Tag Archives: Northampton

O’Gara Drop Goal Drama

Match Report

Munster 23-21 Northampton

Saturday 12th November @ Thomond Park

O'Gara's drop goal won it for Munster

O'Gara the drop goal hero. Photo via H. Southgate

Northampton bravely put in the tackles, out on their feet by now. Mafi came onto the ball. Surely Munster would knock on? Leamy’s carry was followed yet again by Ronan. Murphy, Varley, O’Leary all bravely took turns to carry. O’Connell came forward, the 30th phase by now! This had to end with a spilled ball… Murphy powered into contact, Munster edged closer to Northampton’s 22. Hayes, the Heineken Cup centurion, took his turn. Leamy again. O’Gara was in the pocket now, middle of the pitch, on the ten-metre line. O’Connell played scrumhalf and threw the ball back to O’Gara…

But no, under pressure O’Gara moved the ball to Howlett, who broke through a tired tackle and for a moment looked as if he might go all the way. Next, Mafi was smashed out on the right hand side. O’Connell carried, then Leamy went forward. O’Gara, still up in the line, jinked and hit the inside runner, the 40th phase! Munster won the ruck. Leamy stood over the ball. O’Gara in the pocket. Leamy spun a perfect pass to O’Gara, standing on the ten-metre line. This time, O’Gara had the space to strike. The ball flew high into the Limerick night air, the will of every Munster fan behind it. Seemingly in slow motion, it flew straight and true. O’Gara punched the air and for a second it felt like Munster had won the Heineken Cup, rather than simply securing a home win in their first pool match.

A fitting end to a thrilling Heineken Cup encounter, showcasing once again just how exciting this competition can be. The match started explosively after Munster won a lineout five metres from Northampton’s line. Man of the Match Peter O’Mahony set his stall out by putting pressure on Ashton and then Foden, forcing them into conceding the lineout. Varley hit Ryan in the middle and a dynamic shove led to Varley touching down at the back of the maul. O’Gara added the conversion to put Munster into a 7-0 lead after only 3 minutes.

Ryan Lamb fell just short with his first penalty effort in the 7th minute. Northampton then gave a counter attacking master class. From a Murray clearance down the line, Artemyev carried with pace from his own half and offloaded to Ashton who released Foden on the other side of the pitch. Foden drew Howlett as Ashton worked hard to get to his fullback’s outside shoulder. Foden sent his England teammate over in the corner, a magnificent example of a back three countering as a unit. Lamb converted well from the touchline.

The Saints lead was extended soon after when Munster dragged down a maul and Lamb put the penalty over. Lamb was successful with another penalty in the 20th minute after Varley went off his feet at ruck-time. Northampton led 13-7 and were more than matching Munster up front. Jim Mallinder’s side looked to put width on their attack, moving the ball into wider channels at every opportunity. A bad pass from Lawes led to one particularly promising passage of play breaking down.

Munster continued to play their rugby in Northampton’s half. After Tongauiha was penalised for driving in and up at a scrum, O’Gara did the honours to narrow the gap. Munster then went over for a crucial try right on the stroke of half time. Lamb kicked aimlessly and O’Mahony carried back well. Murray then broke and offloaded out of the tackle to Barnes. After recycling the ball, Howlett found himself at first receiver and managed to slip through a gap in the Saints defence. He stepped the despairing tackle of Foden and dived over to the right of the posts. O’Gara made no mistake with the convert leaving Munster with a 17-13 half time lead.

Immediately after the break, O’Gara was back over the tee. This time he slotted a penalty when Nigel Owens pinged the Saints for offside after an Artemyev knock on. Munster were punished for the same offence minutes later and Lamb knocked over the penalty, 20-16 to Munster.

In the 56th minute, Northampton retook the lead. After Wilson had trucked it up the middle, the Saints broke back down the blind side and former Munster centre James Downey powered over. Lamb pulled his conversion to the left of the posts, leaving his side with a one point lead, 21-20.

Ten minutes later, Northampton had a gilt-edged opportunity to take the game from Munster’s reach. After Downey had put them on the front foot, a flat pass from Lamb sent Ashton down the touchline. Artemyev kicked Ashton’s offload ahead and then with the line at his mercy he knocked on his attempted pick up. Relief for Munster.

As wholesale changes were made on both sides, Munster started to get on top. Lamb was now happy to kick deep back to Munster, anything to relieve the pressure in the Saints half. O’Gara missed a penalty effort with ten minutes to go. But Munster never stopped believing. With time running out and Northampton still leading, the stage was set for the breathless finale.

Photo courtesy: Henry Southgate

Heineken Cup Round 1 Previews

Photo via bobaliciouslondon

Friday 11th November (20.00)

Harlequins vs. Connacht @ The Twickenham Stoop

Connacht are the first Irish province up in the opening weekend of Heineken Cup action. They travel to London to take on high-flying Harlequins on Friday night. ‘Quins have made a flawless start to their Aviva Premiership campaign with eight wins from eight so far. Boosted by last season’s win over Munster in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final in Thomond Park, Conor O’Shea’s side have begun this season bristling with confidence and represent a serious test for Connacht on their Heineken Cup debut.

With All-Black Nick Evans directing play at outhalf, Nick Easter leading by example from no. 8 and Mike Brown threatening from full back, Harlequins are not short on experience. Jordan Turner-Hall in the centre is dynamic and will be aiming for a senior English international cap this season. Conor O’Shea will hope to keep his side’s feet on the ground and avoid complacency against Connacht.

