Exeter Chiefs struggled for a 13-8 Champions Cup round of 16 first leg success against Munster at Sandy Park, but the Irish province remain level after a gallant defensive performance.
Full-back Stuart Hogg scored a try and a drop-goal in the win, with defender Jacques Vermeulen grabbing Exeter’s second try in a clash they largely dominated in terms of possession and territory.
Munster scored through a try from Shane Daly and a penalty from Ben Healy, but will themselves be disappointed not to have registered more points – especially against 13 men for more than eight minutes after Olly Woodburn and Patrick Schickerling were both condemned in the second half.
Munster arrived without captain Peter O’Mahony (hamstring), playmaker Joey Carbery (knee) and key players Tadhg Beirne (thigh), Dave Kilcoyne (neck), Gavin Coombes (ankle) and Andrew Conway (knee), before losing. Simon Zebo and Diarmuid Barron on match day due to a gastro virus.
They refused to wither in the face of intense pressure, however, with open flanker John Hodnett particularly notable, and Keith Earls making a late saving tackle that could yet prove vital ahead of next week’s return game at Thomond Park.
After being counter-rucked twice in the opening minutes, Munster entered the game when lock Fineen Wycherley ended Exeter’s first attack near the 22 when he stumbled to win a penalty.
Exeter hooker Jack Yeandle repeated the same round of breakdown as Wycherley before him to end Munster’s promising first attacking spell around the 22nd as well, before the hosts hit the front just six minutes later.
A smooth move after a quick jab from Jack Maunder saw Henry Slade move in behind for Tom O’Flaherty to gallop into space down the right, before the elusive wing passed for Hogg to land in the corner .
Joe Simmonds hit the hard conversion on the outside but a forward from Alex Kendellen and a forward pass from Healy on back-to-back Munster attacks prevented them from building any momentum in response.
A superb turnover from Hodnett halted Exeter’s next push, with defenses at the top and neither team able to cross the respective lines and spend time attacking in the opposition 22.
In the 24th minute, Exeter denied the opportunity to score from close range in favor of a five-yard line-out, and it proved the wrong move when a commanding maul saw the ball lost by Yeandle after outstanding defensive work from Conor Murray. .
Exeter came back as Munster struggled to clear their lines in the wind, but more magnificent defending – Damian de Allende and co forcing a maul and choke tackle reversal – kept the Chiefs out.
Encouraged by their defensive efforts, Munster’s most incisive attack of the half followed, with winger Daly chipping away and chasing before full-back Mike Haley entered the 22nd, but 10 building phases came to nothing when Jeremy Loughman waived a penalty. at the breakdown.
Another penalty against Munster at the ruck – this time for not releasing in defense – prompted Exeter to come back in the 22nd, but once again the hosts could not break through as Harry Williams struck in the face of a more resolute defense.
A half-break from Chris Farrell nearly saw Munster drive away down the right, but again they were slashed to the breakdown as Niall Scannell strayed – with referee Pierre Brousset deeming it necessary to warn the Munster skipper Jack O’Donoghue for repeated infringements.
In the very next phase of play, Munster were then reduced to 14 when substitute Jack O’Sullivan was penalized for slowing the ball down in midfield.
Simmonds kicked to touch again instead of adding points via the boot, and two minutes into the first half a second try finally arrived via flanker Vermeulen, the stretched-back de Munster being unable to fend off a wave of close-range pick-ands. -go door.
Simmonds’ conversion deflected, leaving it 10-0 at half-time, but the second half began with waves of attacks from Exeter on the Munster line – only a remarkable turnover of O’Donoghue under immense pressure seeing Munster avoid further concessions before being restored. 15 players.
A biased clearing kick from De Allende meant Munster remained under pressure, but a phenomenal turnover from Murray – again with the visitors on their own line – saw them survive again.
A high tackle from Earls on Sam Simmonds as No 8 Exeter took a break brought the hosts back to Munster 22 but the visitors stole the ball first, counter-rucked Exeter from their next possession, then Hodnett won a penalty to hand Munster their first spell in hosts territory in the second half on 54 minutes.
Munster hammered the line, and after forcing a penalty with Exeter offside, Healy kicked his first points in the 56th minute.
Hodnett won another penalty defensively soon after, in an incident that saw Chiefs wing Woodburn subject to TMO review and sin, and were lucky to avoid a red card for a clearance against Scannell.
With Munster attacking on pace, Exeter received a second yellow card two minutes later as substitute prop Schickerling was penalized for playing the ball near the try line.
The Irish Province kicked into the corner to set up an attack against 13 defenders in Exeter 22, but conceded a hugely expensive penalty to the maul for obstruction as a chance at guilt was lost.
Another penalty against Munster in the lineout saw Exeter with a lineout chance within moments as Slade produced a huge hand kick, but Munster made sure Exeter’s rolling maul was restrained .
However, from the ensuing goal-line drop, Hogg executed a scintillating drop-goal from distance to add three more points to the scoreboard.
Munster responded almost immediately as Daly bent down for their try after Slade struck while trying to intercept a pass into midfield – the Chiefs center would have been under the sticks for a try on his side had he held the shot – but Earls took over and sprinted forward, with Daly then too fast for Hogg and going inside O’Flaherty.
Healy fired the conversion wide to leave Munster five points behind, but they looked set for a second down when substitute scrum-half Craig Casey dove for the line with the visitors still facing 13 – a review of TMO s proved inconclusive as to whether the ball was grounded, but surely Munster would have scored had he sent the play away.
Having been in penalty advantage, countless Munster phases followed, but Exeter – like Munster for much of the contest – produced an emphatic spell of defense to concede no points and earn a turnover.
Back to full squad, Exeter looked likely to seal the tie when Woodburn sprinted into space in the bottom right with three minutes to go, but opposite wing Earls made a sensational tackle to stop a certain try .
The rest of the competition was played out in the Munster 22 as Exeter kicked twice into the corner looking for a try but locked first Thomas Ahern stole possession of the line-up, before a tense and absorbing game ended as Munster held the Chiefs in place. the final game, ensuring they remained firmly in the tie going into the second leg.
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Exeter 13 – 8 Munster – News 24 | News in France and abroad