No plan survives contact with the enemy, as Treviso found out today. Munster blitzed them in the first half, running in three tries in short order, and the home team’s composure fell to pieces. Our man on the spot reported via text that the Italian supporters were shocked, which is understandable, since Munster had 20 points on the board in 20 minutes.
Keith Earls was on fire, scoring two stylish tries and creating another. Paul Warwick provided a moment of champagne rugby, running onto his own chip-ahead to glide over the line. De Villiers was superb, watching over and protecting O Gara with his physicality, grafting the whole time, and finally providing Earls with a sweet running pass to get him in for his second try. Donncha O Callaghan is not the most elegant of athletes, and his try-scoring sprint will certainly make it to Youtube as the most ludicrous thing in sport this week, though not quite matching up to his red underpants moment. Denis Hurley and Donnacha Ryan scored the other tries, but O Gara missed three conversions which was a bit worrying. However, we’ve been writing him off for a long time now, and just when we were all saying he’s finished, he single-handedly turned the Northampton game in Munster’s favour.
Treviso are no push-over, as Northampton and Perpignan discovered, so there was always a concern that they might put up stiff opposition to Munster. But as it turned out, the game was finished after about ten minutes, and the bonus point was wrapped up by the 35th. The second half was more about McGahan working the bench than about competitive rugby. Treviso’s only score came when Zanni intercepted a sloppy pass from O Leary and ran away with a try. Apart from that, and one other passage in the second half, they didn’t look especially dangerous.
That leaves Munster on 20 points and Northampton on 13. In theory, if the Saints were to lose to Perpignan tomorrow, Munster would be through, but I can’t see Perpignan fielding a full-strength team for a game where they stand to gain nothing. So in the end, as usual, it comes down to the final pool game, here in Limerick, at Thomond Park next Friday.
Munster play Northampton at home to decide the matter, as it should be. We look forward to welcoming them.
Seconds Out adds:
It looks like it’s going to come down to next weekend’s clash with Northampton at Thomond Park.
Munster have one foot in the quarter finals of the European Cup following a resounding away victory over Treviso at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo this afternoon.
Tries from Denis Hurley, Keith Earls, Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul Warwick plus two conversions and two penalties from O’Gara more or less settled today’s one sided encounter before half time.
Earls added another touchdown after the break following fine work from de Villiers and Ryan put the icing on the cake late on. Warwick booted the extra’s.
The win moves the Reds seven points clear of Northampton at the top of Pool 1.
Northampton, who beat Munster at home in the opening Pool game between the sides, will be hot favourites to reduce the deficit when they meet French champions Perpigan at Franklin’s Gardens tomorrow.
But anything less than a win for the English outfit over the French, who have only an academic interest in the game, will leave them with a hopeless task in Limerick, where a victory should ensure that the Irish province will have earned enough points to secure home advantage (23 points should do the trick) for the last eight.
However, Northampton will almost certainly move to within at least three points of the two-time European champions tomorrow, a result that will set a grand finale at Thomond Park next weekend.
Nervous breakdown time again.
Northampton duly dispatched Perpignan 34-0, with a bonus-point try in the 81st minute.
Therefore, Northampton have 18 points and Munster have 20 going into next Friday’s match at Thomond Park.