Match report: Exeter Chiefs 32 – 24 Munster
A combative and physical afternoon for Exeter Chiefs as they came out on top of a strong Munster side at Sandy Park in the second round of the Investec Champions Cup.
It was a lively opening five minutes as Munster looked to attack with ball in hand, but a ready and hard-hitting Chiefs team kept them pinned to within a couple of metres of their own 22.
The first scrum of the match – a key area with two big packs clashing – came just three minutes in inside the Exeter half. Munster took their own feed and accuracy in spotting the options from scrum half Craig Casey got them up to the Chiefs five metre line.
There was a steal in the air from Dafydd Jenkins but a penalty went the way of Munster who were able to re-set for another throw and a maul drive for the line. With nothing on, they fed ball to their backs. A loping pass from underneath the sticks to Calvin Nash on the wing gave the Munsterman a simple run-in for the day’s opening score. With the shot clock ticking down, Jack Crowley converted the score.
Light and fast feet secured a line break for Tommy Wyatt in the 13th minute. Looking for support, his offload in contact to Rusi Tuima saw the lock making good ground. Captain Jenkins took the pass from his second row colleague before Chiefs secured the penalty at the breakdown in the Munster 22 having started out well into their own half.
A kick to the corner for the set piece set the platform for the short, recycled carries on the Munster five metre line. The patience and crushing contact paid off when hooker Dan Frost was latched over the line for a Chiefs try. Henry Slade took the successful conversion with his first tee shot of the day.
Possession volleyed between the sides as the first quarter came to a close. Munster were looking for options on the edge of the Chiefs half when a lucky kick option out to Tom Ahern produced a score. Wyatt got the worst end of the bounce, as the cantering back rower collected ball at speed to charge past the Chiefs fullback for a run-in by the corner flag.
With a penalty for hands in the ruck shortly following Munster’s score, Slade – well within his range – called for the kicking tee. With the penalty splitting the uprights, the two sides were just that many points apart on the scoreboard.
Chiefs were caught napping on the restart as Nash took Crowley’s kick on the far wing, breaking with Shane Daly in support. The fullback took the pass, but his option back inside was grabbed out of the air by Lewis Pearson to quell the danger for Chiefs.
As Pearson had had to run the ball into touch, the lineout was Munster’s to claim. They took the throw cleanly, working the ball across the width of the Chiefs 22 looking for a gap or an option. However, the option fell into the lap of Tom Cairns who took an interception a couple of metres inside his 22. With kicks exchanged in the aftermath, Wyatt had to ground the ball down over his own line to result in the goal-line drop-out.
As the closing minutes of the half were played, Munster crossed the whitewash for a third score. Working with ball just outside the Chiefs 22, the Irish province was given an advantage to play with. Swooping ball quickly out to the opposite wing, Antoine Frisch had power and pace to carry ball over in the corner. Crowley converted to take Munster nine points ahead of Chiefs at the close of the half.
Half-time: Chiefs 10 – 19 Munster
The opening minutes of the second 40 minutes had Chiefs’ name stamped upon it as the home side looked to make good on the opportunities which had fallen from their grasp at the end of the first half.
A penalty for not rolling away at the breakdown five minutes in allowed Slade to point for the posts for the second time in the day. The penalty secured, the scoreline gap was back down to just six points.
Munster opened that gap back up just shy of 50 minutes played. Working their phases well, the Irishmen ducked and dodged their way down the pitch, into the Chiefs 22. A carry from Diarmuid Barron was critical to their score as the hooker was brought down just a metre short. They kept their patience and a pass out to Daly on the wing wasn’t covered by the tightly packed Chiefs defenders.
A perfectly timed combination of play between replacement Ross Vintcent and Greg Fisilau got the Chiefs some all-important territory in the Munster 22. A clean lineout and dominant maul drive from Chiefs put them in contention before the wily Tadhg Beirne was able to get a big claw to the ball at the base for the steal on his own line.
On the hour, the volume was raised around Sandy Park as Chiefs had a fresh attacking opportunity. The young forwards with the barnstorming carries gave good ground for Slade to go into the corner for the lineout. Some tough carries encroached on Munster’s line before Vintcent – on his Investec Champions Cup debut – squirrelled his body over directly beneath the posts with the heft of Nika Abuladze aiding him over. A simple conversion from Slade and Chiefs were very much back into the fight.
It didn’t take more than a minute for the Exetermen to take the fight straight back to Munster either. Onto things like a dart at the restart, Wyatt spotted space deep behind Munster’s last line of defence. His chip went up with Jack Dunne in chase alongside Ben Hammersley. The bounce blessed him as he snatched it out of Nash’s grasp and stormed over to the adulation of the home crowd. Slade kept his record at the tee with the conversion.
Munster got themselves into the Chiefs 22 from a breakdown penalty for offside but tough competition in the air at the lineout had a miscommunication happening on the ground as Conor Murray knocked the ball on, giving Chiefs the scrum feed.
A dominant engagement had the penalty coming the way of the home pack. Skinner took the ball to clear to touch and a set piece on the Munster 10 metre line. A throw called not straight for Frost – back on the field following an injury to Max Norey – gave Munster the opportunity to scrum.
Looking to work their way out of their own half, Murray didn’t anticipate Slade lying in wait for an interception. Getting it, the Chiefs fan-favourite ran the ball in from the halfway line for the score – to the hollering screams of his teammates and the home crowd.
And with that, a second consecutive weekend of heart-stopping European action for Exeter Chiefs came to an end as the Devon men protected the Sandy Park fortress.
Full-time: Chiefs 32 – 24 Munster
Chiefs: T Wyatt; O Woodburn (O’Loughlin 51’), H Slade, J Hawkins (Devoto 60’), B Hammersley; H Skinner, T Cairns (Townsend 51’); S Sio (Abuladze 51’), D Frost (Norey 51’, Frost 71’), E Painter (Street 51’), R Tuima (Dunne 54’), D Jenkins (c), L Pearson, J Vermeulen (Vintcent 54’), G Fisilau.
Tries: Frost, Vintcent, Dunne, Slade Conversions: Slade 3 Penalties: Slade 2
Munster: S Daly; C Nash, A Frisch, A Nankivell, S O’Brien; J Crowley, C Casey (Murray 57’); J Loughman (Wycherley 68’) D Barron, S Archer (Jager 57’), G Coombes, T Beirne, T Ahern, J Hodnett (Kendellen 71’), J O’Donoghue (Gleeson 68’).
Unused replacements: Clarke, Scannell, O’Connor.
Tries: Nash, Ahern, Frisch, Daly Conversions: Crowley 2
Referee: Mathieu Raynal