Johann van Graan hails Beirne after new Munster recruit sets the tone
Exeter 10 Munster 10
With Tadhg Beirne and Peter O'Mahony working in tandem, anything looks possible for Munster.
They may still be without an away win this season but this draw in Exeter was a performance of real substance that reminded those with doubts that the Reds remain a force.
The last two seasons have seen them reach the semi-finals and their dogged display at the Premiership leaders showed that they have it within them to get back to that level once more.
Without Conor Murray and with Keith Earls crying off in the warm-up with a hamstring injury, they executed a game-plan that saw them out-Chief the Chiefs.
They correctly reflected that they had the chances to win it, yet if they back the draw up with a victory at home to Gloucester on Saturday they'll be in a strong position ahead of their back-to-backs with Castres in December.
Joey Carbery had one of those moments every out-half endures in his youth, but can learn the lesson without the shame of defeat thanks to a mammoth 22-phase goal-line defensive set after 79 minutes of pulsating rugby.
It was old school, but it was the combination of new men and experienced campaigners that will give Munster fans the most cause of optimism as they look forward to welcoming Gloucester to Limerick.
In front of Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby, Beirne was outstanding on his European debut for Munster. He carried superbly, tackled hard and made life hell for the Chiefs at the ruck and lineout.
"Tadhg was excellent. He was man of the match, but there are small things that maybe people don't see," Johann van Graan said.
"He ran the lineout. He did it against a quality contesting side like Exeter, in this wind. All credit to him.
"His poaching was so good today and that line he ran in the first half, he almost scored. He gives you an all-round performance and the biggest thing he gives is an 80-minute performance. He doesn't seem to stop.
"For a No 5 lock to work around the corner like that is unreal and it is great for us to have him. Fair play to him on a great performance."
Next weekend, Beirne comes face to face with the man he replaced at Munster, Gerbrandt Grobler - who is also in excellent form.
Whereas Grobler brought plenty of baggage during his one-year stay in Limerick, Beirne only arrives with an upside. An Ireland international since the summer, the former Scarlet's relentless energy has only lifted those around him.
With Peter O'Mahony in the form of his life, CJ Stander growing into the season, Jean Kleyn bringing his customary brute force and Chris Cloete offering plenty of mongrel, there is a world-class look to the back five.
They helped the team to control the first half at Sandy Park despite playing into a strong wind.
With Beirne calling the lineout and Carbery pulling the strings, O'Mahony explained his team are operating with clarity of purpose.
"It is great to look around and you almost know what you are going to call together," he said.
"There is a good bond there between the lineout callers and the game management group and that is what you need in that dynamic.
"You need guys that you kind of know what they are thinking and he is on the right page."
Put Murray and Alby Mathewson in the mix and it's a potent combination.
They may have to wait a while for both, so Duncan Williams' demonstration of his capacity to step into the breach was timely.
His delivery may be sluggish, but there's no doubting his courage and, at 10-3 down, he made an outstanding match-saving triple defensive play.
It didn't go unnoticed.
"He was excellent," Van Graan said.
"With the pressure that was on him today, in that first half in particular. We had to go zig, zag to get ourselves into good positions.
"His kicking was excellent, his defence was excellent. There were small little things too. His counter-rucking, clipping the nine and forcing a turnover, it was a really good 75-minute shift from him and I am really glad for him."
At that stage, Munster were behind on the scoreboard but on top everywhere else.
Luke Cowan-Dickie's try and five points from Gareth Steenson had Exeter in front, but eventually the Munster pressure told when Stander barrelled over and Carbery converted.
They were earlier harshly denied a Cloete try for a Beirne obstruction, while their old failing of a lack of composure came back to bite them in their opponents' 22 too often.
That will be the key focus and if they can hold their nerve within sight of the line, Gloucester could be in trouble.
The Cherry and Whites are part of the chasing pack in England and having gone toe-to-toe with one of the two teams they are chasing, and looking the better team, Munster will fancy their chances.
Their mission now is to do everything they can to make sure their quarter-final place is booked before Exeter come to Limerick in January. The rest of us would relish a pool decider between these heavyweights, but both of the protagonists want an easier run.
"It would be an incredible occasion for us if it was winner-takes-all at Thomond Park. I hope maybe it doesn't. I hope we will both be through when we get there," Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter said.
EXETER CHIEFS - P Dollman; J Nowell, H Slade, I Whitten, S Cordero; G Steenson, S Townsend; B Moon (A Hepburn 58), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 58), H Williams (T Francis 58); D Dennis (O Atkins 43), S Skinner (T Lawday 66); D Ewers (L Cowan-Dickie 66-76), D Armand, M Kvesic.
MUNSTER - M Haley; A Conway, D Goggin (S Arnold 61) (JJ Hanrahan 69), R Scannell, D Sweetnam; J Carbery, D Williams (N Cronin 74); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 46), N Scannell (R Marshall 58), S Archer (J Ryan 46); J Kleyn, T Beirne (B Holland 62); P O'Mahony (capt), C Cloete (T O'Donnell 61), CJ Stander.
Ref - J Garces (France).