Tuesday 16 January 2018

Munster crash out but Leinster keep their hopes alive

Ian Keatley shows his disappointment after Munster’s heavy defeat at Saracens
Ian Keatley shows his disappointment after Munster’s heavy defeat at Saracens
Sean Cronin, Leinster, scores his side's fourth try
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The prospects of Ireland drawing a blank in the knock-out stages of Europe's premier competition for the first time since 1998 receded thanks to Leinster taking a winning bonus point from their demolition of Castres in the RDS last night.

Matt O'Connot's side had the bonus point sorted just before half time, leaving them in pole position in Pool 2 going to the Ricoh Arena on Saturday where Wasps, in second place, now trail them by two points. The winner is guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals.

Sean Cronin's try just before the break had secured Leinster's bonus point, and the tries kept coming in the second half in a very comfortable 50-8 win. O'Connor's rampant side got in for seven tries in total.

Earlier in the day Munster were beaten out the gate by a physical and highly motivated Saracens side. Having lost the first leg 14-3 in Thomond Park in October, Mark McCall's side dominated virtually from first whistle to last in an impressive 33-10 win.

The loss of CJ Stander in the second quarter compounded the absence of Conor Murray for Munster, but the Saracens set-piece was so dominant it's hard to see how either of that pair could have made a telling difference.

"It was very disappointing," coach Anthony Foley said afterwards. "We didn't turn up at times. If you look at their scores, they probably started with a big error by us. We didn't fire a shot, particularly early on in such an important game for us with the tournament on the line."

It was the first time Munster had lost three in a row in the premier European competition and only the second time in 17 years that they have failed to qualify for the knock-out stages.

"With a result like that, we don't get out of our group," Foley continued. "We need to address a few things and make sure that we turn up next weekend (against Sale) and put in a performance.

"We were dropping passes, we were passing the ball to fresh air. There is a lot of character in the team and a lot of good players. It is just unfortunate that we played like we did today."

Man of the match Billy Vunipola hacked up at the back of a Saracens pack that bullied Munster around the park.

"Billy was phenomenal today," Saracens coach McCall said. "He was a force of nature in attack and defence, but I thought we had outstanding performances right through the group."

Ulster were no-hopers going to Toulon yesterday, albeit their target may have been not to come home with a record defeat. But that's what they got: the 60-22 scoreline was their biggest ever concession in Europe, beating by four the toll suffered against Wasps in 1997. The eight tries conceded was a record as well.

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