Exeter 10-10 Munster: Champions Cup Pool 2 opener ends in draw
By Michael Cantillon at Sandy Park
Last Updated: 13/10/18 11:16pm
Tries from Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and Munster No 8 CJ Stander meant the two sides could not be separated as their Champions Cup opener ended 10-10 on Saturday at a wind-swept Sandy Park.
Played amid a vicious swirling breeze, the Irish province - playing against the wind in the first half - contained the Premiership outfit until the final minute of the opening period when Cowan-Dickie struck.
Gareth Steenson and Joey Carbery also traded first-half penalties, with the second half almost exclusively played in the Exeter half.
Stander ultimately struck on 65 minutes to level the match but Munster could not score again, and neither could the Chiefs when handed one last chance at the end of the game.
Munster host Gloucester at Thomond Park next Saturday in Round 2, while the Chiefs travel to face reigning Top 14 champions Castres in France.
Already depleted in the scrum-half department with Conor Murray and Alby Mathewson ruled out through injury, Munster lost another experienced campaigner during the warm-up when wing Keith Earls was ruled out and replaced by Darren Sweetnam.
It was the visitors who started the brighter though as captain Peter O'Mahony won a breakdown penalty, Tadhg Beirne stole a lineout and their pack earned a penalty against the head all in quick succession.
It allowed them field position within the Chiefs 22, but while building through phases, tighthead prop Stephen Archer knocked on to leave Exeter off the hook.
Munster continued to build pressure, with Beirne, in particular, continuing to excel at the breakdown, but for all the Irish province's early pressure, it was Exeter who claimed a 3-0 lead after 19 minutes via the boot of skipper Steenson, after Munster blindside O'Mahony was penalised for hands in the ruck deep in the away side's 22.
In response, Munster built their way back to the other end of the pitch but after 28 exhaustive phases - all in the Exeter 22 - all they could eventually earn was a scrum.
No 8 Stander powered away off the base of that set-piece though, with Exeter caught offside and as such, Carbery stepped up to level the scores from close range.
Exeter almost immediately hit back after the kick-off, but a Henry Slade pass caught the wind and sailed into touch with Argentine wing Santiago Cordero free down the left wing after Munster had shot up in defence.
The Chiefs would get a try before the interval, however, as after two powerful scrum drives yielded penalties - one in midfield and one in the Munster 22 - the home side played through the phases on advantage and unlike Munster at the other end, made it over the whitewash via hooker Cowan-Dickie.
Munster began the second half in the same fashion they had played the majority of the first, engaging in more lengthy phase play around the Chiefs 22, but again it was ended via an unforced error when Duncan Williams threw a forward pass to Beirne.
Exeter won another scrum penalty - their third of the day - from the resultant set-piece, allowing Steenson to clear the danger and prompting the Munster coaching staff to change both props as James Cronin and John Ryan replaced Dave Kilcoyne and Archer.
Beirne won another breakdown penalty soon after, with Munster winning a decision from a powerful rolling maul after kicking to touch thereafter too.
Carbery kicked to the corner again and Munster thought they were over for their first try through openside Chris Cloete but for referee Jerome Garces to rule out the score for changing lanes and maul obstruction.
Munster full-back Mike Haley combined with centre Dan Goggin and Carbery down the left wing as Munster threatened again, but again the move fizzled out when an O'Mahony offload went astray. Exeter continued to be pinned into their 22 though, with the elements firmly against them and the stiff wind allowing them next to no outs.
Cordero broke out from midfield on the hour mark, however, and traded passes with Slade and Phil Dollman as Exeter looked certain to score their second try of the day, but for some desperate last-ditch Munster defence.
Within minutes the ball was back down the other end as Munster finally did get their score with 15 minutes remaining as Stander powered over from close range after another lengthy set of phases. Carbery's subsequent conversion levelled the scores at 10-10.
Munster looked in a position to go on and potentially win the fixture from there but discipline let them down when in promising positions.
And into the final minute, Carbery kicked a clearance kick from his own 22 which ultimately kept travelling to roll dead, handing Exeter one last chance to win the game.
But though the Chiefs went through 22 phases, eventually reaching and battering at the Munster line, they just couldn't breakthrough as both sides were made to settle for a share of the points in a fascinating and attritional contest.