Northampton 6 – 17 Munster #news

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Gavin Coombes (right) scored twice as Munster returned to winning ways in the European Cup at Northampton

Gavin Coombes (right) scored twice as Munster returned to winning ways in the European Cup at Northampton

A Gavin Coombes double, and an immense second-half defensive performance during which Munster had to cope with three yellow cards, saw the Irish province secure a fiery 17-6 win over Northampton Saints at a baltic Franklin’s Gardens. 

Totally dominant in the first 40, Munster went in at the half-time break with their 17-6 advantage, but facing a referee they got on the wrong side of, and a particularly aggressive Saints side, no points were scored at all in the second half.

Northampton – Pens: Smith (20, 29). Yellow cards: Ludlam (53).

Munster – Tries: Coombes (14, 36). Cons: Carbery (15, 37). Pens: Carbery (27). Yellow cards: O’Donoghue (53), Casey (57), Carbery (68).

Northampton captain Lewis Ludlam was also sin-binned, and fortunate to avoid red, with replays showing he looked to make contact in and around the eyes of prop John Ryan just prior to an almighty melee.

The victory was huge for Munster, who lost Jack O’Donoghue (same scuffle as Ludlam), Craig Casey (taking a man out in the air) and Joey Carbery (repeated team penalties), but displayed monumental defence a week on from a tight defeat to Toulouse.

Showing strong defence and enterprising play in the opening minutes, Munster wing Keith Earls threw a pass just behind full-back Mike Haley with space on the outside, as the visitors settled quickly in a first meeting between the clubs for over a decade.

Lovely play by centre Antoine Frisch created space for Earls to break down the left within moments, but his kick-pass ahead just evaded the chasing Conor Murray.

A Munster counter-ruck saw them force a penalty five metres out, which skipper Peter O’Mahony and Carbery chose to kick to the corner. No points were forthcoming, however, as the Munster maul lacked the desired drive, before lock Jean Kleyn was penalised for going off-feet.

The visitors continued to enjoy the better of the play, with the game seeing a massively high ball-in-play time, but Saints could have struck the opener when a quick Rory Hutchinson lineout throw in the Munster 22 caused a commotion, only to bounce kindly for visiting prop Jeremy Loughman.

A superb Calvin Nash tackle and counter-ruck saw Munster win another penalty soon after, but after kicking to touch down the line, the driving maul again lacked the desired impetus, before centre Jack Crowley knocked on while running a hard line in the opposite corner.

A free-kick forced at the scrum against the head saw Munster come again, but though they came within inches of the try-line through several pick-and-go carries, Northampton just kept them out before infringing offside.

The away side chose to tap-and-go from five metres through hooker Niall Scannell, after which No 8 Coombes showed his power to crash over for the opening score.

No 8 Coombes forced his way over for the opening try on 14 minutes No 8 Coombes forced his way over for the opening try on 14 minutes

No 8 Coombes forced his way over for the opening try on 14 minutes

Hands in the ruck by Coombes on 16 minutes near his own 22 saw Northampton earn their first penalty of the match, and when Fin Smith kicked to the corner, Saints had their first major chance for points.

Munster’s maul defence proved outstanding, however, with Kleyn and flanker O’Donoghue leading the way and forcing the ball unplayable to win the turnover.

Northampton forced a penalty against the head at the resulting scrum, however, undoing the Kleyn and O’Donoghue’s good work and allowing Smith to kick to the corner once more, and when Munster were next caught offside, Smith kicked Saints onto the board at 7-3 in the 20th minute.

Fin Smith kicked two penalties for Saints, but that's all they would score in the clash Fin Smith kicked two penalties for Saints, but that's all they would score in the clash

Fin Smith kicked two penalties for Saints, but that’s all they would score in the clash

A lovely tactical kick from Murray pinned Northampton deep into their 22 in the next meaningful attack, but Munster allowed the hosts a soft exit when they pushed up offside.

Haley jackalled brilliantly to end the next Northampton attack, while more good work at the ruck down the other end saw Munster carve out a scrum to attack from on the edge of the Saints 22.

In any case, Northampton were penalised for offside following the set-piece, allowing Carbery to restore their seven-point advantage off the tee.

Joey Carbery struck a penalty and two conversions in victory at Franklin's Gardens Joey Carbery struck a penalty and two conversions in victory at Franklin's Gardens

Joey Carbery struck a penalty and two conversions in victory at Franklin’s Gardens

Obstruction by Carbery off a clever Alex Mitchell chip kick saw the home side respond immediately, however, through the boot of Smith from directly in front of the posts with his second successful penalty near the half-hour.

A Kleyn knock-on at a lineout saw Munster’s next attacking platform come to nothing, but they rectified things at the next scrum, nudging forward to win a penalty against the head and kick to touch deep in the 22.

It proved pivotal, as with four minutes of the opening half to play, a superb lineout move with Coombes on a peel to receive a Tadhg Beirne offload saw Munster and their No 8 strike for the second try of the day.

Coombes barged over for his second try in the closing stages of the first half Coombes barged over for his second try in the closing stages of the first half

Coombes barged over for his second try in the closing stages of the first half

A penalty and then free-kick forced by Munster at two lineouts handed them one final chance before the interval, but they chose to scrummage just inside the Saints half instead of kicking for territory.

