Rhys Gill’s yellow card proved the turning point as Munster battled to a 14-3 triumph over Saracens in a dour clash at Thomond Park.
Rhys Gill’s yellow card proved the turning point as Munster battled to a 14-3 win over Saracens in a dour encounter at Thomond Park.
The Welsh international was sin-binned ten minutes into the second half for a tip tackle, just as Sarries looked to be taking the initiative.
Dave Kilcoyne went over and Ian Keatley added a penalty as the home side scored eight points in ten minutes with an extra man.
Another Keatley drop goal sealed the win for Munster, who showed their big game temperament to pick up a crucial four points.
Munster came into the game on the back of another miraculous European win, in Salford Keatley was the hero with a last-second drop goal to deny Sale.
Sarries meanwhile emerged victorious in a thriller against Clermont, with two tries apiece for David Strettle and Chris Ashton even handing them a bonus point.
So after two exciting games to open their campaigns, it was a big disappointment that both sides seemed reluctant to take any chances, and the first half was a real let-down.
Thomond Park may be full of passion and atmosphere, but even the Red Army must have been frustrated by the kicking battle which seemed to kill off any chance of some rugby breaking out.
The first real chance of the game came when Keatley’s penalty attempt came back off the post but Andrew Conway knocked the ball on under pressure from Jamie George as a try went begging.
The up and under seemed to be the tactic of choice for both teams, and admittedly given the conditions, the idea was not a bad one, if only the teams had considered a plan B.
Keatley did finally open the scoring after a Munster maul after 26 minutes, and the biggest eye-opener of the first half came when Owen Farrell, on his return from injury, missed a penalty from virtually in front.
He was back on target when Munster were penalised on the floor and 3-3 was how it stayed at half-time after a poor miss by Keatley with the final kick of a distinctly underwhelming half.
Thankfully things improved a little after the break, and from a loose kick Billy Vunipola released Alex Goode. The full-back found Ashton on his shoulder and while the winger’s kick to the corner was too strong for partner Strettle, it was comfortably the best action of the game to that point.
Ashton, who missed out on England selection this week, seemed to have a point to prove in the second half and he was again heavily involved as Sarries earned a scrum five metres out from the Munster line, but the visitors’ set-piece then failed them as Tommy O’Donnell snaffled the ball as the scrum wheeled.
But while Saracens had made the better start to the half, they then lost Gill, only on at half-time, for ten minutes, when the prop lifted CJ Stander off his feet and flipped him onto his back at a ruck.
And when George Kruis was penalised for failing to release a tackled player, Keatley made no mistake to put Munster back in front 6-3 with just under half an hour remaining.
The extra man seemed to inspire Munster and Conway stepped his way through a gap to put Sarries under pressure but rather than go through the hands Keatley chose the grubber to pin the visitors back.
Saracens survived the five-metre lineout but Munster came back and eventually went over through Conway, but the try was oddly ruled out, with the TMO unable to tell if the winger had reached the line.