Sunday 20 October 2019

Irish provinces go unbeaten in strong start to European campaigns

Munster head coach Johann Van Graan
Munster head coach Johann Van Graan Sportsdesk

Ireland's four provinces remain unbeaten after the opening weekend of European action.

In the Champions Cup, Munster eked out a titanic 10-10 draw in difficult conditions at Sandy Park, where Exeter Chiefs had only lost once in their last 17 games, while Ulster scored three tries in an impressive win over Leicester in Belfast.

And Connacht got their Challenge Cup campaign off to a solid start in the Sportsground with victory over Bordeaux-Begles.

Luke Cowan-Dickie scored Exeter's only try with Gareth Steenson adding a penalty and a conversion. CJ Stander scored for Munster, with Joey Carbery kicking a penalty and a conversion.

Munster head coach Johann Van Graan was delighted to come away with two points. "Nobody gave us a chance so I'm incredibly proud of the performance," he said. "We had chances to win it but so did they. They are a very difficult side to play against as they have a great ability to retain possession."

Second-half tries from Alan O'Connor, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale earned Ulster a 24-10 win over Geordan Murphy's Tigers in the Pool 4 opener. John Cooney kicked all three conversions and a penalty. The Tigers had led at half-time thanks to a George Ford penalty but failed to score again until Manu Tuilagi's 75th-minute converted try.

"It was a really, really tough game," said Ulster and Ireland skipper Rory Best. "But we had to front up and that's a win we're really happy with. It was about having the confidence and courage, and you do feel pressure without getting points, but the way we went about our business in the second half, that told eventually."

One of the big talking points of the day, however, came in Bath's home defeat by Toulouse. With the home side trailing by two points, Freddie Burns missed a 74th-minute penalty from in front of the posts and then blew a try barely 60 seconds later after breaking clear and crossing the Toulouse line before losing control of the ball under pressure from Maxime Medard, who nudged Burns' arm.

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Burns even blew a kiss as he appeared to enjoy an unopposed run-in, but it all went horribly wrong as he failed to touch down and Bath were left with an uphill struggle to qualify from a group that also includes champions Leinster.

Bath captain Rhys Priestland has backed a tearful Burns to bounce back. "We have got far bigger issues than him (Burns) dropping the ball over the line or missing that kick," Priestland said.

"We should have been good enough to not have to rely on one try or a kick here and there. It is probably something we need to speak about as a squad - celebrating before we score tries."

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