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26 sports :: rugby

April, 2018 I



Thomond thunder too loud for Toulon Simon Lovell ANDREW Conway took on the mantle of matchwinner for Munster as his stunning 74th-minute try saw them pip Toulon 20-19 in a titanic European Champions Cup quarter-final at Thomond Park. Winger Conway’s decisive score from a kick return, which saw him beat four defenders from near halfway, sent the Irish province through to a record 13th European semi-final. Replacement Francois Trinh-Duc almost inspired a famous Limerick victory for Toulon, kicking two penalties and having a key involvement in Chris Ashton’s converted try as the three-time champions began the final quarter with 13 points in little over seven minutes. However, Munster – who led 10-6 at half-time thanks to an opportunist Conor Murray try near the half hour mark – used all of their cup nous to pull off a gritty comeback triumph thanks to Conway’s dazzling effort and Ian Keatley’s all-important conversion. Toulon’s threat was obvious right from the first minute, fortune favouring Munster as Simon Zebo did just enough to prevent Ashton from scoring off Eric Escande’s dangerous kick. Not for the first time, the hosts rode their luck in avoiding a possible penalty try. Peter O’Mahony’s lineout steal, coupled with Conway’s vital tackle on Josua Tuisova on the opposite wing,

Munster20 Toulon19 kept the visitors scoreless until Anthony Belleau, a late inclusion at fly-half for Trinh-Duc, fired over a well-struck 10thminute penalty. Raphael Lakafia’s hoovering up of Billy Holland’s lineout steal allowed the beefy Toulon pack to get within range for Belleau to score an 18th-minute drop goal for a 6-0 lead. The injury-enforced withdrawal of Zebo robbed Munster of one of their key attackers but a couple of frenzied kick chases, allied to a strong carry from Jack O’Donoghue, led to Murray’s momentum-changing 27th-minute score. Toulon thought they had covered the danger, only for France captain Guilhem Guirado to knock on at a ruck close to his own line and Murray pounced to ground the ball. A prolonged deliberation between referee Nigel Owens and TMO Jonathan Mason went Munster’s way, and Keatley converted and then tagged on a 31stminute penalty. Murray was short and wide with a penalty attempt just inside the Toulon half, before the French powerhouses got no reward again from a Dave Attwood break and a threatening late attack that saw Sam Arnold bump Ma’a Nonu into touch. Defences were on top in the early stages of the second period, Munster

Munster’s Andrew Conway celebrates his winning try during the Champions Cup quarter final against Toulon at Thomond Park. Picture: Niall Carson getting on the front foot with O’Mahony continuing to cause problems for the Toulon lineout. The excellent Arnold hauled down Tuisova as he threatened from deep, while the consistently wellpositioned Ashton covered Sweetnam’s chip-and-chase effort. Munster’s front row reserves came up trumps in winning a scrum penalty which Keatley turned into three points, but Toulon’s own bench proved hugely influential entering the final quarter. Radradra just lost control of the ball

as he stretched for the line, under pressure from Alex Wootton, before TrinhDuc punished Jean Kleyn’s side entry at a maul to cut the gap to 13-9. It got even better for the travelling support when Trinh-Duc’s offload near halfway was adjudged to be flat, releasing Bastareaud who charged through and put Ashton diving in under the posts. Suddenly, Toulon had a grip on proceedings as Trinh-Duc’s pinpoint 48-metre penalty, won by Tuisova, gave them a 19-13 advantage.

It was all hands to the pump for Johann van Graan’s injury-hit side, replacement Niall Scannell being held up by Bastareaud before Munster’s decision to go wide was foiled by the Toulon rearguard. Conway came to Munster’s rescue, brilliantly keeping a Trinh-Duc clearance in play and, with Tuisova having run infield, the Ireland international expertly slalomed his way through the cover to cross close to the posts. Keatley added the extras and Munster’s defence did the rest.


Leinster oust champs in fine style Duncan Bech

OH, WHAT A FEELING: Leinster’s James Lowe celebrates with team-mates after scoring a try during the quarter final of the European Champions Cup match at The Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Picture: Lorraine O’Sullivan

LEINSTER added another chapter to Irish rugby’s purple patch by ousting defending Champions Cup champions Saracens with a high-quality performance at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Leinster head coach Leo Cullen insisted the Irish province – and particularly their rampaging openside Leavy – benefited from what he felt was a deliberate tactic by Saracens to target Johnny Sexton. “There was definitely space on some of the short sides. Saracens defended very hard on Johnny [Sexton], particularly in the first half,” Cullen said. “They were playing him ... which is the best way to describe it. They were going aggressively at him, so there was going to be space for somebody else.” Leinster extinguished English interest in the Champions Cup and will now face the Scarlets in the semi-finals at the same ground – most likely on Saturday, April 21. Ireland openside Dan Leavy was outstanding to pick up where he left off in the Grand Slam-clinching win at Twickenham a fortnight ago, crowning his performance with a terrific 47thminute try that ultimately swept the match beyond Saracens’ reach. Garr y Ringrose and James Lowe also touched down to confir m Leinster’s dominance and it was a fully deserved victory for the team whose senior coach is former England head coach Lancaster. Leinster played the better attacking rugby from start to finish. Saracens’ doggedness ensured they were never put to the sword and trailing 13-12 at half time they had hope of continuing their quest for a record-equalling third successive European crown deeper

Leinster30 Saracens19

into the knock-out phase. A try for Blair Cowan in the 64th minute revived Saracens spirits after Leinster built a commanding lead, but the wall of blue shirts refused to crack again even though it was the visitors from across the Irish Sea who were ascendant throughout the final quarter. Mako Vunipola, who saw his brother Billy ruled out by a broken arm, was magnificent but he was swimming against the tide as the only Aviva Premiership club in the quarter-finals bowed out. Saracens had only themselves to blame when their line cracked as early as the fourth minute, Liam Williams and Jackson Wray falling off Lowe before Isa Nacewa tore down the left touchline and fed Ringrose the scoring pass. Despite the early setback, the defending champions dominated possession with Vunipola shouldering the bulk of the carrying workload, but they struggled to make any decisive headway against a resolute home defence. Three penalties from Owen Farrell, who passed a fitness test on a thigh injury to start at fly-half, left Saracens trailing 10-9 at the half-hour mark as a scrappy match weaved an uncertain path. The tension mounted as Johnny Sexton rifled over three points only to then interfere with the ensuing restart by kicking the ball away, enabling Marcelo Bosch to hit the mark from the halfway line. Alex Goode’s elusive running was causing problems from full-back and one run swept Saracens deep into opposition territory only for Leinster to defend a close-range line-out.

The Irish province raced out of the blocks in the second half and in eight minutes they had amassed 10 points underpinned by a brilliantly worked try for Leavy, who combined with James Ryan close to the ruck to open up a hole that he galloped through. Leinster’s onslaught continued with Sexton attacking down the left wing before the wall eventually found Lowe, who was carried over the line by his team-mates. A line-out drive produced Saracens’ first try of the afternoon with Cowan touching down, but despite the fallen champions’ best efforts they could make no further inroads.

Dan Leavy’s try proved decisive in Leinster’s inspiring win over Saracens in Dublin.

Irish Echo April 2018  

Irish Echo - Australia's Irish Newspaper Digital Edition Vol 31, No4 - Apr 2018

Irish Echo April 2018  

Irish Echo - Australia's Irish Newspaper Digital Edition Vol 31, No4 - Apr 2018