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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 25 January, 2020
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O'Mahony's try the difference as Munster edge out Saracens at Thomond Park

There was late, late drama as Arno Botha was sent off for leading with the elbow.

Munster 10

Saracens 3

THE SECOND-HALF downpour of rain meant this became an ugly, error-strewn contest in Thomond Park but Munster had just about done enough in the first half to get back to winning ways in Limerick.

peter-omahony-celebrates-his-try-with-jean-kleyn-and-billy-holland Peter O'Mahony scored the only try of the game. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Captain Peter O’Mahony’s 31st-minute try, converted by JJ Hanrahan, proved to be the difference between Munster and a much-weakened Saracens team, who had left most of their biggest stars at home for this Heineken Champions Cup tie.

But Mark McCall’s men will come away relatively pleased with their evening’s work as they notched a losing bonus point on the road. Sarries will back themselves to beat Munster at home next weekend before finishing out Pool 4 with wins away to Ospreys and at home to Racing 92. They may yet feature in the quarter-finals.

Munster’s hopes of a knock-out tie are, of course, very much still alive after they scrapped their way to the four match points here, leaving them just one behind pool leaders Racing 92, who secured a bonus-point victory away to Ospreys today.  

This Thomond Park victory is unlikely to be turned into a feature-length documentary in the future but Munster were gritty at important times to prevent another major slip-up at home following on from their draw with Racing last time out. They will, however, have real frustrations at a first-half performance that was not clinical enough.

There were glimpses of strong attack from Munster during a dry first half and it was fitting that O’Mahony’s punchy score came at the end of one of those passages, featuring a clever Rory Scannell cut-out pass.

There was also late, late drama here as Arno Botha was sent off for leading into a carry with his elbow, but the impactful sub back row Jack O’Donoghue rose to steal the resulting Saracens lineout with the clock in the red.

In the end, Munster fans go home content with a win but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Saracens’ losing bonus point may come back to haunt the southern province. 

andrew-conway-with-matt-gallagher Andrew Conway was threatening in the first half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There must have been frustration in the Munster dressing room at half-time as they led just 10-3 despite enjoying 63% of the first-half possession and territory, as well as having a brisk wind behind them, especially as they would have felt Sarries’ three points were given up too easily.

Munster had a shaky couple of opening minutes but manufactured the first threatening attack as Andrew Conway and Rory Scannell linked superbly down the right-hand side and into Sarries’ 22, only for Stephen Archer to knock-on on as they got to within sniffing distance in the 10th-minute phases that followed.

The home side’s opening score came after more 22 pressure that failed to yield a try as they were held up over the tryline, then won a penalty at the resulting scrum for Hanrahan to tap over for a 3-0 lead.

Van Graan’s men briefly thought they had their precious try in the 22nd minute as Conway bombed down the right wing again before cleverly lofting a pass back inside to Rory Scannell but after he dotted down under the posts, the TMO review showed that Chris Farrell had knocked-on just before Conway’s break.

Munster’s defence continued to force errors from the Saracens attack – though they did threaten as fullback Matt Gallagher counter-attacked out of his own 22 – and finally got their try-scoring reward in the 31st minute as O’Mahony crossed at the end of an excellent passage.

The phase before the score was key as Rory Scannell’s sharp miss pass allowed the lively Keith Earls to make vital yards along the left touchline and then scrum-half Conor Murray lasered a pass to O’Mahony arriving on a hard line against the grain to batter into Brad Barritt’s tackle and stretch out to finish. 

Hanrahan converted but Munster gave up a penalty swiftly after the restart, Niall Scannell unable to resist grabbing the ball after a ruck had formed. 

peter-omahony-scores-a-try Peter O'Mahony stretches out to score for Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sarries scrum-half Ben Spencer hit the post with his shot at goal but then Munster centre Farrell’s clearance attempt connected with team-mate Archer and Sarries grabbed possession metres out. 

The English visitors couldn’t finish with some close-range battering phases but Munster crept offside and Spencer landed the more straightforward penalty to leave his side trailing by seven points at the break. 

With rain sheeting down by the start of the second half, Munster spilled Saracens’ restart only for England international Maro Itoje to produce his second knock-on of the game inside their 22 for a let-off.

Saracens nearly drew to within four points soon after as CJ Stander failed to roll away from his tackle but Spencer again hit the left post with his penalty shot. 

The reigning European champions continued to apply pressure and their next attack saw them surge to within metres of the Munster tryline only for the hulking Will Skelton to spill the increasingly slippery ball.

The wind worked against Sarries in the 55th minute as it carried Spencer’s misjudged box kick all the way dead and allowed Munster to attack off a midfield scrum, from where they won a penalty as Ben Earl failed to roll away, and finally had a lineout deep in the visitors’ half. Frustratingly, Scannell’s throw slipped through Tadhg Beirne’s hands.

Sarries had ongoing struggles catching the ball, though, and wing Rotimi Segun spilled Conway’s kick ahead forward to give Munster at attacking scrum 25 metres out, but then Conway himself knocked-on Murray’s inaccurate pass from the set-piece.

james-cronin-and-rory-scannell-with-alex-lozowski The third quarter was a torrid affair. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

With the contest now an ugly affair in the downpour, Munster’s pack produced an important maul turnover as replacement back row O’Donoghue fought in onto the ball to choke it up.

Munster were invigorated and blocked down a Spencer exit attempt to force a defensive lineout for Sarries, from where replacement scrum-half Tom Whiteley dawdled setting up his first box kick and Munster pounced for another turnover scrum.

Van Graan’s side understandably went to their one-out carrying game as they attacked on the 22 but a side entry at ruck time meant they released the pressure on Sarries as they game entered the closing 10 minutes.

That appeared to be that but sub number eight Botha was then red-carded with the lock in the red for leading into Whiteley with his elbow as he carried off what should have been the final scrum.

Sarries kicked down the right touchline for one final shot at drawing level but O’Donoghue picked off their lineout to allow Munster fans to breath a massive sigh of relief.

Munster scorers:

TriesPeter O’Mahony 

ConversionsJJ Hanrahan [1 from 1]

PenaltiesJJ Hanrahan [1 from 1]

Saracens scorers: 

Penalties: Ben Spencer [1 from 3]

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin (Liam O’Connor ’70), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne ’79), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’55); Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley ’62), Billy Holland; Tadhg Beirne (Jack O’Donoghue ’62), Peter O’Mahony (captain), CJ Stander (Arno Botha ’70).

Replacements: Nick McCarthy, Sammy Arnold.

SARACENS: Matt Gallagher; Rotimi Segun (Max Malins ’62), Alex Lozowski (Nick Tompkins ’64), Brad Barritt (captain), Alex Lewington; Manu Vunipola, Ben Spencer (Tom Whiteley ’69); Richard Barrington (Rhys Carre ’54), Jack Singleton, Titi Lamositele (Josh Ibuanokpe ’64); Will Skelton (Joel Kpoku ’64), Maro Itoje; Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Jackson Wray.

Replacements: Kapeli Pifeleti, Sean Reffell.

Referee: Romain Poite [France]. 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Thomond Park

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