A penalty given away for Loughman driving in on an angle instead gave Northampton a final opportunity, but Munster’s defence held firm to head in 17-6 ahead.

Tadhg Beirne was named player of the match, but umpteen Munster forwards who could have taken the award for their effort Tadhg Beirne was named player of the match, but umpteen Munster forwards who could have taken the award for their effort

Tadhg Beirne was named player of the match, but umpteen Munster forwards who could have taken the award for their effort

Saints started the second half poorly when scrum-half Mitchell kicked a box-kick out on the full, handing Munster a lineout on the Saints 22, but confusion in the attack saw the hosts come away with possession in steady rain.

A third Munster try looked imminent when Kleyn and Frisch charged through on a line-break, but Crowley’s decision to kick in favour of keeping ball in hand proved the wrong one.

Another Crowley knock-on stalled Munster’s momentum, and only great defence through 11 phases, culminating with Loughman forcing possession back from Mitchell, saw Munster clear after a Beirne lineout spillage.

The concession of back-to-back penalties, at lineout and maul, put Munster under pressure past the 50-minute mark, but a tremendous O’Donoghue breakdown penalty allowed them to clear the danger.

Soon after, a huge scuffle broke out between both sets of players, and would set in motion a second half which would see Munster pinned into their 22 and defending frantically for virtually the remainder.

Munster's goal-line defence during the second half was sensational Munster's goal-line defence during the second half was sensational

Munster’s goal-line defence during the second half was sensational

Though the brawl had seemingly been instigated, continued and escalated by Northampton skipper Ludlam, inexperienced referee Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy – a late call-up for this game due to illness – curiously sin-binned O’Donoghue alongside Ludlam after a long review with TMO Eric Briquet-Campin.

Lock Dave Ribbans and centre Matt Proctor were also exceptionally fortunate not to be sin-binned, the former for holding Ryan down by the throat and the latter for charging into a prone Earls out of control.

Northampton captain Lewis Ludlam was fortunate not to be shown a red card Northampton captain Lewis Ludlam was fortunate not to be shown a red card

Northampton captain Lewis Ludlam was fortunate not to be shown a red card

Referee Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy - a late call-up to this fixture - showed Ludlam yellow, but also sin-binned Jack O'Donoghue Referee Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy - a late call-up to this fixture - showed Ludlam yellow, but also sin-binned Jack O'Donoghue

Referee Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy – a late call-up to this fixture – showed Ludlam yellow, but also sin-binned Jack O’Donoghue

Saints back-row Juarno Augustus forced a breakdown penalty after Munster went through six phases, and within four minutes, Munster – who would have been forgiven for thinking Ludlam might have been red carded, with a strong suspicion of an eye-gouge on Ryan – were reduced to 13 men, as replacement scrum-half Casey was sin-binned for taking wing James Ramm out in the air.

Another lengthy TMO review followed, and despite Ramm landing safely, Casey was shown yellow, while the visitors avoided a penalty try decision.

Munster were reduced to 13 men when scrum-half Craig Casey was sin-binned for taking a man out in the air Munster were reduced to 13 men when scrum-half Craig Casey was sin-binned for taking a man out in the air

Munster were reduced to 13 men when scrum-half Craig Casey was sin-binned for taking a man out in the air

Two penalties against Munster at two mauls followed, only for O’Mahony to produce a huge trademark steal at a third lineout five metres from his own try-line.

Haley – playing as a scrum-half with Casey off – didn’t find huge ground with his clearance kick, and when Northampton’s Hutchinson sent an attacking kick forward along the turf, Haley was forced to carry back over his own try-line, handing Saints a five-metre attacking scrum.

O’Donoghue and Ludlam returned with there having been no further scores, but with Casey still absent, Northampton attacked through 14 phases only for phenomenal Munster defence to keep them out and force them back down the pitch.

An incorrect penalty against Haley for not releasing before jackalling gave Northampton one final attack with Casey off, but Beirne stole the five-metre lineout so Munster could clear again after an incredible spell of defensive work.

Beirne stole a Northampton five-metre lineout attack vs a man less, as Munster kept producing turnovers Beirne stole a Northampton five-metre lineout attack vs a man less, as Munster kept producing turnovers

Beirne stole a Northampton five-metre lineout attack vs a man less, as Munster kept producing turnovers

Just as Casey re-emerged, Carbery – penalised for offside – was sin-binned for repeat team offences, leaving Munster to see out all but the final two minutes with a man less.

Just as Casey returned from his yellow card, Carbery was sin-binned for repeated team infringements Just as Casey returned from his yellow card, Carbery was sin-binned for repeated team infringements

Just as Casey returned from his yellow card, Carbery was sin-binned for repeated team infringements

A series of Northampton attacks followed, as well as a five-metre scrum, but Munster flanker John Hodnett did fantastically to force turnover ball at the breakdown.

Still the attacking Saints phases kept coming (18, and then five) with Munster down to 14, but the visitors continued to have the answers, and in the face of Northampton’s final attack vs a man less, Coombes forced yet another priceless breakdown turnover.

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