Anatomy of a drop goal: How Munster beat Sale at the death

We use GIFs, videos and screenshots to pick apart the crucial moments in the endgame at the AJ Bell Stadium.

MUNSTER PICKED UP four crucial points away to Sale in Champions Cup Pool 1 yesterday thanks in part to a last-gasp Ian Keatley drop goal.

In this piece, we look at the wide range of elements that went into creating the crucial three points for Anthony Foley’s men.

Ian Keatley kicks a drop goal to win the game Keatley kicks the match-winning drop goal at the AJ Bell Stadium. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

 75:41 – Munster hold up the maul

With BJ Botha having conceded a penalty at a Munster line-out in the Sale half for an almost-clever blocking movement, Danny Cipriani kicked the Sharks into touch around five metres outside the Munster 22 with just over four minutes left on the clock.

The home side were enjoying a 26-24 lead at this stage, and the intent was to hold on to possession in a largely low-risk manner, and either run down the clock or milk a penalty from a desperate Munster defence.

75.41 Foles

Instead, Sale turn possession over at the front of the line-out, with Dave Foley doing some superb work to get in on the ball as Andrei Ostrikov attempts to set up the maul. Steve Diamond’s men had major difficulties at the front of the set-piece all afternoon, with Peter O’Mahony making three steals in that area.

It’s the low-risk, and obvious, option for Sale to throw to the front and Munster read it well.

As Foley [green arrow below] gets in on the ball just before the maul is formed, O’Mahony [red arrow] and Paul O’Connell [yellow arrow] have crucially got involved from the other side, with O’Mahony grappling in to keep Ostrikov from going to deck.

Maul Involvement

James Cronin is also involved in holding the maul up, and it’s also worth going back to the original GIF to have a glance at his actions post-lift on Foley. Initially, he grabs the lock’s jersey to keep him upright, having helped to launch Foley in towards the ball.

Then he actually binds on Foley as the second row gets in on the ball and fights with Ostrikov. That little bit of support from Cronin provides Foley with greater stability, and it also ensures that referee Laurent Cardona is in no doubt that he’s seeing a maul.


First job done; Munster have possession back and now need to get into Sale’s defensive territory.

76:31 – Hanrahan’s majestic kick

Keatley’s wasn’t the only superb kick in the Munster endgame, as Hanrahan delivered an absolute peach of a touch with the boot to get Munster into the right area of the field as they searched for their winning score.

The Kerryman was used off the bench at inside centre, an extremely interesting option moving forward, given the creativity, energy, distribution and kicking skills he offers in comparison to the physically strong Denis Hurley.

76.31 Hanrahan

It’s worth pointing out the sheer solidity of Munster’s scrum in the GIF above, at a time when we can be certain Sale were doing their utmost to draw a penalty or simply put the Irish side under intense pressure.

Cronin, Botha and Duncan Casey provide the soundest of platforms for Conor Murray to move the ball away, before Keatley finds Hanrahan.

76.31 Hanrahan .2

It’s a sublime right-footed kick from the 22-year-old, travelling around 60 metres and rolling perfectly beyond the sideline. What makes it even more impressive is that Hanrahan makes the kick right up on the gainline.

The former Ireland U20 international is not happy to sit deep and kick without the prospect of being blocked down by Mark Jennings. Big players deliver big moments of skill under pressure.

77:31 – Sale lose composure

Whatever about the quality of Hanrahan’s kick, Sale still had the throw at the subsequent line-out, and therefore an opportunity to lay a platform for their own backs to boot the ball as deep into Munster’s half as possible.

The Sharks were clearly aware of Munster’s clinical edge when in possession in the opposition half, but they simply fell apart in the pressure of this situation.

It’s a solid line-out from Sale initially, with Mark Easter claiming Marc Jones’ throw under a little competition from Foley in the air. Foley sacks Easter well, but Sale manage to form the maul and send the ball to the tail, away from Munster hands.

Or so they think. O’Connell is typically disruptive, grasping right over the top and attempting to get even a finger on the pill.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 11.56.18

Cardona shouts, “No, no, number five, on your side. You…” but then appears to waver in his belief that O’Connell has come from an illegal position. The Munster lock shouts, “What?” and then carries on his disrupting work without quite forcing it.

O’Connell could have been more aggressive in this instance, swimming right in on the ball, but instead he just about does just enough to add to Sale’s sense of panic. He’s not on the ball, but he’s right there waiting.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 11.59.29

That work from O’Connell drags Chris Cusiter into the maul, leaving Sale short of one of their key decision-makers at the back of the maul. As the scrum-half gets dragged in by O’Connell, Cardona shouts, “Use it!” and the panic rises.

