A 14-man Munster managed to hold on to defeat Northampton Saints 27-23 in a Champions Cup game of two halves at Thomond Park on Saturday.
Munster were on well top at the break as they went in 24-0 in front thanks to tries from in-form back-row duo Gavin Coombes (2) and Jack O’Donoghue.
However, a red card for the latter in the 22nd minute combined with a much-improved showing from Saints after half-time saw the visitors fight back.
Unfortunately for Northampton fans, they would come up just short in an entertaining clash, with Jack Crowley’s late penalty turning into a key score.
Mike Haley’s opening run allowed Joey Carbery to kick the Irish province – 17-6 winners at cinch Stadium before Christmas – into a second-minute lead.
Northampton’s early indiscipline then cost them again as the hosts quickly plundered a try. O’Donoghue sniped down the touchline from a lineout move, and then, from another penalty, Niall Scannell’s inviting pass sent Coombes crashing over in the ninth minute.
Carbery converted and was then hit by a high tackle from Saints hooker Mikey Haywood, who first made contact with the fly-half’s chest.
With 28 minutes on the clock, Haley flung a long pass wide to Coombes, who stepped inside, sucked in two defenders and fed O’Donoghue to touch down. Carbery’s conversion made it 17-0, but the fast-starting hosts were soon down to 14 men.
O’Donoghue’s shoulder caught David Ribbans in the head, with referee Tual Trainini reaching for his red card following a TMO review of the tackle.
Instead of Saints seizing control, Munster dug in, and from Scannell’s tapped penalty, a well-supported Coombes drove over to complete his brace.
A crooked Haywood throw blew a late Northampton chance at the end of the first half, following a Lewis Ludlam break, but their direct play on the resumption was duly rewarded.
Fin Smith and Matt Proctor worked the ball wide for winger Tommy Freeman to score in the 44th minute, the 20-year-old fly-half adding the conversion and a subsequent penalty to pull it back to 24-10.
The visitors chalked up another seven points before the hour mark, cutting loose from their own half with Rory Hutchinson launching a kick chase. The centre’s counter-ruck allowed James Ramm to power his way over, with Smith converting.
Turnovers led to frustration for both teams, with Northampton also left to rue a neck roll on Antoine Frisch when a try looked very likely. Smith did punish Alex Kendellen for not rolling away, making it 24-20.
Replacement Crowley cancelled out that kick, and despite Smith’s best efforts, Saints ran out of time. Fittingly it was Coombes, the Heineken star-of-the-match, who forced the clinching turnover from Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.
Sharks thump Bordeaux to progress
Elsewhere, the Sharks booked their progression into the Champions Cup latter stages after they hammered Bordeaux-Begles, winning 32-3 in Durban.
Jaden Hendrikse and Marnus Potgieter each scored a pair of tries as the hosts made it to the round of 16 with a game to spare.
It was a third win out of three for the South African franchise in their debut campaign of European rugby with Bordeaux not helping themselves after picking up four yellow cards.
Lionel Cronje kicked an early penalty for the Sharks before Hendrikse went over for the opening try from close range.
The hosts were dominant up front, and Hendrikse again went over from a driving maul before second-row Gerbrandt Grobler powered over.
Maxime Lucu kicked Bordeaux’s only points of the game shortly after the break but, with the visitors down to 13 men, wing Potgieter claimed the bonus-point try.
Flanker Siya Kolisi was instrumental in that try and was again the architect of the fifth try as Potgieter strolled in out wide.
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The article Champions Cup: 14-man Munster cling on against Northampton Saints while Sharks thump Bordeaux-Begles appeared first on Planetrugby.com.