Munster fail to trouble Tigers
Munster 19 Leicester 31
The history of this fixture features some remarkable and unlikely wins away from home for both teams, so Munster will be clinging to that going to Welford Road on Sunday for the return leg. And hanging on is what they are doing now.
The figure three features large for both Munster and the Tigers: the Reds have lost three in a row between Pro12 and Champions Cup, and their interest in the latter is now very difficult for them to sustain with trips to Leicester and Paris to come. The Tigers on the other hand are three from three in this competition. And looking very happy about it.
Filling Welford Road is hardly a novel event, but it will be made easier next weekend by the input of the travelling Munster fans. Self-styled The Brave and Faithful, it's at times like this they earn their title. Their team played loads of rugby in the first half at a bitterly cold Thomond Park, where 22,261 showed up, and had very little to show for it.
By the end Leicester were comfortable, resorting to risk-free rugby once they had gone 25-14 ahead before the third quarter was out. Lachlan McCaffrey was man of the match in a pack that traded pretty evenly with their opponents, at the set piece and around the field. And while the Tigers had a couple of potential game breakers behind the scrum in Telusa Veainu and Vereniki Goneva, neither exactly ripped it up - albeit the wing did very well for his try.
It was fast and entertaining, but the number of miscalculations from key players in the spine of Munster's team really cost them. At least they know that fixing those mistakes is do-able, so the return leg is not written off despite the Tigers winning streak between Premiership and Europe now stretching to five.
Another Tigers' try would have taken them into bonus territory here, but they were well satisfied with their haul. They were doing very well to be 6-6 around the half hour mark, having spent most of that on the back foot, when the game took a significant twist on the back of a referral upstairs for an incident which Munster fans reckoned would end with a penalty to their team.
Mike Fitzgerald had taken out Andrew Conway as the Munster full back chased his own kick ahead. Sure enough the Tigers' second row had stepped out of line, but the initial shove on him from James Cronin swayed Mr Poite in Leicester's favour.
So instead of a chance to create pressure off a penalty to touch, the Reds were experiencing just that in the Tigers' favour. A runaway maul put them in deep trouble, and on an advantage play Goneva left three tacklers in his wake to score in the corner. The conversion from Williams was on the money.
To be 11-6 up on 31 per cent possession away from home wasn't bad going. To go 18-6 up a few minutes later was dreamland stuff if you had travelled from England's midlands, and nightmarish if your journey had started a bit closer to Thomond Park.
Again it was a lineout at the root of it, this time a home throw which went horribly wrong, and into the arms of the hugely grateful Fitzgerald who scored form close range.
So, a 12-point gap for the Tigers to work off, with the capricious wind mostly in their faces in the second half. To make it worse for Anthony Foley however, he couldn't lambaste his team at half time for having played like drains. Much of what they did had been very good, but undermining it all was a pretty high error count from a few individuals: Andrew Conway in particular was struggling to make things work, and as the game wore on Ian Keatley's accuracy off the tee went south.
Even so, Leicester were immediately in trouble in the new half when they messed up a lineout on their own line for Conor Murray to score. A penalty a few minutes later from Keatley cut the gap to four points, but despite Marcos Ayerza being binned for tackling Murray off the ball, the Tigers coped well.
It helped that Ben Youngs scored the unlikeliest of tries when breaking what looked like the wrong way off a ruck, 30 metres from the Munster line. That put them out to 25-14, and the crowd lost some of their belief. Munster kept hammering away but a try for replacement Mike Sherry was the extent of thier reward. Thomas Bell was able to tack on a couple of penalties when they presented themselves, and Leicester were never in danger. We'll see how it pans out on Sunday.
Scorers - Munster: Cronin, Sherry tries; Keatley 3 pens. Leicester: Goneva, Fitzgerald, Youngs tries; Williams 2 cons, 3 pens; Bell pen
Munster: A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley (G Amorosino 64), S Zebo; I Keatley (R Scannell 74), C Murray (T O'Leary 68); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 55), N Scannell, BJ Botha (J Ryan 39), D Foley (M Chisholm 55), D Ryan, R Copeland, CJ Stander (capt), D O'Callaghan (J O'Donoghue 72)
Leicester: T Veainu; A Thompstone (G Camacho 79), M Smith, S Bai, V Goneva; O Williams (T Bell 64), B Youngs, (S Harrison 68); M Ayerza (yc 45-55; M Aguero 77), T Youngs (H Thacker 78)D Cole (F Balmain 74), G Kitchener, M Fitzgerald (D Barrow 72), E Slater (capt)(L Pearce 68), L McCaffrey, B O'Connor
Referee: R Poite (France)
Sunday Indo Sport