Chiefs 13 Munster 8

Exeter Chiefs full-back Stuart Hogg races over for his side's opening try in the Heineken Champions Cup clash against Munster Rugby

Exeter Chiefs 13

Munster Rugby 8

Mark Stevens at Sandy Park

It’s advantage Exeter Chiefs at the halfway stage of this Heineken Champions Cup double-header against Munster Rugby.

Rob Baxter’s side will head across the Irish Sea in seven days time with a slender advantage after they edged their Round of 16 tussle 13-8 at Sandy Park.

First half tries from Stuart Hogg and Jacques Vermeulen gave Rob Baxter’s side a 10-0 lead at the turn, before Hogg landed a superb second half drop-goal to complete the home side’s scoring.

Munster, after a torrid first half showing, were much improved after the break and they gave themselves a lifeline ahead of the second leg with a Ben Healy penalty and a try from Shane Daly.

Switching their attentions from domestic matters to that of European action, Baxter welcomed back the England trio of Harry Williams, Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade to his starting line-up from that which had seen off Bath the previous week in the Gallagher Premiership.

Munster, meanwhile, were minus a number of their top guns, including Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony and Joey Carberry through injury, and their cause was not helped with the late withdrawal of both Simon Zebo and Scott Buckley just hours before kick-off with a bout of illness.

That said, it was still a powerful looking Irish line-up that took to the field at a sun-drenched Sandy Park.

From the outset, though, it was the Chiefs who set the attacking tone, quickly settling into their stride with a gusto that was not only highly-charged, but physical in its extreme. Munster did well to hold the initial raids from the Devonians, but when the hosts threatened again on seven minutes, the deadlock was finally broken.

Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade looks to break through the Munster defence

Instigated by some quick-thinking from Sam Maunder at a free-kick, the Exeter scrum-half released his back division at pace, Ian Whitten creating the initial havoc with a short-line run, before it was worked to Tom O’Flaherty, who had cut in off the left flank to create the numbers game out wide.

The fleet-footed winger tore through the middle of the Munster defence before releasing Hogg wide on the right touchline. Still with plenty to do, the Scotland captain applied the after burners to scorch over in the corner for the opening try.

It was the dream start for the Chiefs who, despite being up against a stiff first half breeze, were looking to play at every opportunity. With the breakdown fiercely contested, it appeared neither side were willing to give an inch in the battle for both possession and territory.

Sadly for Munster, their best efforts were being hampered by a rising penalty count that not allowed the Chiefs an easy out on numerous occasions, but stymied their own attacking endeavours which, to be fair, were few and far between at that stage.

Baxter’s side were dominating proceedings, particularly up front, where the scrum was hugely impressive. With front foot ball, Joe Simmonds was able to conduct proceedings with aplomb, positioning his side within sight off the Munster line once more.

The Chiefs could - and probably should - have doubled their advantage midway through the half when Yeandle peeled off the back of a close-range, driving maul. However, as the skipper looked set to touch down, the ball was knocked from his grasp by some clever last-ditch defending from the experienced Conor Murray.

Munster happily made the most of the let-off to instigate their best attacking passage of the half, but they were swamped up by a hungry Chiefs defensive unit, who were hitting their rivals like a flurry of bulldozers.

With the visitors continuing to fall foul of Brousset, it came as no surprise when replacement Jack O’Sullivan was sin-binned for the latest infringement. Up a man, the Chiefs wasted little time in making their numerical advantage pay dividends.

Strong carries from Vermeulen, Dave Ewers and Jack Yeandle got the hosts positioned to within sniffing distance of the line, before Vermeulen collected again and drove over from close range for a second score right on the stroke of half time.

Although Joe Simmonds saw his conversion attempt drift wide, it was still enough for the Chiefs who had ensured Munster remained pointless at the break for the first time in three-and-a-half years.


On the resumption, the Chiefs were again quickly into their stride, Hogg, Woodburn and O’Flaherty all combining, only for the latter to be felled midway inside the Munster 22. It was, however, an early warning sign from the home side as they looked to add to their advantage.

