Heineken Cup - Round 6
Munster forced to dig deep for victory
January 22, 2010
Munster's Jean de Villiers is shackled by the Northampton defence, Munster v Northampton, Heineken Cup, Thomond Park, Limerick, Ireland, January 22, 2010
Munster's Jean de Villiers is shackled by the Northampton defence © Getty Images

Munster coach Tony McGahan hailed his side's battling qualities following their hard-fought Heineken Cup win against Northampton.

The 12-9 victory over their Pool 1 rivals saw them book a place in the quarter-finals for the 12th successive season - where they are assured of a home tie - but they had to dig deep to see off a resilient Saints side and also weather a yellow card for skipper Paul O'Connell. The boot of Ronan O'Gara was again key to their fortunes with the fly-half kicking four penalties in a consummate display in front of a vociferous Thomond Park crowd.

The game was in the balance throughout the contest with the pivotal passage of play coming midway through the second half with Munster desperately defending their own line with their captain in the sin-bin.

"I thought the lads were excellent. I felt we showed some great desire and effort. They really showed how much it means to play for Munster," McGahan said. "We were under severe pressure at that stage in the second half. We kicked the ball out on the full. We had a few issues in the scrum and Paul O'Connell was off for 10 minutes.

"To dog it out and find a way out... We worked extremely hard on the floor. We got turnover ball, were lucky enough to get it down field and then get three points. We always had belief. We have said that many a time that we are always able to come back from any situation. I think Northampton are an excellent side, the real deal. They are well coached and organised. They could be a real force in this competition."

O'Connell agreed that the game had proved to be a battle of attrition and he was just happy to record a win. "It was a good win. We did not play fabulously well. It was like a cup final out there. Very often the rugby isn't great," he admitted. "Defensively both sides were so up for it. They are so well drilled. That is the way it was out there. There was so little space out there.

"It was a real battle of attrition at times. We were lucky Rog (Ronan O'Gara) put over the penalties. We are very happy to win that game. Northampton are an excellent side. For some of us the away game against Northampton was tough because it was our first game back. In terms of being up and running, that was probably our toughest game of the pool.

"As for the sin-binning, the referee (Romain Poite) said it was a ruck, but I thought the ball was two feet off the ground. It can't be a ruck then. When Northampton were pressing hard in the second half and I was in the sin-bin, I think Doug Howlett came into the scrum and Alan Quinlan came into the second row. That was a massive piece of mental strength to turn them over and clear the ball. It is probably what won the game for us."

Northampton remain in the race to reach the quarter-finals as a best runner-up after registering a losing bonus point. Their fate will be determined by results elsewhere over the weekend.

Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder was left to rue a number of missed opportunities this evening. A penalty apiece from Bruce Reihana, Shane Geraghty and Stephen Myler were all the visitors had to show for their efforts.

"On another day we could have won that game. I keep looking back and thinking about the series of scrums we had on their line," he said. "We certainly did the right thing, (our captain) Dylan Hartley making the decision to re-scrum. We just did not quite manage to convert that into points. We did miss a couple of kicks at goal as well."

"I would love to qualify for the quarter-finals and if that gave us an opportunity to come back here, then we would take it. Tonight was a step up. For a lot of our players we are relatively inexperienced at this level. When you compare us to Munster, who have been playing at this level and building a team for up to 10 years, we have just come together over the past couple of years."

© Scrum.com

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