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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Robert Kitson at Sandy Park

Exeter pull off remarkable turnaround in Champions Cup win over Munster

Exeter’s Henry Slade scores his side’s fourth try to secure a dramatic win over Munster.
Exeter’s Henry Slade scores his side’s fourth try to secure a dramatic win over Munster. Photograph: David Davies/PA

The bounce of a rugby ball can change everything, as Munster found to their cost in Devon. One minute the Irish province were looking in absolute command of a Champions Cup fixture they badly needed to win, the next they were heading home seriously downcast after a game transformed by another remarkable late surge from a re-energised young Chiefs team still unbeaten in Pool Three.

When Munster led 24-13 entering the final quarter they seemed all but safe, only for Exeter’s bench to replicate the Houdini act they performed in Toulon in the opening round. First the back-row forward Ross Vintcent stretched over for a close-range try to reignite the contest and then, a couple of minutes later, the replacement scrum-half Stu Townsend lobbed a hopeful box kick into space on the edge of the Munster 22.

Calvin Nash, scorer of his side’s first try, allowed it to bounce and the former Leinster forward Jack Dunne came charging into view to poach it. To Munster’s horror the lanky lock kept rumbling all the way to the try-line and Exeter were ahead for the first time. An interception score from the in-form Henry Slade in the 79th minute compounded Irish pain to earn the Chiefs an additional pre‑Christmas bonus via their fourth try.

Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby, revealed afterwards his players had joked in the dressing room that it was Dunne’s first decent catch for the season, while his opposite number, Graham Rowntree, described the whole episode as “crazy”.

It leaves Munster, who have now failed to win in three visits to Devon, without a win from their opening two pool games, with a trip to Toulon and a home game against unbeaten Northampton still to come.

Jack Dunne reaches for the line to score Exeter’s third try against Munster.
Jack Dunne reaches for the line to score Exeter’s third try against Munster. Photograph: David Davies/PA

“I’m hugely frustrated,” Rowntree said, unhappy with his side’s fraying second-half composure. “We are the world specialists in making life tough for ourselves.”

It was certainly a gripping, seesawing contest, with Exeter having initially looked anything but likely winners. Munster’s analysts had clearly identified potential space on the edges of their hosts’ rush defence and the visitors duly scored three times in the same right-hand corner in the first half. For their opening score Craig Casey threw a huge pass out to the unmarked Nash before a neat cross-kick from Jack Crowley sent the athletic blindside flanker Tom Ahern charging over from almost 50 metres at a seriously impressive gallop.

Things improved even more for the visitors when more deft midfield work cleared the way for Antoine Frisch, once of Bristol, to burst down the same right touchline. Exeter did manage one first-half try, when Dan Frost rewarded a decent period of home pressure with a close‑range score, but were being opened up too often for comfort by a Munster side also enjoying the bulk of the territory and possession.

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It was hard fought, though, as it was always destined to be. There is more that unites these two teams than divides them – regional pride, rural passion, no-nonsense attitudes – and a physical edge was guaranteed on a mostly grey, still afternoon. Munster were also indebted to the long arms and strength of their international lock Tadhg Beirne, who came up with a crucial turnover on his side’s line after an overenthusiastic Tom Cairns had opted for a quick tap penalty.

Exeter, though, had fought their way back from 18-5 down beside the Mediterranean the previous week, and still declined to lie down even after Munster scored again, more smart play from Frisch down the middle eventually stretched the cover sufficiently to put the full-back Shane Daly over, again down the Chiefs’ left side.

Maybe there was a Irish assumption that the hard work had been done. If so, they were greatly mistaken. Baxter’s decision to make mass changes bore spectacular fruit and Munster were suddenly confronted with a very different beast. First Vintcent and then the opportunistic Dunne combined to get the crowd roaring again before Slade, who finished with 17 points, swooped to apply the late coup de grace.

Munster were unhappy with the awarding of the final try, with Beirne engaging in prolonged arm-waving debate with the French referee Matthieu Raynal, but Baxter was keener to dwell on Slade’s consistently excellent contributions this season. “He’s training and playing like a young man,” Baxter said. “I can’t ask any more of him. He’s playing in the way he played to get an international cap. You can just tell he’s a big game player.”

Vanes hat-trick as Leicester hold on to beat Stade

Archie Vanes scored a hat-trick of tries as Leicester withstood late pressure to seal a battling 27-24 victory at Stade Français in the Champions Cup.

The win, which came via a 66th-minute penalty from Jamie Shillcock, helped the Tigers extend their unbeaten record in Pool Four of the competition. Shillcock finished with 12 points with the boot, while the Paris side’s tries came from Mathieu Hirigoyen, Charles Laloi and Léo Barré.

Leicester had fashioned a 14-7 advantage at half-time through Vanes’ first two tries which were both converted by Shillcock. The hosts seized the momentum at the start of the second half, with Laloi crossing in the corner within one minute of the restart.

Vanes’ third try of the night helped Leicester hold their nerve and edge back in front in the contest with 54 minutes on the clock. Once again Stade Français fought back and appeared to have wrested the momentum when they scored to level the match with 20 minutes to go. But Shillcock’s 66th-minute penalty nudged Leicester back in front and they withstood fierce pressure from the home side in the closing stages.

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