll away, Poite whistles for the penalty. O’Gara adds the three points.

PENALTY NORTHAMPTON: Earls is pinged for obstruction during the re-start, even though O’Connell takes cleanly. Lamb hauls three points back for his team almost immediately as Murray and Dickson return to the game.

Tomas O’Leary is on for Murray.

PENALTY MUNSTER: O’Mahony is taken out in the air during a line out and it’s another penalty kick opportunity for O’Gara. The Corkman obliges and Munster are eight in front once more.

TRY MUNSTER: Zebo is the man to secure the bonus point and the number one seeding for Munster! The wing intercepts a sloppy pass and races clear for his second of the day. A home quarter-final ahead for the Reds! O’Gara converts.

Munster have never recorded six wins in six during the pool stages before…

TRY MUNSTER: Munster come piling forward again through O’Mahony, Coughlan and O’Connell and it’s the angled run created by Ian Keatley – on for O’Gara – that allows Zebo in for his hat trick. The replacement kicker adds the conversion to get himself on the score board.

As it stands either Munster or Leinster could face Ulster in the final eight.

TRY NORTHAMPTON: Replacement Scott Armstrong has the final say but the score can take little away from Munster’s effort today.

Hat trick man Simon Zebo is named Heineken Man of the Match

FULL TIME: What a strange game. Munster were repeatedly and utterly thrashed at scrum time but came out with a bonus-point victory after their best display of the tournament. The Reds win Pool 1 by ten points and are top seeds for the next stage following Leinster’s failure to get five points earlier today.

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