Photo via boocal

After a solid start to their RaboDirect PRO12 campaign, with three wins from four, Connacht come into this match off the back of a four game losing-streak. The loss of last season’s key players like Sean Cronin, Ian Keatley and Fionn Carr is an obvious blow to Eric Elwood’s side. He will hope that the likes of Eoin Griffin, Paul O’Donohoe and Tiernan O’Halloran can provide supporters with new heroes.

This away fixture is a tough assignment for the Western province but they will be highly motivated. Many of the squad’s longer-serving members will have dreamed of this chance to prove themselves at the top level of European club rugby. Expect a ferocious start from Connacht. That said, Harlequins fantastic form so far this season sees them as clear favourites for this tie.

Saturday 12th November (13.30)

Montpellier vs. Leinster @ Stade de la Mosson

Leinster begin their title defence on Saturday with a trip to the south of France to take on Montpellier. Leinster will take confidence from their 24-19 win over Munster last weekend at the Aviva, even if they may not have been entirely happy with the performance. They sit joint top of the RaboDirect PRO12 with the Ospreys on 26 points after 8 games. The boost of the returned World Cup players has been tempered by the news that Brian O’Driscoll will most likely miss the remainder of this season.

Still, this Leinster side has quality all over the pitch and also within the squad. The likes of Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley will look to shine in O’Driscoll’s absence and Jonny Sexton will be eager to show Declan Kidney that he is Ireland’s premier flyhalf. Jamie Heaslip’s place at no. 8 is under increasing pressure so expect a big performance form him. Joe Schmidt has the luxury of quality squad players to provide competition in almost every position. On paper, Leinster clearly have enough quality to beat any team, but the post-World Cup form of the international players will be an issue.

Photo via MD+D

Montpellier have endured a dreadful start to the Top 14 in France, winning only two of their nine fixtures so far. Nonetheless, Leinster will have to be wary of a backlash from Fabien Galthie’s team who narrowly lost out to Toulouse in last season’s Top 14 final. France international Francois Trinh-Duc will hope to pick up where he left off in the World Cup final, impressing after coming off the bench against New Zealand. Leinster will also have to halt the rampaging Mamuka Gorgodze in his tracks. L’Equipe named the imposing Georgian the Top 14’s Foreign Player of the Year last season

This is certainly a winnable match for Leinster and provides them with an early opportunity to get an away win. Montpellier certainly won’t roll over in this one, but Leinster should have enough strength to return home with four points.

Saturday 12th November (15.40)

Ulster vs. Clermont @ Ravenhill

Ulster kick off their European campaign at home to Clermont. Brian McLaughlin will hope his side can build on last season’s run to the quarter finals of this competition. They have been handed a tough task in Pool 4, facing Clermont, Leicester and Aironi. Ulster’s form in the PRO12 has been inconsistent, opening with three wins before a run of four successive losses was ended with the 22-3 won over Connacht last Saturday.

Clermont have a hugely impressive squad on paper, including French World Cup players such as captain Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Bonnaire and Morgan Parra. They also boast a whole other range of internationals like Julien Malzieu, Gonzalo Canale and Elvis Vermuelen. New signings Lee Byrne, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Nathan Hines and David Skrela add an extra dimension and depth to their squad.

Last season, Clermont’s losses when travelling to Racing Metro and Leinster were what cost them a place in the quarter finals. Their 20-13 win at home to Leinster in a high quality match showed the pedigree of Vern Cotter’s side. Clermont come into this fixture sitting in second place in the Top 14, a point behind Toulouse.

Ulster will need to start this game well in order to counter the confidence Clermont will bring to Ravenhill after such an impressive start to the season. McLaughlin will look to his international stars like Ruan Pienaar and new signing John Afoa, as well as Irish stars Stephen Ferris and Andrew Trimble, to lead from the front. Home advantage should just about see Ulster squeeze through in this one.

Saturday 12th November (18.00)

Munster vs. Northampton @ Thomond Park

Finally, Munster host Northampton in Thomond Park on Saturday evening. Tony McGahan’s men will be keen to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing loss to Leinster. Meanwhile, Northampton are on a five-match winning streak in all competitions, racking up 20 tries in the process. The Saints have welcomed Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes back into the fold, and all four will be delighted to be back playing for their club side after a difficult World Cup with England. Coach Jim Mallinder will have been encouraged by Munster’s loss to Leinster, as well as last month’s defeat in Thomond Park to the Ospreys.

Despite the form and confidence Northampton bring, no one can write off this Munster team. With experience and ability throughout the squad, Munster will fancy themselves to halt the Saints’ recent run. Paul O’Connell has been reinvented and will ensure his team are motivated for another tilt at the Heineken Cup. The injured David Wallace, Keith Earls, Felix Jones, Jerry Flannery and Mike Sherry will all be missed but Munster still have enough in their squad to see off this challenge.

One of the most encouraging aspects of last weekend’s defeat to Leinster was the performance of the scrum. BJ Botha and Wian du Preez will relish the front row battle against Tongauiha, Hartley and Mujati. If they can get on top as they did late in the game against Leinster then this will provide the platform for a Munster win. Lifemi Mafi looks close to his explosive best and O’Gara should look to use him early on to get his side on the front foot. O’Gara will expect to show his mercurial opposite number, Ryan Lamb, how to control a game.

Both teams will approach this game with confidence, and that should make for an absorbing battle. Northampton, last season’s beaten finalists, will surely be aware of what a Munster team who have been questioned by critics and supporters alike are capable of. Expect a close-fought game here. Munster to edge it.

Photos courtesy:  boocal, bobaliciouslondon, MD+D