European Rugby Champions Cup
Munster 38 – 0 Leicester
Munster handed Leicester Tigers their heaviest ever Champions Cup defeat with a fantastic four-try performance in a 38-0 win at Thomond Park.
Building on their unforgettable round-two victory over Glasgow Warriors, Rassie Erasmus’ in-form side bagged the maximum again with man-of-the-match CJ Stander leading by example.
Simon Zebo scored the only try in the first half while Leicester lock Ed Slater was in the sin-bin, adding to Tyler Bleyendaal’s quartet of penalties for a 19-0 half-time lead.
Two tries from short-term signing Jaco Taute after 49 and 56 minutes effectively sealed Tigers’ fate. They had two more players sent to the sin-bin, the second of them coming as George Worth coughed up a 71st-minute penalty try which clinched Munster’s bonus point.
Leicester did the double on Munster last year and also famously won in Limerick back in 2007, but Richard Cockerill’s current squad failed to land a blow in the opening 40 minutes and were ultimately outplayed throughout.
Munster probed with the boot early on, the capacity home crowd loving winger Darren Sweetnam’s seventh-minute catch before a knock-on and scrum penalty allowed Tigers to clear.
A Peter O’Mahony lineout steal preceded Bleyendaal’s first successful penalty in the 10th minute, the New Zealander then keeping Munster on the front foot with a delightful touchfinder in behind Adam Thompstone.
Bleyendaal punished an offside with a crisp strike from the 10-metre line for 6-0, before Freddie Burns was short with a long range first shot at the posts, 20 minutes in.
Bleyendaal nailed his toughest kick from 45 metres out, rewarding a leg-pumping run from Zebo, and the margin was out to 12 points after Slater infringed at a lineout and the Munster fly-half did the rest.
The penalties were mounting against Leicester, Slater paying the price with a 32nd-minute yellow card. After Munster pounded away at the visitors’ defence, Conor Murray’s brilliant pop pass off a close-in ruck saw the onrushing Zebo break a tackle and glide in behind the posts.
Bleyendaal converted for 19-0 and with Keith Earls fizzing with intent, the Irish province held territory up to the break.
Despite better play from Leicester on the resumption, Munster’s immense physicality held them at bay.
The home forwards were clinical in attack too, a monster maul setting up dominant carries from John Ryan and Stander and South African centre Taute was fed to crash over from close range, with Bleyendaal converting.
Tigers had to readjust after the injury-enforced departure of Burns, the Aviva Premiership Player of the Month for November, and his equally influential half-back partner Ben Youngs, who was replaced by Sam Harrison.
Approaching the hour mark, Sweetnam ran hard into the 22 and his excellently-timed offload out of a tackle released Taute for his second try which went unconverted.
Just a couple of minutes later, Manu Tuilagi was binned for what referee Romain Poite deemed a dangerous charge at a ruck.
Rips in contact by Stander and O’Mahony prevented Leicester from claiming a consolation try – this was the first time since a 33-0 hammering at Ulster in January 2004 that they failed to score in a European game.
The visitors’ bench did have a decent impact, particularly young forward Luke Hamilton, but they were unable to take anything tangible into next week’s rematch at Welford Road.
A Sweetnam-inspired attack yielded Munster’s bonus point, his grubber kick being dribbled on by Taute who was tackled early by the covering Worth for the double whammy of a yellow card and penalty try.