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Northampton Saints are in desperate need of a victory at Munster Rugby in Round 3 of the Heineken Champions Cup in order to boost their qualification hopes.
A committed defensive display from Munster earned the Irish province a 17-6 victory at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens in Round 2 and handed Northampton a second successive defeat in Pool B.
The Gallagher Premiership side showed signs of improvement following their 46-12 opening-round thrashing at Stade Rochelais but remain without a point at the bottom of the pool.
Munster, who lie sixth on five points, will be hoping to make some ground on the leaders as they aim to follow up that win at Saints, having been beaten 18-13 at home by Stade Toulousain in Round 1.
Since their Round 2 meeting, Munster have won two from three in the United Rugby Championship, while Northampton have claimed victory in one of their two Premiership encounters.
The game kicks off at 15:15 (UK & Irish time) and coverage is provided by RTE, BT Sport, beIN SPORTS, SuperSport and FloRugby.
Northampton Saints lock Alex Coles: “It’s not a daunting test; I would say it’s really exciting. It’s one of the best places to go and play rugby in Europe, from what I’ve been told.”
3️⃣ free Round 3️⃣ thrillers on TV this weekend…
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 11, 2023
- Gavin Coombes made the most tackles in Round 2 (25), missing just two.
- Munster have won the joint-fewest turnovers in the tournament (9).
- All three of Munster’s tries have been scored in the first half.
- Alex Mitchell has made more breaks from rucks than any other player (12).
- Northampton have made the most carries in the competition (25).
- Saints have completed a tournament-high 92% of their tackles.
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Munster Rugby held off a second-half surge by Northampton Saints to complete a thrilling Heineken Champions Cup Pool B double over the Gallagher Premiership side by a 27-23 margin at Thomond Park on Saturday, despite a first-half red card for Jack O’Donoghue.
Munster, who now lie fourth, led 24-0 at the interval thanks to a brace of tries from Gavin Coombes and a solo score from O’Donoghue, but the latter’s dismissal gave Northampton impetus in the second period.
Tommy Freeman and James Ramm crossed for Saints after the break, with Fin Smith adding 13 points from the tee, but the visitors were unable to get that final score to cap their superb comeback and they had to be content with a losing bonus point which leaves them bottom of the pool.
What a kick chase by @SaintsRugby 😇
They turn the ball over and James Ramm dives in to reduce the deficit to just 7 💪
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 14, 2023
Munster opened the scoring after just two minutes, Joey Carbery dissecting the uprights from long range.
A first try for the Irish province soon followed. Coombes was the beneficiary of a tap and go after a penalty awarded deep in Northampton territory, the Munster No.8 powering over from close range.
It was to get worse for Northampton as hooker Michael Haywood was sent to the sin bin for a late challenge on Carbery.
A second try followed midway through the first half. Coombes was again involved as he made the offload to an onrushing O’Donoghue, who scampered home unopposed. The timing of the pass impeccable.
O’Donoghue would go from hero to villain in a matter of moments, though, as he was shown a red card for a high tackle.
However, Coombes was in the action once again on the half hour, after Munster were awarded a penalty deep in Northampton territory. A series of pick-and-goes followed, with Coombes the eventual try-scorer as he powered over from close range.
Northampton finally broke their duck in the second period after winning a penalty deep in Munster territory. Saints moved the ball from right to left and into the hands of Freeman, who dotted down for the Gallagher Premiership side. Smith then added a penalty to reduce the deficit further.
The visitors continued to capitalise on their man advantage by moving the ball quickly through their hands. Midway through the second period, Ramm executed a perfect kick-chase down the right flank and powered over from a pick-and-go.
Smith and Jack Crowley exchanged penalties to leave the score 27-20 heading into the final few minutes. Smith then opted to kick another penalty, rather than kick for the corner, to close the deficit to four, but Saints were unable to make anything of the restart.
Munster close their Pool B campaign with a trip to five-time Heineken Champions Cup winners Stade Toulousain, while Northampton host defending champions Stade Rochelais in Round 4.