Champions Cup: Five takeaways from Munster v Northampton Saints as hosts dig in after Jack O’Donoghue red card

Jack O'Donoghue for Munster Credit: Alamy
Jack O'Donoghue for Munster Credit: Alamy

Following a 27-23 win for Munster over Northampton Saints in their Champions Cup fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the match at Thomond Park.

The top line

A fantastic first-half display, followed by a brilliant defensive effort in the second half saw Munster see off a fabulous Northampton Saints fightback to win in the winds and drizzle of Limerick.

Considering the hosts were without key man Jack O’Donoghue, red carded for head contact after 22 minutes, their efforts were quite remarkable in the second half. Nothing characterised their grit more than the brilliant 77th minute tackle in the wide channels by Shane Daly when Saints had a two-man overlap and the try-line beckoning.

It was a Munster performance that typified their brand; gritty, feisty and combative. Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony and Joey Carbery were outstanding in getting their side go-forward and with an intelligent performance from Craig Casey at nine, they managed to play pressure rugby in the right areas of the pitch. A consummate display with 14 men for most of the game.

The little things

Saints and England lock David Ribbans joined Planet Rugby this week and made the point that the difference between the best and the rest was accuracy at the highest level. Sadly, Saints’ litany of small errors in the first 40 minutes were enough to put them out of contention, despite their spirited second-half fightback.

Thomond Park does strange things even to the most seasoned of players; the little things like losing a lineout, George Furbank clearing directly into touch, Mikey Haywood’s mistimed charge down in the 11th minute – all these things added up as a litany of ‘coach killers’ took any momentum away from Northampton.

However, Munster’s part in forcing these errors was quantum; their speed in rush in midfield closed down anything and everything Saints attempted and their power at the breakdown showed the good sense in picking over the ball specialist in the back-row; it was classic Munster pressure and that was the reason the little things went their way.

Back-row battle

The headlines before the match revolved around the behemoth match up of Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam and Lukhan Salakaia Loto against O’Mahony, Coombes and O’Donoghue. Given the latter was carded, for Munster to shade this battle was quite remarkable, but Tadhg Beirne’s ability to play at lock like an openside was a point of difference.

Saints’ big three failed to fire a shot in lineout poach but on the flipside of that they applied a lot of pressure to prevent any form of clean ball. Lawes looks exactly like a man who’s hardly played rugby all season and with Salakaia Loto failing to add value in jackal they lost the battle on the floor.

Ebb and flow

The impact of the wind cannot be understated; all tries took place at one end of the field, demonstrating just how hard it was to exit successfully via kick or clearance. Munster’s first-half efforts demonstrated their precision at close range, nipping over for a brace, with O’Donoghue’s huge upper body strength allowing him to wrestle over for his score.

Munster’s control was based upon the knowledge of their ground and its conditions – they come to kick chase, they thrive on disruption and they embrace contact at the breakdown and carry, using their choke tackle and power to hold sides up.

It was a display of sheer rugby nous – one that could very well have gone the other way without that key knowledge of how to win in the inclement conditions of Limerick.

International watch

Steve Borthwick would have been mightily impressed with Ludlam today and in particular, his ability to make metres through contact. He played a skipper’s knock at Thomond, smashing through tackles and showing his ability to play across any position in the back-row.

Tommy Freeman had one of his better days of recent times – prepared to come in off his wing, make the extra man on the other, he was great value for his second half score, profiting from the spikey efforts of Alex Mitchell, another man who will be hopeful of an England call-up.

Munster’s Casey is now knocking on the Test door alongside Carbery but the biggest shift came from Coombes who, despite Ireland’s back-row riches, brings a directness and simplicity to either the number eight or the lock positions.

READ MORE: Champions Cup: 14-man Munster cling on against Northampton Saints while Sharks thump Bordeaux-Begles

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