Planet Rugby

Munster lay down a marker

19th October 2008 15:11

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David wallace v Sale

Match-winner: David Wallace takes aim at the Sale tryline

Munster bounced back from last week's scrappy opening win over Montauban by recording a streetwise 24-16 victory over Sale Sharks in an epic Heineken Cup encounter at Edgeley Park on Sunday.

A fine cameo from Charlie Hodgson in the second half gave the European champions pause for thought in front of a crowd of 10,298, but the Irish giants' pedigree shone through in the final quarter of the game.

A poor clearance from Tomas O'Leary allowed Sale to make early inroads, with Sebastien Chabal playing the role of runaway juggernaut. The pressure got to the visitors and they were forced to concede a penalty in the shadow of their own sticks. Luke McAlister called for his tee, but his kick swerved off to the right in the blustery Stockport breeze.

More muscular endeavour from Chabal forced another penalty out of the Irish just a minute later and McAlister was anxious to make amends from 40 metres out - it was a brave shot at redemption and the All Black proved his mettle with a fine converted penalty.

An opportunist hack-on by that man Chabal then found the European champions defending against a scrum on their line - and Sale could have scored down the blindside but for a fumbled pass.

The shock shook Munster from their slumber. Leaning into the stiff breeze they realised that running was their only option and Keith Earls and Ian Dowling showed the way with some clever snipes, feeding off the silky service of Lifeimi Mafi.

Chabal turned from hero to villain when he killed a Munster raid in his own 22 in the tenth minute of the game, and Ronan O'Gara duly brought his side level via the tee.

Munster were soon back on the attack and a lovely delayed pass from O'Gara found Alan Quinlan in space, the big loose forward drew his man before threading the ball through the despairing arms of Mark Cueto, and Paul Warwick was on hand to dot down the first try of the game. O'Gara converted and the European champions were ahead.

Sale did their best to respond in kind, but a fumbled pass was hacked on by Earls and the hosts back-tracked 80 metres. Munster managed to snaffle up the loose ball, and then Warwick cocked a leg and sent a soaring drop-goal over the crossbar. Sale looked shell-shocked.

Anger and perhaps a little fear helped to stiffen local sinews, and a cracking scrum allowed the Sharks to put their guests on the back foot. The pressure forced the penalty and McAlister landed another wonderful kick at goal. With ten minutes until the break, Sale had cut Munster's lead to 13-6.

With the wind at their faces, Munster looked to kill off the clock with minutes to half-time with their classic brand of claustrophobic rugby, but McAlister managed to struggle free from underneath the pinned pillow with a fine break down the left. A sublime reverse-pass keep the move alive before it was dropped in its tracks by Dowling who somehow managed to dump the onrushing Chabal in the last play of the half.

Sale made a costly mistake at the start of the second half, with Rudi Keil straying ahead of a bomb from McAlister. O'Gara, with the wind at his back, made no mistake with the kick at goal.

With Dwayne Peel having a torrid time at the base of the scrum, Sale opted to throw Charlie Hodgson into the mix, moving Richard Wigglesworth to nine.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

England's prodigal nearly-man looked keen to prove his critics wrong and his trademark array of flat passes and territorial grabs changed the shape of the game.

Suddenly the game was being played in Munster's half, and an Irish hand in the ruck allowed McAlister to claw back three points.

Sale sensed their moment was about to arrive, and arrive it did after Hodgson and McAlister exchanged clever passes off the back of a scrum on Munster's 22. Rory Lamont used his strength to take the ball further towards the red sticks before Dean Schofield popped up to split Munster in two. McAlister converted to even up the score with 20 minutes left to play.

O'Gara had a chance to win back the lead moments later after Sale's try-scorer was caught isolated in his own 22, but his shot at goal literally bounced on the very top of the upright - and wide, according to the officials.

The indignity of it all sparks a ferocious attack and the locals soon found themselves defending their lines. They held on for as long as possible, but a smart pass from Mafi allowed David Wallace to stretch past Wigglesworth for an unconverted try.

Munster's hopes then took a sharp nosedive as Mafi, arguably the best player on the pitch, was sin-binned for a high tackle on Mathew Tait. McAlister attempted to add insult to injury by looking to the posts with the resultant penalty, but his effort drifted wide.

The visitors then showed their championship mettle by working O'Gara to within range of the sticks, and the Ireland pivot dropped a neat goal to leave the Sharks high and dry.

The scorers:

For Sale Sharks:

Try: Schofield

Con: McAlister

Pens: McAlister 3

For Munster:

Tries: Warwick, Wallace

Cons: O'Gara

Pens: O'Gara 2

Drops: Warwick, O'Gara

Yellow card(s): Mafi (Munster) - dangerous tackle, 71

The teams:

Sale Sharks: 15 Rory Lamont, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Luke McAlister, 12 Rudi Keil, 11 David Doherty, 10 Richard Wigglesworth, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 7 Luke Abrahams, 6 Chris Jones, 5 Brent Cockbain, 4 Sebastien Chabal, 3 Eifion Roberts, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Lionel Faure.

Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Stuart Turner, 18 Dean Schofield, 19 Jason White, 20 Charlie Hodgson, 21 Mathew Tait, 22 Chris Bell.

Munster: 15 Paul Warwick, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Ian Dowling, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 David Wallace, 7 John O'Sullivan, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.

Replacements: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Frederico Pucciariello, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Justin Melck, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Barry Murphy, 22 Denis Hurley.

Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)

Touch judges: Jean-Luc Rebollal (France), Eric Gauzins (France)

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