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Munster 27-23 Northampton Saints: Hosts hold on for Heineken Champions Cup victory despite early Jack O'Donoghue red card

Tries from Gavin Coombes (two), Jack O'Donoghue, plus a penalty each from Joey Carbery, Jack Crowley, and three Carbery conversions was enough to see Munster past Northampton in the European Cup, despite O'Donoghue's 23rd-minute red card; Tommy Freeman, James Ramm scored tries for Saints

Image: Despite losing Jack O'Donoghue to a 23rd minute red card, Munster held on to beat Northampton at Thomond Park

Munster held on to beat Northampton 27-23 in a nail-biting second half in the Heineken Champions Cup at Thomond Park, despite playing for 57 minutes a man down due to Jack O'Donoghue's red card.

Flanker O'Donoghue was sent off for an upright tackle which saw his shoulder connect with the head of second-row Dave Ribbans in the 23rd minute, after Munster had started the contest well on top.

Indeed, the hosts were 17-0 ahead when they were reduced to 14 - No 8 Gavin Coombes and O'Donoghue himself notching tries after an opening Joey Carbery penalty - and would go on to lead 24-0 when Coombes notched his second.

Score summary - Munster 27-23 Northampton Saints

Munster - Tries: Coombes (9, 29), O'Donoghue (20). Cons: Carbery (10, 21, 30). Pens: Carbery (2), Crowley (76). Red card: O'Donoghue (23).

Northampton - Tries: Freeman (45), Ramm (55). Cons: Smith (47, 57). Pens: Smith (50, 72, 79). Yellow card: Haywood (11).

The second period proved an altogether different affair, however, as Munster struggled for territory and held on at moments with some desperate defence to register the hardest of hard-fought wins.

Northampton wings Tommy Freeman and James Ramm each scored tries before the hour mark to put real pressure on the hosts, but though Fin Smith added both conversions and three penalties, they could not force another try.

The defeat leaves Northampton all-but out ahead of hosting defending champions La Rochelle next week, while Munster are in a strong position to qualify despite having to travel to face Toulouse, though the likelihood is they will be away from home in the last-16, due to their failure to pick-up bonus points in both wins vs Saints.

Thomond Park
Image: Thomond Park played host to the clash which saw Munster's 24-0 lead reduced to 24-20 by Saints, but saw the home side hold on

In a clash played out in sunshine, rain and hail at different intervals, Munster full-back Mike Haley started in lively fashion, making an incisive break which brought about the first penalty of the game when Saints prop Alex Waller was penalised for failing to release in a jackal attempt.

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Munster skipper Peter O'Mahony and Carbery decided to take a shot at goal, which the latter accomplished superbly from 40 metres out for 3-0 inside the first two minutes.

Image: Joey Carbery kicked the opening points inside two minutes, and added all three conversion off the tee

A smart Carbery tactical kick forced Northampton full-back George Furbank to slice out on the full in return, handing the hosts more early territory, but the chance was passed up when Coombes knocked on.

Munster's positive start to the contest continued as a scrum penalty handed Carbery an identical kick from his original strike off the tee, but this time the home side chose to kick to the corner.

A cute lineout move, involving a faint and dummy from O'Donoghue at the back, as well as a Craig Casey dummy run, almost saw Munster over. And when they tapped and went from five metres from their next penalty, Coombes was on hand to crash through for the opening try with support on his shoulder from lock Jean Kleyn and O'Donoghue.

Gavin Coombes
Image: Gavin Coombes wrestled his way over for two tries, and created Munster's other score in a player of the match performance

Northampton hooker Haywood was then sin-binned by French referee Tual Trainini in the 11th minute - and fortunate to avoid red - for connecting with the head of Carbery after the Munster man had chipped ahead, but Munster's first attack vs 14 was wasted when Haley kicked out on the full.

Image: Northampton hooker Mikey Haywood was sin-binned for connecting with the head of Carbery, and perhaps fortunate to avoid red

A further Haley knock-on and penalty against wing Shane Daly for side-entry at the breakdown caused more Munster frustration, before a skewed Antoine Frisch clearance kick handed Northampton an attacking lineout by the Munster 22.

With less than two minutes left on the sin-bin, Munster did get their second try, though, as fabulous passing across the pitch, showing variation to go inside and out, saw O'Donoghue in after a brilliant Coombes assist took out two defenders.

Jack O'Donoghue
Image: O'Donoghue finished off a flowing move for Munster's second try as they started superbly
O'Donoghue, Crowley

It left the score a daunting 17-0 for Saints when Waller returned, but though O'Mahony was next rewarded with a breakdown penalty, the complexion of the match soon changed when a TMO review was called for an earlier upright O'Donoghue tackle, which saw the Munsterman red carded.

