Munster overcome Exeter deficit to reach Champions Cup quarter-finals

Munster 26 Exeter 10 - Munster win on 34-23 on agg

Munster players, including Conor Murray, right, celebrate their side's first try during the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 second leg against Exeter Chiefs at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Captain Peter O’Mahony wound back the clock and led the way with a superb display as Munster advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup for the 20th time in their history.

A fired-up Munster side won all the key battles, with Joey Carbery kicking 16 points and getting in for their first try before World Cup winner Damien de Allende wrapped up in the closing stages as Exeter, five points up from the first leg, just could not get a foothold in the contest.

It was the perfect end to a week where Johann van Graan’s successor was finally announced and this is the sort of display that Graham Rowntree will hope will become the norm during his reign.

Munster led the game 13-5 at half-time and by 21-18 on aggregate after a tight opening half where Exeter struggled at the breakdown as O’Mahony and Jack O’Donoghue bossed matters on the floor for an interval turnover count of 7-1.

But scoring chances were scarce as Exeter dealt with Munster’s kicking game and, in turn van Graan’s men were organised sufficiently to deal with the Chiefs’ more expansive game.

Exeter were unable to make a yellow card to Conor Murray count when the Munster scrum-half impeded a quick tap from his opposite number Sam Mauder a few metres short of the line. Mauder managed to score but Joe Simmonds missed the relatively easy conversion and the Chiefs did not extend their 5-3 lead when they had the extra man.

Peter O'Mahony of Munster makes a break during the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 Second Leg match between Munster and Exeter Chiefs at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Carbery, who got Munster off the mark with a sixth minute penalty, edged them back in front with a 20-metre penalty after Mauder strayed offside as the home side pressed.

Carbery then pushed them ahead in the contest when he skipped inside winger Tom O’Flaherty and tighthead Harry Williams to score a converted try after 26 minutes, with Simmonds off target with a penalty from 45 metres with the wind behind him just before the break after Simon Zebo just failed to hold an attempted intercept pass from Ian Whitten.

Exeter, having strung a 10-phase move together, opted to tap two penalties in front of the posts and they were rewarded for their ambition after 49 minutes when No.8 Jacques Vermeulen did enough to squeeze over to make it 13-10 and edge them in front by two points on aggregate after Simmonds again fluffed the conversion.

Munster hit back and another turnover steal by O’Mahony presented Carbery with a penalty from 25 metres which he slotted to put them ahead by one on aggregate as both sides started emptying their benches for the final quarter.

Carbery pushed the aggregate lead out to four points with 15 minutes remaining when he kicked a superb penalty from just inside halfway.

O’Mahony continued to win superb ball at the breakdown and Munster pushed for home while enjoying a penalty advantage with Zebo doing superbly to offload infield in the left corner and de Allende brushed aside the challenge of Henry Slade to score, with Carbery continuing his perfect kicking record when he landed his sixth of the afternoon with the conversion from the touchline as Munster fans celebrated another great European victory.

Scorers: Munster - Tries: J Carbery, D de Allende. Cons: Carbery (2). Pens: Carbery (4). Exeter Chiefs - Tries: S Mauder, J Vermeulen.

Munster: M Haley; K Earls, C Farrell, D de Allende, S Zebo; J Carbery, C Murray (C Casey 70); J Wycherley (J Loughman 55), N Scannell (D Barron 55), J Ryan (S Archer 55); J Kleyn (T Ahern 60), F Wycherley; P O’Mahony (c) (J Jenkins 75), J Hodnett (A Kendellen 69, 6), J O’Donoghue.

Exeter Chiefs: S Hogg; O Woodburn (J Hodge 72), H Slade, I Whitten (T Hendricksen 74), T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds, S Maunder (J Mauder 58); A Hepburn (B Keast 60), J Yeandle (c) (J Innard 60), H Williams (P Schickerling 60); J Gray, S Skinner; D Ewers (S Grondona 74), J Kirsten, J Vermuelen (R Capstick 70).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).