Cipriani heads to the back of the maul and there is no sense that Sale have a plan. The out-half initially signals for Easter to carry to the right of the maul, but then takes the ball, runs down the perfect definition of a blind alley and dribbles the ball into touch.

The calming influence of Sam Tuitupou was crucially missing for Sale at this point. It is easy to imagine the former All Black having offered himself for a short, low-risk carry to the right of the maul here.

Instead, Sale utterly lose their composure and Munster get their chance.

78:48 – Munster’s maul rumbles

In the shitstorm above, Sale never even attempted to drive the ball forward at the maul, caught in two minds right on the edge of their 22. When Munster got their hands back on the ball, there was little doubt as to what direction they were heading in.

The passage starts with an excellent line-out from Munster, one of many yesterday afternoon. Hooker Casey hit 100% of his throws in another excellent display that demonstrated his ever-growing technical ability.

O’Connell is the man calling and, as ever, he reads the Sale defensive set-up well, sending Foley on a dummy run to the front of the line-out and then making space for Cronin to step in in front of O’Mahony for the lift, with Tommy O’Donnell at the back.

78.48 .1

For Sale, Easter has only a lifter at the front and can’t get up to create meaningful competition for the steal. He then fails in his attempt to sack O’Donnell, but at that stage Munster have already built a solid maul.

Botha’s work, indicated below, is essential as he binds the whole maul together from the left-hand side. The South African prop has binded onto O’Donnell at the front, and leaves his right arm open to bind onto Stander, then Foley.

We also see below that O’Donnell has shifted in behind O’Mahony as he completes his lift, spearheading the maul and creating distance between Sale and the ball.

78.48 .2

The result is that Munster get real length [below] on their maul and begin to power forward, making up what looks like an easy 10 metres before Sale finally get to grips with them and halt the tide.

78.48 .3

79:41 – Setting up the first attempt

When the maul does go to deck, Munster play one phase to the left, with Foley making the short carry behind the gainline. Magnus Lund makes the chop tackle from what looks like an offside position, and Josh Beaumont briefly has a glimpse of the steal.

79.41 Botha Clear

However, that man Botha arrives at just the right time to clear the Sale replacement, as we see above. The Munster tighthead gets his head and shoulders in underneath Beaumont’s hands as the back row looks to pilfer possession.

79:45 – Keatley makes a strong decision

The fact that Munster lose metres on the carry above means Sale are coming forward in defence on the next phase. As a result, the home side turn on stifling linespeed as Murray sends the ball back to Keatley in the drop goal pocket.

79.45 First DG

The fact that Chris Cusiter bursts up onto Keatley’s strong right foot makes it impossible to get a genuine effort away, and the Munster out-half keeps his composure and passes the ball, rather than snapping at his attempt and getting blocked down.

It may seem like the obvious option from Keatley, but many out-halves before him have attempted drop goals in a situation like the one above. The massive amount of stress involved makes it a highly demanding decision.

Keatley calls it correctly and sends Andrew Smith into contact on a solid carry.

79:53 – Stander clears out

There’s a tiny momentum shift at this stage as Sale are lifted by denying Munster the chance to shoot at goal, and another chop by Lund sees Munster lose more metres as O’Donnell carries.

79.53 Stander Clear

Cusiter arrives in to get a nice upper body hit on O’Donnell as Lund chops, and suddenly it looks like Ostrikov is going to jackal over the ball and win the turnover. CJ Stander, to the right, is the only Munster player within striking distance of the breakdown.

The powerful back row enters the contest from the right in a motion that many referees would have branded as ‘in from the side.’

Ruck Stander

Essentially, Stander saves the passage of play for Munster as he prevents the steal, and his big left-footed step towards the back of the ruck would appear to be crucial. More relevantly, Cardona had been willing to allow side entry at the breakdown throughout Sale’s period of dominance in the first-half.

Time and again, the Sale players arriving at the breakdown blasted potential Munster steals from the side, but Cardona was content to see the ball remaining quick for the attacking team.

Munster failed to deal with that, or do it themselves, throughout the first 40, but certainly adapted after the break. This improvement surely came as a result of the coaching staff pointing it out, and Stander delivers a debatable, but vital, contribution.

