Munster’s winning streak comes to a halt with last minute penalty
Leinster and Connacht win as Ulster stumbles at Clermont Auvergne
By Phil Rice
With eight straight wins behind them, Munster faced a Leicester team who they had beaten 38-0 the previous week, with an justifiable air of confidence and self belief.
However this is a proud Leicester team smarting from that defeat and a Head Coach, by all accounts, whose job was on the line. Richard Cockerill has been associated with Leicester since he left school both as a player and coach, he wasn’t going to give up without a fight. From the beginning Munster realised that Leicester were going to be a different proposition from the previous week. Their commitment to the cause was on a different level.
However having trailed 15-9 with five minutes to go, Munster dug deep and from a driving maul Niall Scannell scored a converted try to take the visitors into the lead. But salvation was not complete as Owen Williams did to Munster what Ronan O’Gara had done to Leicester 10 years before at the same venue, and landed a long range penalty in the final minute, to snatch the points.
Munster are in second place to Glasgow in their group after this result but they have a game in hand against Racing 92, who have zero points and have underperformed hugely. Racing have no chance of qualifying and Munster must hope that the French Champions lose interest completely in the competition.
The performance of the weekend from the Irish provinces came from Connacht against Wasps. The English side are many people’s favourites for the Cup this year, with no obvious weaknesses in their team.
In keeping with the Western province’s fairytale existence of late, the victory came in unexpected fashion. Fijian back-row forward Naulia Dawai only registered for the province last week but he managed to produce the winning try in the last minute, with Jack Carty holding his nerve to kick the conversion for a 20-18 victory.
Cue celebrations as only Connacht supporters can! This victory takes them level on points with Wasps and Toulouse in a very closely fought group. Connacht have Zebre at home and Toulouse away in what promises to be a nail-biting finish. Wasps are favourites to progress with a home match with Toulouse and an away game at Zebre. However if Connacht get a bonus point victory against Zebre then just a losing bonus point in Toulouse may be sufficient to see them through to the knock-out stages.
Leinster comprehensively beat Northampton the previous week but they were wary of a fight-back from a team who had done precisely that two years ago. But there was no need for concern. Northampton travelled with a team short of five internationals, and nowhere near good enough to trouble one of the form teams in Europe. Leinster scored nine tries in a 60-13 victory.
It was difficult to draw any conclusions from such a one-sided game, but the 38,000 crowd enjoyed the try fest and the near certain prospect of Leinster qualifying from their group.
Ulster visited the home of Clermont Auvergne one of the favourites for the trophy and found themselves trailing by 28-0 shortly after half time.
A stirring fightback to 28-19 ran out of steam when Paddy Jackson was judged to have deliberately knocked on and was sin-binned and a penalty try awarded. Clermont ran out 38-19 winners. Ulster have it all to do if they hope to qualify.
The festive period brings the provinces into direct competition again, with Ulster hosting Connacht and Leinster going to Thomond Park.
The winner of the Munster v Leinster game will top the Pro12 league entering the New Year.