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Exeter feel full force of Thomond Park effect, as Munster set to hit the road for Toulouse 'home' game

Munster fed off a brilliant atmosphere in Limerick but the stadium is booked up on the weekend of their Champions Cup quarter-final.

Damian de Allende celebrates his try.
Damian de Allende celebrates his try.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

ROB BAXTER DELIVERED his verdict quickly and to the point. This wasn’t the type of game where the opposition could feel slighted or hard done by. In front of a wonderful atmosphere at Thomond Park, Baxter saw his Exeter Chiefs side swept away by a battling and at times brilliant Munster as the province stormed to a 26-10 win in Limerick yesterday.

The result sent Munster through to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup, with yesterday’s late game in Belfast confirming last year’s winners Toulouse as their next opponents.

Munster can look forward to home advantage of some description, but details of the fixture are yet to be confirmed.

With the game due to be played on the weekend of 6/7/8/ May, Thomond Park is expected to be unavailable with Ed Sheeran hosting two concerts at the stadium on Thursday 5 May and Friday 6 May. It’s set to be a busy few days in the offices at Munster HQ.

If they can’t find a way to play at Thomond, it will represent a major blow to Johann van Graan’s team. On a bright, breezy Saturday, the stadium rocked from start to finish as the home crowd spurred their team on to a well-earned victory. Long before kick-off, the palpable sense of anticipation in the air suggested this was going to be a day to remember.

Van Graan was quick to point to the part played by the crowd, mentioning the ’16th’ man in the first sentence of his post-match press conference.

Exeter’s director of rugby was similarly impressed, and accepted the vocal 21,000 strong crowd had a big influence on the game.

“I thought Munster were where they needed to be, and we weren’t,” Baxter said.

I think that’s great credit to Munster and the crowd, I thought the emotion that they created together was fantastic for them, but we needed to be better than we were. We weren’t confrontational enough or competitive enough in enough areas.”

Baxter also highlighted his team’s shortcomings on the day, as well as the individual quality of some of Munster’s key men. While Exeter out-half Joe Simmonds failed to find the target with three kicks at goal [missing one penalty and two conversions], his opposite number was flawless from the tee. As well as scoring Munster’s opening try, Joey Carbery added four penalties and two conversions, scoring 21 of Munster’s 26 points.

“We started pretty brightly, but then our first set of defence was so far off what we were achieving last week with it’s intensity and collision quality,” Baxter continued.

joey-carbery-takes-a-kick-with-keith-earls Carbery was flawless from the tee. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“That worried me a little bit, that probably made me have some concerns about how simple that momentum came and how simple the (first Munster) try came. And to be fair to the lads, we fought our way back into the game at times, and when we score our second try it becomes a tough contest again.

But you know, you kind of know that a day is dripping away from you when the opposition kicker can’t miss from anywhere and your kicker can’t seem to hit them from anywhere. You look and you think, if that had been a 50-50 kicking battle we’d have been here to the death.”

It was an altogether much more pleasing day for Van Graan, who saw his team repeat the defensive heroics of Sandy Park while adding some touches of class in attack to strike when it counted. Despite seeing just 39% of the ball, Munster had a 16-point cushion come full time – across three previous clashes with Exeter, the province had never scored more than 10 points in a game.

Carbery’s opening try was a wonderful piece of play by the Munster 10, while Simon Zebo’s stunning offload to play in Damien de Allende late in the second half had the home crowd on their feet.

simon-zebo-celebrates-after-the-game-with-damian-de-allende Simon Zebo celebrates with Damian de Allende after the game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But Munster also won the uglier battles thanks to a big performance by the pack, led by the exceptional Peter O’Mahony. Having taken criticism for his second-half display in the recent URC defeat to Leinster, this was the Munster captain back at his brilliant, inspirational best, chipping in with three massive turnovers. 

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Having struggled at the breakdown in Devon last week, Munster were much more accurate in this second leg, while they also managed to disrupt the Exeter set-piece throughout.

“We were pretty focused in the coaching box, we knew that it was going to be a breakdown and setpiece battle, that’s why we went 6:2 again [on the bench],” Van Graan said.

The starters did really well, and at half time we emphasised the impacts, and the forwards who came on were massive. The front row, (Alex) Kendellen, (Thomas) Ahern and Jason Jenkins with one or two massive hits. Exeter keep the ball well, I thought we were extremely disciplined in terms of when to go to the breakdown and applied a lot of pressure. 

“We gave them soft entries last week with maul and scrum penalties. That was an even battle today, the quality of our hitting was a lot better and our decision-making at the breakdown was excellent.”

On the back of some frustrating and disappointing performances in recent weeks, this was a reminder that Munster can still produce on the big stage. It was by no means a complete performance, but in the end the province comprehensively saw off the 2020 champions with some ease, a delighted home support able to soak up the closing moments knowing the win was safely in the bag.

It will be a great shame to see their next European outing moved away from a stadium that still possesses a certain magical quality on Champions Cup days. When it comes to Munster in Europe, there’s nowhere like home. 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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