THOMOND PARK, Limerick, may not boast modern spectator facilities but what it does have is an intimidating atmosphere and a passionate home crowd that has helped Munster build up an unbeaten Heineken Cup record there. Last year the venue was centre stage for dramatic scenes as Munster bundled Gloucester out of the European competition with four tries.
This year Gloucester again outplayed the Irishmen at Kingsholm but once again back at Thomond Park, Munster turned the tables on the Cherry and Whites with another four tries. Unlike Gloucester, they also secured a crucial bonus point, by scoring four tries and now top the group table having scored more tries than Gloucester.
Rugby is essentially a team game played between two sides for a period of eighty minutes. Most unfortunately for Gloucester they had to play for two spells of ten minutes with just fourteen men! It is hard enough with a full complement of fifteen men against top teams but when you are a man down it becomes very much ‘Mission Impossible’
Chris Fortey in his first outing after a week’s suspension, was the first to go to the sin-bin for up-ending a Munster line out forward. Such ill judged acts of stupidity cost the team dear and have earned him the reputation for being a liability. Henry Paul had his time out in the second half for what could have been a hard decision for what was adjudged to be a deliberate knock on and that effectively finished Gloucester’s chances as Munster eased through.
On the day Gloucester’s line out just didn’t function and the scrum was under non-stop pressure as Munster’s pack out-muscled their opponents and had obviously done their homework and were consequently much better prepared than the previous week.
LINE OUT BALL LOST
Gloucester had made a reasonable start, surviving the expected initial Munster onslaught, tackling well and putting the Munster half backs under pressure. Henry Paul kicked an early penalty to put the visitors in front as this time they tried to play positive rugby, rather than the negative containing game which cost them so dear on their previous visit to Limerick.
Ominously for Gloucester, Munster began to steal ball on the Gloucester throw with worrying regularity and soon after Fortey’s departure Irish international prop Marcus Horan was driven over for the first try.
HANGING ON AT HALF TIME
H.P was in fine form with the boot and kept Gloucester in the game with three penalty goals from three attempts in the first half.
Munster hooker Frankie Sheehan then got in on the scoring act, burrowing over from close range as the force was very clearly with the home side as their forwards ruled the roost and Gloucester were hard pressed to hold out.
Horan added his second try close to half time and Munster were well on top and Gloucester were struggling to hang on at 19-9 at the break Gloucester’s backs had defended well and gave the distinct impression that if only they had got their share of the ball they would have had the edge over their opponents but were forced to live off scraps of possession.
A fine run by full back Jon Goodridge raised Gloucester’s hopes briefly with an excellent try but it was not to be, although Marcel Garvey put in some strong runs the ball was spilled and that was as close as it got for Gloucester.
H.P departed for his time in the bin and as had happened last year O’Garas’ kicking got better and better as the game went on, driving Gloucester back and slotting two penalties.
Duncan MacRae, booed every time he touched the ball, attempted an audacious interception close to the Gloucester line, missed the ball and with the wide open spaces at their mercy, Munster added the coup de grace, as John Kelly scored their bonus fourth try.
Game, set and match to Munster, all too easily.