Rampant Munster humiliate Leicester
Munster 38 Leicester 0
Not exactly a stellar pool campaign this for the Tigers. In round one in Glasgow they had 42 points stuck on them, the biggest concession in their European history. And here at Thomond Park, on a perfect evening for rugby, they suffered to the tune of 38, which obliterated their previous worst losing margin of 34 points. And that one, coincidentally, also took place on this island - Ravenhill in 2011/12.
So Munster's transformation continues, from a side who looked well short of a gallop when they were beaten by Leinster in the Guinness Pro12 in early October to a seven-in-a row side coming up to Christmas. It's like watching two different teams.
For the rest of this week you'd imagine Rassie Erasmus will be warning his side about the Tigers' tail, and how it can do a bit of damage on the return leg of fixtures where they've been milled first time out. That would be quite a turnaround. "They'll be mad to get us over there and get stuck into us," Munster captain Peter O'Mahony said. "So this is a massive week for the club."
Discipline will be top of Richard Cockerill's to-do list. He watched his team pick up three yellow cards on a penalty count that went against them to the tune of 11-5. And if they had more than a few decent attacking platforms over the 80 minutes then they came to nought.
Munster started on top, with CJ Stander picking up what is now referred to in these circles as the CJ Stander award, such is his consistency in things man of the match. They finished on top too, with a penalty try on 72 minutes giving them the bonus point. And in the middle they were better too. Pretty much everywhere.
It was only when Ben Youngs, architect of a much of England's best work in November, was replaced that we realised he had been on the pitch at all. Behind the better pack Conor Murray was excellent. So too Simon Zebo and Tyler Bleyendaal, who was seven from nine off the tee. And captain O'Mahony was in the same class as Stander for work-rate.
The aggregate was far too much for the visitors, who looked anything but a side who are seven from 10 in the Premiership, where they lie fourth. Looks like they will be concentrating on that one from now on.
With box-kicks the default it wasn't a great game to watch, even if the relationship in this between Murray and Darren Sweetnam is developing into an art form. It's just not to everyone's taste. Which is not to say that it wasn't effective.
In the Tigers' case it kept them on the back foot, and from there they were in the manure business trying to wade upfield without incurring the wrath of Romain Poite. By half-time the penalty count was 8-3 in Munster's favour. It felt like more, perhaps because the crowd got in on the act and, sniffing a yellow card if the trend continued, they howled every time the ref blew. On the seventh offence they got their way, with the sin-binning of second-row Ed Slater. Unfortunately that was the cue for Tyler Bleyendaal to miss for the first time, having looked unshakeable in knocking over four penalties inside half an hour for a 12-0 lead.
Never mind, with the extra man Munster opted to make Leicester work overtime, taking them through phase after phase. They mixed up the grunt stuff with some nice shifts in attack, and then struck clinically for seven points.
Tigers No 8 Lachlan McCaffrey was half way through following Conor Murray out of position at the side of a ruck when he realised he'd been suckered. The scrum-half threw a blind inside pop where he knew Simon Zebo would be trailing and the full-back got over without a hand being laid on him.
The psychological effect for Munster was almost as good as the positive impact on the scoreline, for having the extra man creates its own pressure for the team enjoying the numerical superiority: score and you make a point about your ability to take your chances; fail to score and that tells a different story.
So the Reds went into the half-time break with a 19-0 advantage; by 50 minutes it was game over.
As if to illustrate how little was going Leicester's way, even when they got a break it turned out badly. When Rory Scannell hit a lovely looking exit punt about 45 metres it barely landed on the line, for zero gain. Then Tom Youngs threw to the tail and it was called crooked.
From there Munster worked their way downfield after Keith Earls did really well to bat back a Bleyendaal cross-kick that had slid off his boot. Suddenly the Tigers were bailing water again. Whereupon they were holed beneath the water line. It would be the first of a remarkable sequence for Jaco Taute: his first try came from close in after the Leicester pack had been shunted back more than 20 metres at a maul; a few well controlled phases later and the South African was over. The second, seven minutes later, was down to great work from Sweetnam; and Taute could claim the third, the penalty try, as it was he who was hauled down by George Worth in pursuit of a hack ahead.
The crowd lapped it up. Already they are making travel plans beyond the pool.
Scorers - Munster: Taute 2 tries, Zebo; penalty try; Bleyendaal 4 pens, 3 cons)
Munster: S Zebo (A Conway 68); D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell (I Keatley temp, 26-38), K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 66); D Kilcoyne (T du Toit 58), N Scannell, J Ryan (S Archer 66), D Ryan, B Holland (J Kleyn 58), P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 58).
Leicester Tigers: G Worth (yc 73); A Thompstone, M Tuilagi (yc 59; T Brady 73), O Williams, P Betham; F Burns (J Roberts 52), B Youngs (S Harrison 56); E Genge (P Cilliers 77), T Youngs (capt, G McGuigan 59), L Mulipola (G Bateman 52), E Slater (yc 33-43), G Kitchener, M Fitzgerald (L Hamilton HIA, 43), L McCaffrey (W Evans 68), B O'Connor.
Referee: R Poite (France)
Sunday Indo Sport