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Match Report: Munster Rugby 23 – 26 Northampton Saints

Northampton Saints buried the ghosts of past near misses at Thomond Park, producing a miraculous second-half display to defeat Munster away for the very first time.

Phil Dowson was on the pitch 12 years ago when Ronan O’Gara struck a late match-winning drop-goal to break Saints’ hearts. This time around, the Director of Rugby roared from the rafters and embraced his colleagues as the men in Black, Green and Gold claimed one of their finest-ever European wins.

A rain-lashed evening had started well when Alex Mitchell landed the game’s first try, but Munster hit back with a Jack Crowley penalty and tries from Calvin Nash and Peter O’Mahony as Saints first lost George Furbank to the sin bin and then Curtis Langdon saw red – all before the interval. 

Fin Smith masterfully landed three penalties and a drop-goal to ensure Gavin Coombes’ try early into the second half wouldn’t see Munster get out of sight. And this time around it was Saints who struck a telling late blow, as Sam Graham got their second try to secure a remarkable victory.

FIRST HALF 

A quarter of the game had passed on a wet and blustery evening in Limerick without a score, as Saints dominated territory and possession without registering a point.

The visitors remained patient and got their reward when scrum-half Mitchell picked up from the base of central ruck just outside the 22 and darted through a gap, dummying a pass to the supporting run of Alex Coles to finish well despite some desperate scramble defence. Smith added the conversion.

The second period of the first half belonged to Munster as Crowley kicked them onto the scoreboard with a penalty before missing with a second soon after.

Captain Furbank saw yellow for a tip tackle on Nash, and shortly afterwards, the numerical advantage paid dividends as Crowley fed Nash to go over untouched.

Worse was to follow for Saints before the break as they were reduced to 13 men when hooker Langdon was red carded after a collision with Thomas Aherne in a ruck.

Munster once more capitalised as Shane Daly lobbed a wide pass into space for Nash to put O’Mahoney into the right corner to evade Tommy Freeman’s brave tackle and score Munster’s second. Crowley missed the touchline conversion as the Irish province took an eight-point lead in at the break.

SECOND HALF

Still operating at a two-man disadvantage three minutes into the restart, Smith closed the gap to five points with a brilliant penalty from 45 metres out.

Munster stretched Saints left and right through Crowley’s crossfield kicks, the first finding Antoine Frisch in space, however Fraser Dingwall covered brilliantly to mark the second shortly before Furbank returned to proceedings.

Playing expansively didn’t deliver rewards, so Munster kept it tight and after a prolonged period of battering their way at a belligerent white wall of defence, Coombes was driven over the line from close range. Crowley crucially missed the conversion that followed.

Smith’s second successful penalty was followed by a monstrous drop-goal as another memorable Saints fightback appeared tantalisingly within reach.

Crowley and Smith traded penalties as the rain lashed down setting up an intriguing finale with Northampton just four points behind.

Then came the moment that will live long in the memory. Courtney Lawes arrived at a 70th minute ruck on the Munster 22 and earned his side a breakdown penalty. Smith kicked to the corner and the forwards drove a maul infield and Graham wriggled free to scamper over for a try that Smith converted.

Munster still had eight more minutes with the extra man to extend their winning run over Saints at Thomond Park to six, but it was Northampton who closed out the game to stretch their own winning run in all competitions to nine.

LINE UPS

MUNSTER: Zebo, Nash, Frisch, Nankivell, Daly, Crowley, Casey; Loughman, Scannell, Jager, Ahern, Beirne (c), O'Mahony, Hodnett, Coombes.
Replacements: Clarke, Wycherley, Ryan, Gleeson, Kendellen, Murray, Carbery, O’Brien.

SAINTS: Furbank (c), Freeman, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Sleightholme, Smith, Mitchell; Waller, Curtis Langdon Davison, Mayanavanua, Coles, Lawes, Pearson, Augustus.
Replacements: Smith, Iyogun, Millar-Mills, Moon, Graham, James, Odendaal, Savala.

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