Munster put in an impressive performance in their demolition of Leicester Tigers at Thomond Park on Saturday night and in the process took charge of Pool 4, now sitting four points clear of Castres in second.
A cagey opening period at a freezing Limerick saw much of the play in the centre of the field until referee Jerome Garces penalised Leicester for failing to roll away. Ian Keatley gladly took the penalty opportunity afforded to him, slotting the ball between the posts to give the home side a 3-0 lead after eight minutes.
New Zealander Rhys Marshall got the game’s opening try when receiving a pop-pass from an impressive Conor Murray, crossing the line for the five-pointer. Keatley added the extras to move his side 10-0 clear by the end of the opening quarter.
By this stage Keatley was in full flow and when the Tigers’ prop Dan Cole was penalised for foul play, the Dublin-born kicker again dissected the posts with an excellent effort to put Munster into a comfortable lead.
Try number two for the hosts came through Simon Zebo, his 58th for the province. A beautiful kick ahead for the Corkman, who at first looked as though he may have been ahead of Keatley who had kicked the ball forward, saw the ball bounce perfectly on the hallowed turf and into Zebo’s welcoming hands. Referee Garces checked the legality of the score with his TMO, who had a busy afternoon, but then immediately awarded the try. Keatley successfully converted and Leicester were now looking at a possible repeat of the 38-0 drubbing dished out to them in the corresponding fixture last season.
Tigers finally scored in the 36th minute when CJ Stander was penalised in front of his own posts for not rolling away. George Ford scored the three points from an easy kicking effort for a player of his quality.
Ford’s good work was undone two minutes later by his teammate Tom Youngs when a dangerous looking tackle on Chris Cloete, which didn’t warrant a yellow card in the match referee’s opinion, saw Keatley immediately wipe out Leicester’s three points, to leave Munster 23-3 clear at the break.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony claimed his side’s third try in the 55th minute before South African Chris Cloete scored the bonus point fourth try on his Champions Cup debut in the red of Munster 12 minutes later.
In between the home side’s third and final tries, Leicester’s Harry Thacker had scored from a maul (which Ford converted), the only time the Tigers would successfully cross the try-scoring line.
In the final quarter Matt O’Connor’s men seemed to have some momentum but the home side managed to stifle that out as one turnover after another prevented the Aviva Premiership club from getting any closer to Munster on the scoreboard. By the final whistle Munster had easily defeated the former two-time European Champions on a 33-10 scoreline.
Next Sunday, Munster, now five points ahead of the Tigers, travel to Welford Road to complete the December back-to-back fixtures. Knowing that they dominated the English club in Limerick, they will hope to get a positive result at the 25,849 capacity venue.