80:13 – Stander gets on the ball

O’Mahony is tackled behind the gainline on the very next phase, then Foley carries without making metres. Sale are now grasping control and sending Munster back up the pitch, meaning Foley’s side need a big play.

Stander delivers.

80.13 Stander Carry

It’s barely a metre of gainline progress, but the 24-year-old wins his collision with Michael Paterson and gets Munster back onto the front foot for the first time in five phases.

Stander’s carry also means quick ball for Munster. In that regard, the work of O’Donnell in clearing right past the ball is important too.

80.13 Stander Carry .2

As we see above, O’Donnell has driven Ross Harrison more than a metre beyond the original tackle on Stander. It’s something Munster do superbly well, and something that referees have looked to punish.

It’s technically against the laws of the game, but it’s something that is very difficult for referees to spot in intensely pressurised situations like the one we’re dealing with here.

O’Donnell’s actions create a really open area for Murray to shift the ball away from, producing that quick ball that is so vital in creating a drop goal opportunity.

80:27 – Foley carries

Murray finds O’Mahony for the next short carry, with no gain, before Foley steps up to the plate to launch himself into contact. At this point, we’re almost two minutes after the initial Munster line-out, and the end-of-game fatigue has fully set in.

80.30 Foley Carry

As we can see above, Foley is on the deck as O’Mahony carries the ball and is clearly feeling the pain. The lock gets to his feet again, however, shuffles back to get space to run onto the ball and takes the pill into contact to allow Munster to create more quick ball.

Cronin’s work in rucking two Sale defenders away from the ball before his back-up arrives is excellent.

80:32 – The backs make gains

In a situation like this one, with time up and a drop goal needed, it’s always tempting to ‘keep it tight,’ making pick and jam after pick and jam in the narrow channels. That’s where the bulk of Sale’s defence is focused and progress there is very difficult.

Munster make the decision to fire the ball to their backs as they get the quick ball we’ve pointed to above, a call that proves to be absolutely correct.

80.32 Hanrahan, Zeebs, Jones

It’s just a glimpse, but again we see the value of having Hanrahan on the pitch. The UL Bohs man hares onto the ball, really challenging the tired Sale defence, and fires an accurate pass to Zebo on his left.

The Munster wing finds Felix Jones in turn, and the fullback intelligently cuts back in, away from the touchline, and into the Sale 22. Ultimately, it’s a 15-metre gain for Munster on one phase, when it might have taken them 10 phases to make similar ground in tighter areas.

80:40 – Casey’s final carry

Now within striking distance of the uprights, Munster simply need to get a more central platform from which to find Keatley for the drop goal. Casey is the man to offer himself up for the crucial final carry, one that’s not really about making big metres.

80.40 Casey Carry

Of more importance is clean ball for Murray at the base, something Casey provides with textbook presentation as O’Donnell and O’Connell arrive to secure the breakdown.

80:46 – Murray’s superb pass

Munster finally have the platform they’ve been searching for for two minutes, but there is still the small matter of two moments of skill that need to be absolutely accurate.

Murray’s pass must allow Keatley maximal time in which to get his kick away, it needs to be as perfect as possible.

80.46 Murray Pass

The 25-year-old delivers with supreme technique, sending a gorgeous pass over 10 metres to Keatley off his ‘bad’ left side. The power in the pass is ideal; quick enough to give Keatley time, but not the sort of palm-stinger that will take a split second to adjust to.

The height of the pass is also perfect, allowing Keatley to move directly into his own drop goal technique without any adjustment.

80:48 – Keatley wins the ball game

As we’ve seen above, Munster’s 14 other players on the pitch have done their duties at this stage. The platform is set, the delivery is ideal and all that’s left is for Keatley to carry out a hugely difficult individual skill under the most intense pressure.

80.47 The DG

Again, it’s Cusiter who sprints up for Sale and he almost gets his fingertips to the ball. The bald-headed Andrew Conway runs a little line across the Sale scrum-half as he tears through, and while he makes no contact and barely seems to slow Cusiter, every little counts.

Keatley’s strike is superb, as he drops the ball true, keeps his head down and makes a lovely contact.

DG Tekkers

One of the common causes of failure in these situations is poor control of the ball as it leaves the hands. Many misses are down to the ball simply not being dropped straight, therefore flying off the drop goalee’s foot at an awkward angle.

Keatley makes no error in that regard, and it’s notable how relaxed he is as he strikes the pill. Head down, good balance, ball not too far away from his body nor too close to his planting leg; Keatley gets it right.

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