Tuilagi brace can't take shine off Munster display
Munster came up just short last night as they kicked off the new season with a challenge match against Leicester Tigers.
Minus Ronan O'Gara, Paul O'Connell and a host of front-line players, the next generation of Munster stars were given their chance to shine against a full-strength Leicester side, who scored two tries through Alesana Tuilagi.
Fit-again Denis Leamy scored Munster's only try and despite the loss, there were several positives for head coach Tony McGahan to observe.
Up front, Leamy looked exceptionally sharp in his first game after injury, and he shaded his battle against England hopeful Jordan Crane.
Fellow back-rowers Donnacha Ryan and Tommy O'Donnell also stood out, while Denis Fogarty impressed in the front row.
Ian Dowling was Munster's most impressive back throughout and new signing Sam Tuitupou had an industrious first outing, strong in the tackle and able to recycle ball quickly and cleanly. Paul Warwick also looked reasonably assured in the No 10 jersey and his long-range penalty on 16 minutes opened the scoring for Munster. The Tigers broke their duck shortly after when Tuilagi barged his way over for the opening try, converted by Toby Flood.
Tempers threatened to boil over around the half-hour mark and Leicester prop Boris Stankovitch was yellow-carded for lashing out against Dowling. Munster made good use of their one-man advantage and Warwick tapped over another penalty after excellent work by O'Donnell.
But a powerful Leicester scrum forced a penalty on the stroke of half-time, and Flood tapped over to send the visitors into the break with a four-point advantage.
Munster were sharp out of the blocks in the second half and Leamy marked his return to red with a smart try, converted by Warwick. A raft of substitutions then disrupted the flow of the game and Tuilagi capitalised on some uncertainty in the Munster defence by crashing over in the corner.
Flood once more converted, his last action before former Munster man Jeremy Staunton replaced him at out-half. Leicester then began to boss the game and caused considerable damage through their powerful scrum.
A period of extensive pressure around the hour mark looked certain to yield a try, but the visitors were held off by some fine defending.
Felix Jones -- also returning after a long injury lay-off -- was particularly impressive having come on as a second-half substitute, making a string of excellent tackles in the final quarter of the field.
Academy graduate Simon Zebo also made a strong impact off the bench, and his dynamic running inspired a late surge by Munster as they attempted to turn defeat into victory.
But the Tigers held their nerve in the face of pressure to secure a win which on balance, they probably deserved.
Munster -- S Deasy; D Hurley, D Barnes (C Hircock 76), S Tuitupou (F Jones 40), I Dowling (S Zebo 67) ; P Warwick, D Williams (C Murray 55) ; W du Preez, D Fogarty (M Sherry 66), S Archer (D Hurley 41); B Holland, D Foley (I Nagle 41); D Ryan (J Coughlan 55), T O'Donnell (P O'Mahony 41), D Leamy (P Butler 67)
Leicester -- G Murphy (S Hamilton 67); S Hamilton (M Tuilagi 40), A Allen, M Smith (D Hipkiss 41), A Tuilagi; T Flood (J Staunton 60), B Youngs (J Grindal 60); D Cole (M Castrogiovanni 41), G Chuter, B Stankovitch; C Green, G Skivington; T Waldron (M Amerza 34-ht), B Woods, J Crane (S Slater 53).
Ref -- D Phillips.