With Munster continuing to concede penalties, so the Chiefs looked to make hay in the sun. Another effective pick-and-go raid looked as though it was going to prove fruitful, but just as the home side looked set to pounce, a switch off just inches from the line by Williams allowed the visitors to pinch the ball and clear the danger.

Moments later and the Chiefs were back in the red zone, this time positioning themselves within sight of the line after Sam Simmonds had been hit with a high tackle from Keith Earls. With the perfect platform from which to launch their latest attack, a miscommunication in the home line-out saw the ball fail to find Sam Skinner.

Both incidents were big in the grand scheme of things, but it was Munster who would thrive from the wasted opportunity. Indeed, the visitors worked their own way down field, eventually forcing the Chiefs to leak a penalty in front of their own posts.

It was a gift of a score for the Irishmen and up stepped Healy to stroke over the kick and register the first points for his side.

Up and running and clearly ignited by some strong half time words from their coaching team, Munster were all of a sudden alive and kicking. And they were given further encouragement as first Woodburn, then replacement Patrick Schickerling, were both sent to the sidelines as the Chiefs started to fall foul of the French officials.

Sensing it was their moment to strike, Munster threw caution to the wind, laying a heavy attacking bombardment on the Chiefs. Exeter were under the pump, but to a man each player stood tall, throwing themselves into collisions as though their very existence depended on it.

Roared on from the sidelines, not only did they repel the threat, but they turned defence into attack, pinning themselves back behind enemy lines once more. A succession of raids saw them held up on the line, allowing Munster to clear the danger with a goal-line clearance.

What the visitors had not banked on, however, was the subsequent clearance to Hogg who, poised on halfway, steadied himself to plunder a sublime 50m drop-goal, the first of his senior career, to edge his side ten points clear again.

Exeter's Olly Woodburn is denied a try by this cover tackle from Keith Earls

No sooner had the Chiefs given themselves some much-needed breathing space, they allowed Munster to strike back once more. With the visitors looking to attack from deep, Slade gambled in midfield tried to pick off an intended pass to the left. The England international narrowly failed to grab the ball and it was the visitors who countered, sending winger Daly over in the corner as he brushed off the attentions of Hogg and O’Flaherty.

Momentum was now with the visitors, who preceded to throw everything at the Chiefs in the final minutes. Exeter, though, were proving miserly in their duties, eventually snaffling out the threat and countering themselves at the other end.

Working the ball from left to right, Woodburn was released out wide. He tore down the touchline and seemed destined to score, only for Keith Earls to race across and somehow stop the Chiefs winger as he looked set to dot down. It was a huge chance, one which could yet prove telling in the end outcome.

Undeterred - and with a full compliment of players back on the field - the Chiefs continued to press forward late on. Sam Simmonds, Jack Innard and Schickerling all went close, before Jonny Gray was adjudged to have been held up over the line with the last play of the game.

It’s onto Thomond Park in a week’s time where the Chiefs will hope to inflict further woe on a Munster outfit who have lost just once on home soil this season. It’s game on, so strap yourself in for another brutal war of attrition in Limerick.

Chiefs: S Hogg; O Woodburn, H Slade, I Whitten (H Skinner 69), T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds, S Maunder (J Maunder 60); A Hepburn (B Moon 56), J Yeandle (capt, J Innard 65), H Williams (P Schickerling 52), J Gray, S Skinner; D Ewers (J Kirsten 57), J Vermeulen (R Capstick 57), S Simmonds. Replacement (not used): J Hodge.

Tries - Hogg, Vermeulen

Drop-Goal: Hogg

Yellow Cards: Woodburn, Schickerling

Munster: M Haley; K Earls, C Farrell, D De Allende, S Daly; B Healy, C Murray (C Casey 63); J Loughman (J Wycherley 63), N Scannell, S Archer (J Ryan 49); J Kleyn (T Ahern 64), F Wycherley; J O’Donoghue (capt), J Hodnett (J Jenkins 74), A Kendellen (J O’Sullivan 29). Replacements (not used): S Buckley, R Scannell.

Try - Daly; Penalty - Healy

Yellow Card: O’Sullivan

Referee: P Brousset

Attendance: 10,307

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