Hawkeye Sidekick

European Rugby Champions Cup: Munster 38 – 0 Leicester Tigers

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We got our arses smacked good and proper

Final whistle at Thomond Park and the post-game reaction from Leicester Tigers supremo Richard Cockerill was blunt and cue the quote to start off this piece. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects a day after an emphatic win for Munster.

Mid-December. Sold Out Thomond Park. European Cup. For me, it is start of the festive period and the lure of the illustrious Leicester Tigers to Limerick was a huge draw. A traditional powerhouse, a club well respected by Munster came to the Munster venue looking to repeat their triumph against Munster last season.

Leicester Tigers were without Dan Coles and Ayerza in the front row, huge losses to the set piece and the bookies had Munster at minus eight to win this contest on the back of the news. The bookies are not rarely wrong and as the afternoon progressed, it became apparent that Munster were about to hand Leicester one of their most horrific losses in European Cup history.

The opening period performance of both sides were striking. Munster’s mobile front five were winning the fringe battles and Tigers were struggling to contain the ball carrying ability of Kilcoyne who was taking two to three Leicester Tigers to stop him. The visitors tackle count was soaring in the first quarter and with it came a loss of indiscipline. Poite quick to ping Leicester for ruck infringements and offside.

Cue Munster’s Tyler Bleyendaal to punish those penalties with emphatic fashion. A certain number eight looking down from above would have being pleased to see the scoreboard ticking over as the New Zealander was assured with his kicking off the tee and his kicks from hand was pinning Leicester deep in their own half, creating pressure on the lineout. 12-0 after thirty minutes was just rewards for the Munster dominance in the half.

While Munster’s number ten was having a superb outing, the same could not be said for his counterpart Freddie Burns who with a retreating pack was under immense pressure to clear his lines and when a penalty chance represented badly missed, long range yes but the execution was well off. Burns body language was not inspiring confidence around his colleagues.

Leicester probably would have being happy to come in at the break only twelve points down but Munster’s dominance was truly rewarded with the opening try just before the interval.

The try was created in the trenches; several lung bursting ball carries deep into Leicester territory by the pack. Murray though was sensational; spotted Zebo’s late run inside and his pass was stunning.

Leicester defensively were flat footed. Zebo was over and the game was as good as over. The fact that Ed Slater was off to the sin bin during this spell  will have pleased Erasmus and coaching staff. Munster killing opponents off when on the ropes.

Given the Leicester Tigers performance, Thomond Park expected a reaction from Leicester but the one way traffic in truth continued. The Munster pack again to the fore; their breakdown work was sublime and O’Mahoney, Stander and O’Donnell provided options in the lineout and ball carrying duties. Leicester coaching management on the sideline were ominously looking at the stands for answers but none were coming, the end result was inevitable.

Jaco Taute has being a superb loan signing for the province. The coaching staff often comment on the Stormers player ability to provide confidence and insight to younger squad members such as Arnold, Scannell but his performances on the pitch have being first rate. He leads by example; first time tackling, organizational skills defensively and his ability to pick mismatches in opposition defensive lines are his hallmarks.

If Taute leaves at the end of the year, it will be a bitter pill  for Munster to swallow. His second half tries were executed with power from close range as well as latching onto grubber kicks behind the Leicester defensive line. His hat-trick was thwarted with a penalty try. A sublime overall performance. A player who is loved by the locals; the Ric Flair Woo chants rang around the venue after each try. Powerhouse.

Every Munster player on duty put in another stellar shift; each player supporting his colleague in attacking and defensive duties. The breakdown work rate was at times breathtaking. O’Mahoney and Stander were irremovable forces at breakdown time, they flat out denied Leicester any quick ruck ball and stole ball in several occasions.

Murray at nine clearly won his battle with the talented Ben Youngs. Youngs floundered on slow ruck ball. Murray reveled in the space created by his dominant pack. His switch pass to Zebo for the first try killed the contest; brave pass to execute but Murray knew the rewards if it executed successfully. Lions scrum-half first choice after this cameo.

A special note for Munster winger Darren Sweetnam. Cork hurling is Munster’s gain.The player is having a stellar debut season with the province; his ability to read play and create game line yards with a quick turn and pace is sublime. Sweetnam’s offloading ability was to the fore. A supreme talent who will be an Ireland player soon.

Thirty-eight points without reply. Munster cannot have believed this scoreline at the start of the day but the relentless pressure squeezed the life out of Leicester in the opening period and the tries in the second half came from endless tackle count and Munster players prepared to make the hard yards to create openings.

Leicester are an extremely proud team. Munster will expect a backlash at Welford Road next weekend. The hosts will throw everything into this fixture; pride and jersey will be keywords ahead of this tussle. Munster will prepare knowing that the same work rate ethos and organization is required next week. A superb result but plenty still to do to secure ERC qualification to the quarter finals.

Richard Cockerill remarked that there was negativity around Munster last season and Leicester latched onto this. There was not a sniff of it yesterday; the Thomond Park faithful roared on their team. United team, united province, unified performance. Austin Healey’s reaction post-game spoke volumes; stunned would be an understatement. Roll on next weekend!