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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 14 November, 2018
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Late slump and injuries a concern as Munster march ahead in pool race

There was a lot to like about the stars Munster had on show and the pool standings are in great shape given the stars they have done without.

Sean Farrell reports from Thomond Park

“FIVE POINTS IN Europe, at home, we’ll take any day of the week,” said Johann van Graan, and there was no arguing the issue.

Sam Arnold celebrates scoring his sides fourth try Sam Arnold celebrates the bonus point-sealing try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Yesterday’s five-try win over Gloucester came with more than a few tempering factors, but a return of seven points and control of the pool after two rounds of Heineken Champions Cup action is a solid showing from Munster.

After a deadlock in Devon in round one, the lunchtime kick-offs undeniably swung pool 2 Munster’s way as the Premiership leaders remained winless thanks a powerful home display from Castres – the French champions who are dangerously close to taking this tournament very seriously.

Walking out of Thomond Park, however, there was no sense of glee after a 14-point win over English opposition. Because the 14 men from the west country successfully took advantage when their hosts eased off the pedal, grabbing 19 points in the final quarter.

“We’re concerned at any point that we concede,” agreed Van Graan post-match.

“Got to 36-10 by (67 minutes) and, unfortunately, I think we conceded quite a few penalties in a row there and we got stuck inside our own 22.

“Credit to the opposition as well, a lot of times with 14 men it actually draws you closer. They fought for that bonus point and I think in the last play of the game we killed it. From our side, in terms of the bigger picture, five points for us and they didn’t get a point.”

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Munster lead the way, but this pool is shaping up to be a tight one. And, come round six, quarter-final seedings in Europe have that awkward knack of coming down to the finest of margins between teams’ points difference or tries scored. Let’s hope the final quarter here is easily forgotten.

If the southern province stay on their current course, dampen down Castres’ European interest and somehow pick up a little luck on the injury front, then Munster are well capable of doing just that.

Joey Carbery makes his way down the tunnel Carbery heads for the sheds. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Last year’s semi-finalists are getting immense value from their new recruits and after making the most of limited opportunities in torrid Sandy Park conditions, Joey Carbery made the most of a dry, calm track.

The 22-year-old thoroughly deserved to show a flicker of a selfish streak to shun a two-man overlap and run at the try-line himself, because he had a hand in creating three more Munster tries. From seamlessly connecting a first-half break on the left flank to create a try in the right corner — via Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway — for Mike Haley, to that delicious behind-the-back pass before Sammy Arnold’s score and perfectly-timed delays. His terrific array of passing makes all the difference.

Carbery deserved his man of the match gong, but this was another tremendous outing for Tadhg Beirne. How Wayne Pivac must miss the explosive lock as Scarlets face into mid-season with two European defeats to their name.

Tadhg Beirne chips ahead Beirne sparked the second half into life with a lung-busting chip and chase. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Before Danny Cipriani’s red card, Beirne’s work at breakdown, line-out and maul was already bringing Munster into the ascendancy after a stodgy opening quarter. If fatigue was a factor following on from the relentlessly intensity of Exeter then Beirne was able to power through. The second row topped the tackle charts for his side with 13 and his engine kept humming nicely throughout to bring turnover ball Munster’s way.

“You take them any day of the week. It’s a massive pressure release for us,” says Peter O’Mahony, no slouch himself when it comes to stealing ball on the ground.

“He has an incredible ability to stay in a fight and even be in an awkward position and keep his body weight under control. Very impressive and you can see the performances he had the last few weeks, he’s been great for us.”

O’Mahony, Beirne and Carbery will be among the contingent who go away with Ireland for the majority of the seven weeks between now and the round three meeting with Castres. Unfortunately, Tommy O’Donnell will be consigned to the medical team for the months ahead.

The openside was taken away by ambulance with, according to Van Graan, a suspected broken leg. A gut-wrenching early end to the day for the Clonmel man who missed the closing months of last season after shoulder surgery.

Dan Goggin leaves the field with an injury after the game Dan Goggin helped off the field. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He won’t be alone in Munster’s non-playing ranks either. Rhys Marshall, starting due to a knock sustained by Niall Scannell, was forced off at half-time and Dan Goggin suffered a serious looking knee injury late on.

It was Munster’s injury list before the weekend that makes their pool-topping performances commendable. Without Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Chris Farrell, Jaco Taute, Tyler Bleyendaal and (for round two) Niall Scannell, they have battled in Exeter and achieved what was needed at home to Gloucester.

With any luck, their injury toll will be eased in December when it comes time to measure up against the French champions. Van Graan would bite your hand off for five points that day too.

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Sean Farrell

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