The Munster blindside could have little argument after connecting with the head of Ribbans from a standing position, but support from the home crowd drove Munster on to turn over Northampton through Kleyn and O'Mahony in their first attack in the 22 against a man less.

Image: O'Donoghue was sent from the field for an upright tackle which saw him make contact with the head of Dave Ribbans with his shoulder
Tual Tranini
Image: Referee Tual Tranini, in tandem with TMO Eric Gauzin, produced a red card for the tackle, and had little other option

An Alex Mitchell kick out on the full after carrying back into his 22 saw Saints give up a lineout to Munster in their own 22, and after Saints infringed at the maul and were then caught offside, a five-metre tap again preceded a Coombes try, this time with O'Mahony and Kleyn on the No 8's shoulder, as the 14 men belied the fact they had just suffered a red card.

More great Munster defence saw Jack Crowley and Coombes combine to force a choke tackle maul and turnover, as Saints struggled to create going forward.

With four minutes of the half to play, a forward pass to Saints skipper Lewis Ludlam was missed by the officials and saw the No 8 stride into the 22, before Munster infringed offside. Saints chose to kick to the corner, but crucially, their five-metre lineout was thrown not straight.

Munster could soon complete the exit when Courtney Lawes went off feet at a breakdown, conceding a cheap penalty and allowing Munster the final attack of the half, before they could kick out at 24-0 ahead.

Image: Graham Rowntree's Munster are well-placed for a knockout spot with the win, but may well have to play their last-16 tie away

Saints needed to start the second half strongly, and were onto the front foot early, but the hosts' defence again proved superb as Crowley (again) and Tadhg Beirne forced another choke tackle turnover to win possession back outside the Munster 22.

Northampton won a penalty against the head at the resulting scrum, however, allowing them to kick into the corner, and though Daly intercepted the visitors' first pacy attack, an offside call saw Saints come again and notch their first try just five minutes into the second period through wing Freeman down the left.

Tommy freeman
Image: Tommy Freeman raced in for Northampton's opening try of the contest, five minutes into the second half

Fin Smith converted superbly, and when Frisch kicked out on the full from Munster's next attack, things were beginning to become a little nervy for the hosts, only for a Lawes forward pass to soon be called.

The Munster scrum struggled though to concede another penalty, and in doing so put the side under pressure again. Northampton somewhat surprisingly chose to take the place-kick on offer, with Smith striking over to reduce the deficit to 14 points.

A brilliant John Ryan jackal gave Munster a much-needed penalty in an attacking area, and saw Carbery and co choose to kick to the corner, but the ensuing attack came to nothing as Casey was scragged and a messy ruck saw Northampton win the ball back and clear.

In the 56th minute, Northampton had their second try as a tiring Munster failed to plug the spaces on transition when centre Rory Hutchinson broke down the right, possession was won back in a counter-ruck, and wing Ramm picked up to dive over.

Image: Saints celebrate James Ramm's (pictured with ball) try, which brought within seven points with 22 minutes left

Smith's conversion was again on target - over via the post this time - bringing Northampton within seven points with a little over 22 minutes to play.

Munster's response was hearty, as they carved out a sustained spell in the Northampton half for pretty much the first time in the second half, and when Ryan combined with Alex Kendellen at the breakdown to force another penalty, Munster had what felt like a critical five-metre attacking lineout.

Saints conjured up an enormous breakdown penalty through replacement Alex Coles, however, a metre from their own try-line after six phases, in a massively significant moment in the contest as a fourth try eluded Munster.

Northampton Saints turnover
Image: Northampton Saints celebrate their crucial second half turnover, which gave them a shot at winning the game they couldn't take

A breakdown penalty with Kendellen on the wrong side saw Northampton back by the Munster 22, but the young back-row more than made up for it by competing at a breakdown in a sequence which also saw Frisch neck-rolled, allowing Munster to clear when a try appeared a certainty after a period of desperate scramble defence.

Kendellen, Frisch
Image: Munster's last-ditch second half defence, from the likes of Alex Kendellen, was phenomenal

A soft penalty against Kendellen for being in the way of the scrum-half allowed Smith to land his fourth kick of the night inside the final 10 minutes, though, reducing the difference to just four points at 24-20.

Brilliant work by Daly and Beirne to chase, corral and tackle Ramm forced a penalty up the other end when the Saints wing returned to his feet after being held. Munster chose to kick the points, with Crowley splitting the uprights with a booming strike and restoring the seven-point margin.

Image: Jack Crowley's late penalty restored Munster's seven-point lead with time running out

After a fantastic Daly tackle in the 22 thwarted a Saints attack with an overload, Northampton registered another penalty through Smith with 90 seconds remaining - Munster failing to roll away - to bring the game back into the balance with one minute left to play, but Calvin Nash, Coombes and Munster swallowed up Saints possession in a maul from the restart to ensure victory.

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