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Dublin: 10°C Thursday 28 January 2021
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Coombes try on European debut helps Munster to win over Harlequins

The southern province scored two tries in wet conditions at Thomond Park.

Munster 21

Harlequins 7

AS THE VISITING Harlequins seemingly did their best to pick up as many yellow cards as they could, Munster got their Champions Cup season underway with a win at Thomond Park as 23-year-old Gavin Coombes scored a try on his European debut.

gavin-coombes-scores-a-try Gavin Coombes reaches out to score. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Skibbereen man showed some of his potential in Munster’s deserved two-try victory over Quins, who played 50 minutes of the game with only 14 players thanks to three yellow cards and could even have been punished further.

Munster chipped in with a yellow card of their own in a performance that started promisingly with a nice show of variety in attack but it was a somewhat fractured game in wet conditions thereafter, as Johann van Graan’s men notched a penalty try thanks to their maul before Coombes crossed powerfully in the closing 10 minutes.

Tadhg Beirne was superb in the second row for Munster, while Conor Murray impressed at scrum-half, but the southern province will be aware of the need to be better for next weekend’s trip to Clermont, who had a big win away to Bristol in their opener.

Van Graan dearly would have liked his side to push towards a four-try bonus-point but it never looked likely in this contest despite Quins’ poor discipline.

The Munster boss will be rallying his men for a big ask on the road in France and will have been encouraged by the energy added by his bench late on in this game.

jj-hanrahan-kicks-a-penalty Hanrahan scored the only points of the first half. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Munster enjoyed the better of their first quarter as their attacking variety asked questions of the visitors’ defence and they led by the 13th minute when JJ Hanrahan’s penalty punished Joe Marler for tackling CJ Stander off the ball. 

Van Graan’s men nearly conjured a beautiful try in the 20th minute after second row Beirne broke and offloaded to O’Mahony before Hanrahan cross-kicked wide right to Coombes and though the blindside flanker spilled the ball back, Munster regathered for Stander to send prop James Cronin scorching through off his tip-on pass.

Munster darted back into the shortside but Marcus Smith did just enough to prevent Mike Haley from scoring in the corner, the Munster fullback spilling the ball as he looked to acrobatically dot down.

Munster had been playing penalty advantage but when they opted to go into the left corner with the penalty, Hanrahan sliced the ball dead in a moment that killed their momentum.

Quins then seized the initiative but Smith’s two shots at goal were wide, while their own excellent possible try was correctly ruled out for a forward offload by wing Cadan Murley just before scrum-half Danny Care had stroked a kick wide to Alex Dombrandt. 

mike-haley-attempts-to-score-a-try-unsuccessfully-under-pressure-from-marcus-smith Mike Haley came close to grabbing a first-half try for Munster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

It was a let-off for Munster, who did at least finish the half on top as Hanrahan slotted three points following Cronin’s breakdown turnover penalty.

Beirne then broke clear from the Munster 22 off the ensuing restart in a show of impressive pace, drawing Quins flanker James Chisholm into a comical side entry to kill the ball and pick up a deserved yellow card.

Unfortunately for Munster, Hanrahan was wide to the left of the uprights with his shot and they carried their 6-0 lead into the break. 

The home side were poor in the opening minutes of the second half, as Cronin gave up a lineout penalty, Kevin O’Byrne threw into the set-piece crooked, then Haley offloaded the ball forward.

Rather than taking advantage of the numerical advantage, Munster actually levelled things up in the 47th minute when the very offside Stephen Archer tackled Care after his clever quick-tap penalty and was sent for 10 minutes in the sin bin.

But Damian de Allende produced a big strip turnover on opposite number Ben Tapuai inside the Munster 22 on Quins’ next attack, with Beirne grabbing the loose ball and smashing a left-footed kick deep into the visitors’ half, where Mike Brown had to find the safety of touch after retreating.

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tadhg-beirne-is-tackled-by-marcus-smith Tadhg Beirne was prominent for Munster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Care gave up a silly penalty when Conor Murray dinked a kick off the ensuing Munster maul, the Quins scrum-half shoulder Keith Earls off the ball close to the left touchline. There might even have been a shout for a yellow card against Care for the deliberate infringement but Pascal Gaüzère opted only for the penalty. 

Munster kicked it into the left corner and fired up their maul to go within a metre only for Quins flanker Will Evans to collapse it, giving up a penalty try and being yellow-carded for his troubles.

Munster led 13-0 but Quins responded promptly as a couple of penalties allowed them down into the left corner, where van Graan’s men repelled the maul effort but then conceded when Care went back down the blindside where Andrew Conway allowed Murley to brush past him far too easily.

Smith converted just before Archer returned from the bin but Quins soon had their third yellow card as Dombrandt foolishly late-tackled Ben Healy, who had just come off the bench at out-half for Munster.

21-year-old academy man Healy called for the tee and slammed over the penalty from five metres inside his own half for 16-7. 

cadan-murley-dives-over-to-score-a-try Caden Murley scored for Quins in the second half. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Munster sealed the deal as the game headed into the closing 10 minutes, with Coombes showing his impressive power once again to force his way over from close range.

Healy converted and with both benches emptied – and the home side’s making the better impact – Munster saw out their opening-weekend win.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Penalty try, Gavin Coombes

Conversions: Ben Healy [0 from 1]

Penalties: JJ Hanrahan [2 from 3], Ben Healy [1 from 1]

Harlequins scorers:

Tries: Caden Murley

Conversions: Marcus Smith [1 from 1]

Penalties: Marcus Smith [0 from 2]

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway (Rory Scannell ’75), Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan (Ben Healy ’59), Conor Murray (Craig Casey ’65); James Cronin (Josh Wycherley ’70), Kevin O’Byrne (Rhys Marshall ’61), Stephen Archer  (yellow card ’47)(John Ryan ’65); Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley ’61), Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (captain), CJ Stander (Jack O’Donoghue ’65).

HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown (Ross Chisholm ’54); Nathan Earle, James Lang, Ben Tapuai, Cadan Murley (Will Edwards ’67); Marcus Smith, Danny Care (Scott Steele ’65); Joe Marler (Santiago Garcia Botta ’73), Scott Baldwin (Elia Elia ’73), Wilco Louw (Fin Baxter); Hugh Tizard, Glen Young; James Chisholm (yellow card ’39) (Tom Lawday ’65), Will Evans (yellow card ’50) ((Richard DeCarpentier ’73), Alex Dombrandt (captain) (yellow card ’62).

Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France).

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Thomond Park

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