These are the occasions Thomond Park was built for. It is in these hugely physical encounters, decided by the finest of margins that Limerick’s Mecca earns it’s reputation. It may have borne no resemblance to the try fest in Franklin’s Gardens last October, but as a contest it was just as gripping. The fact that Alan Quinlan picked up the man of the match award tells you all you need to know about the type of rugby on show, tight, physical and brimming with intensity. In the end it was O’Gara’s precision from the dead ball that sealed the victory for McGahn’s men.
There a moments which define matches as close and as tense as Friday’s clash. Midway through the second half Munster were struggling to gain any foothold. Gearghty, Foden and co. kept pinging the ball into the corners and the home side had to put in a dogged shift in defence. With captain O’Connell inexplicably sin-binned by the woeful Romain Poite, and the Munster scrum retreating towards it’s own try line there was a tangible air of anxiety. Somehow though the men in red summoned a colossal drive to disrupt the visitors possession and clear their lines. A prolonged period of pressure ended fruitless for Northampton. O’Connell reemerged and just to compound matters O’Gara kicked Munster into a six point lead.
With neither team really threatening out wide it was always unlikely for Northampton to snatch a five pointer. In the end they settled for a losing bonus point and all in Thomond Park breathed a collective sigh of relief…only for the draw to land both sides face to face in Limerick for the quarter finals. Hartley as his team will not be intimidated having given Munster a real battle but the two-time champions will surely up their game entering the business end of the cup.
Elsewhere the one truly delicious fixture sees Clermont travel to Dublin to take on Champions Leinster. One of the Cup’s bigggest challangers will be exiting. Clemont are unstoppable on their day but I think home advantage may prove crucial, Leinster to make it through.