Friday 23 August 2019

Williams does it at the death

Leicester 18 Munster 16

Owen Williams kicks the dramatic late penalty that earned Leicester a Champions Cup victory over Munster at Welford Road
Owen Williams kicks the dramatic late penalty that earned Leicester a Champions Cup victory over Munster at Welford Road
David Kelly

David Kelly

IN a rivalry that has brought us nearly every possible drama through the years, these pair of perennially duelling foes served up something completely different but somehow compellingly the same.

We realised it the second Pascal Gauzere whistled against Jaco Taute as Munster lost yet another contest on the floor in an utterly absorbing contest as, with just 52 seconds remaining, Owen Williams stood upon the same sod of turf as Ronan O'Gara had 10 years ago.

Munster fans make out in force at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters
Munster fans make out in force at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

Then, O'Gara nailed his kick from within his own half to seal the most dramatic of wins; this time, Williams plunged the knife into Munster with his own fateful kick. It need not be fatal, as Munster still control their destiny in this pool.

The trip to Glasgow in early January is now pivotal, presuming Racing 92 raise the white flag on their flagging challenge and allow Munster to make hay with their game in hand.

After trading kicks in an error-strewn contest, Munster had seemed to thwart a Tigers' side transformed physically and mentally from the rabble that crumpled in Limerick, particularly when Niall Scannell's try with five minutes left gave them what seemed like a decisive 16-15 lead.

Ultimately, though, they got what they deserved. "If you'd told me we'd get six points from these matches, knowing we had a game in hand, I wouldn't be too displeased," offered a sanguine Rassie Erasmus after this breathless affair.

Munster's Simon Zebo is tackled by Leicester Tigers's Adam Thompstone during the European Champions Cup match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: David Davies/PA
Munster's Simon Zebo is tackled by Leicester Tigers's Adam Thompstone during the European Champions Cup match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: David Davies/PA

"It was always going to be tough if we were a little off our game and they were 100 per cent on theirs. They are fourth in the Premiership and sometimes when a team like that gets you on a roll, they can force you on the back foot. This was a Leicester team desperate for survival, playing at home, and they deserved to win that game. Even if Owen doesn't kick that over the bar at the end, they deserved to win because they were better than us on the day. It was a good match-up."

Crucially, although Munster couldn't control their own destiny for all 80 minutes of this match, their qualification hopes do remain within their grasp.

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"It's exciting. From my side, it's nerve-wracking, but exciting. It's a pool where, at the beginning, everyone was saying we're going to be 'the easy game' in the pool after the way we played last year.

"I think we're growing into a steady and a solid team. We've got a way to go. All of a sudden, a team doesn't become unbeatable. So, yeah, it's a very tight pool currently. We've got a game in hand but there are two away games coming so it's tough to go forward."

During their seven-game winning sequence, they won a couple they may easily have lost, so perhaps there may not be as much hand-wringing now that they lost a game they could have easily won, even despite the vast reverse of respective fortunes in seven days.

"Yes, especially after we got the yellow card to Simon Zebo late on, we grinded it out and then the forwards got a few driving mauls," he adds. "Then to go over at the end, I'm definitely proud of how we came back. That shows that the team can win important games, but then we made a silly error at the end."

Opposite number Richard Cockerill, who reportedly faced the sack had his side lost, said: "Those are the fine margins of happiness or sadness, I suppose.

"I thought both sides went into it manfully and I am delighted that we won. It doesn't change anything, we are still in the pool just about and there will be less shit written about the club this week.

"I don't think a kick at goal should dictate whether anybody loses their job or not. That is the nature of the sport. If the margins are that fine, then it is a tough place to be."

Munster led 6-0 after controlling the opening quarter but when Manu Tuilagi was yet again binned for a late hit on Rory Scannell, Leicester won the resultant bin period 6-0 to level matters, before Tyler Bleyendaal edged his side ahead.

Leicester recovered to gain the lead for the first time as Williams remained 100 per cent from the tee all day, and two more kicks gave his side a significant 15-9 lead in such a tight error-ridden game. But Scannell's late try from a close-in rumble seemed to set the back-to-back double success in stone.

Williams' late intervention demonstrated that there is always another twist of drama to this fabled rivalry. Munster's qualification route may have hit a rumblestrip but they are still more than capable of completing the rest of the journey without mishap.

Scorers - Leicester: O Williams 6 pens; Munster: N Scannell try; Bleyendaal 3 pens

Leicester Tigers: G Worth (H Thacker 78); A Thompstone, J Roberts, M Tuilagi, P Betham (T Brady 72); O Williams, B Youngs; E Genge (L Mulipola 62), T Youngs (c), P Cilliers (G Bateman 52), E Slater, G Kitchener (M Fitzgerald 52), L Hamilton, B O'Connor, L McCaffrey (M Williams 62).

Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, K Earls (A Conway 70); T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 72); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 51), N Scannell (R Marshall 75), J Ryan (S Archer 75), D Ryan, B Holland (J Kleyn 51), P O'Mahony (c), T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 64), R Copeland.

Referee: P Gauzere (FFR).

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