Beirne and Carbery shine as Munster keep Chiefs at bay
Munster 9 Exeter 7
Another throbbing occasion here, but the extra bodies squeezed into the crowd of 26,276 didn't go off into the chilly Limerick night chatting about the quality of what they had seen. Rather they were relieved their side had topped the pool. An away quarter-final, likely to be Edinburgh, is better than none at all - it would require Wasps and Bath both to win today for Munster to get a home tie.
The endgame was all about Munster keeping their defensive line intact against a blue tide playing from touchline to touchline looking for a break. In the end they were bundled out of play, empty-handed. An exciting finish then to largely awful game.
It was, of course, full-on. Equally, it was full of mistakes. The sides had drawn at Sandy Park, and the shape of this game would be determined by how the pool looked at kick-off. With everything to play for, for both teams, they didn't play a lot of rugby. And it was a perfect night for having a go. It didn't help that when either side tried to keep the ball in hand they as often as not spilled it. The handling errors were off the charts.
So it came down to tight margins of efficiency, and having quality players to keep their heads. Again Joey Carbery proved his value off the tee; it was his three from three that got Munster over the line. None of them was straightforward. It meant that Munster, tryless, were still good enough. And if Carbery is becoming a solid bet on his shooting stats, so too is Tadhg Beirne short odds on getting the man of the match award. He was a shoo-in here. Of more pressing concern, for club and country, will be the results of the knee scan, required after he picked up an injury yesterday.
As for the game's only try, it might rank as Munster's softest concession of the season. With the hosts 3-0 up from a Carbery penalty, on seven minutes, his opposite number Joe Simmonds got every inch out of a penalty punt to touch to give Exeter the position five metres from the line. A bit of movement in the lineout opened the door to a handy throw and take, and when the maul was dropped it took just one grunt around the side from Don Armand with Alex Hepburn latched onto him to get through the combined efforts of Tommy O'Donnell and Conor Murray. Exeter couldn't believe how little sweat was shed in picking that up. Simmonds added the extras for a 7-3 lead.
For the crowd - highly animated from the off - it was evidence that this would be another slog. Soon the only area the Munster fans felt really secure in was when their side packed down to a scrum. No surprise then that on 23 minutes the next burst of points from Carbery was a perfect strike off a scrum penalty. The surprising bit was that Exeter had opted to scrum the free-kick award that had preceded it. No point in laying down a marker on dodgy ground.
The crowd were getting fairly anxious soon enough over the bits that referee Jerome Garces was missing. Twice in the one sequence he allowed Santiago Cordero to try to make tackles from his position on the ground. Then he penalised Munster, which allowed the visitors to go close to the corner again. It took a great poach from Beirne to break that rhythm. Another fine turnover saved the home side when they were playing out the last run of phases under pressure and close to their own sticks. They were glad to get to the changing room only 7-6 down.
It wasn't until the 72nd minute that the picture changed. Munster had gone close a couple of times without closing the sale. Then Carbery nailed a fine kick to give his side the lead for the first time since the 15th minute. You'd have thought Exeter would have been more disappointed having gone so close, though they had needed to deny Munster a bonus point in order to progress via topping the pool. Coach Rob Baxter was sanguine, saying: "We've had a really good Heineken Cup experience, especially today, and I'm expecting us to use that next season - and for the rest of this season - to push on."
Scorers - Munster: Carbery 3 pens; Exeter: Armand try; Simmonds con.
Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 58), K Earls; J Carbery, C Murray (A Mathewson 65); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 67), N Scannell (R Marshall 73), J Ryan (S Archer 56), J Kleyn, T Beirne (B Holland 67), P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (A Botha h-t).
Exeter: J Nowell; S Cordero, H Slade, O Devoto (I Whitten 58), T O'Flaherty; J Simmonds, N White; A Hepburn (B Moon 54), J Yeandle (capt) (L Cowan-Dickie 58), H Williams (G Holmes 68), D Dennis (M Lees 51), J Hill, S Skinner, M Kvesic, D Armand.
Referee: J Garces (France).
Sunday Indo Sport