Knee knock the only down side to another brilliant Tadhg Beirne performance

Sean Farrell reports from Thomond Park

HE ARRIVED IN Munster a fully-formed star of European Rugby and a nominee for the Champions Cup’s player of the year.

It scarcely seemed plausible that Tadhg Beirne’s influence would grow.

Yet rather than succumb or to any potential settling-in period that can slow down so many rising stars, the second row continues to deliver supreme performance levels when his team most needs him.

The sight of Beirne grimacing and clutching his knee was the greatest shame arising from a gripping 9-7 win over the Exeter Chiefs which sealed Munster’s passage to the knockout rounds.

He got up and hobbled on, across the pitch and then back, where the crowd greeted him with a standing ovation on his way to the replacements bench.

Post-match was far too early for a prognosis on the knee injury, but the Kildare man will undergo a scan to learn how much of a role he can play for Ireland in the imminent Six Nations.

Beirne gets treatment after suffering a knee knock. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I think Tadhg’s a special player,” said Johann van Graan post-match.

“He’s had a few man of the match performances in this competition. He’s very dynamic and he’s one of the only locks in world rugby who can poach the way he can.”

That poach threat was invaluable for Munster and few interventions were more important than the 30th minute penalty he forced 10 metres out from his own posts when the Chiefs sought to turn the screw.

“He’s worked so hard on his calling,” Van Graan adds after Beirne led tonight’s line-out.

“When he arrived he wasn’t really a calling option, I threw him into the deep end… I think he’s developed into one of the form locks in the competition.”

Beirne blocks down a box kick. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It was a night when Munster needed their big men to rise to the occasion and the pack duly stepped forward.

Beirne did not even reach the touchline when his replacement Billy Holland brilliantly pilfered an Exeter attacking line-out on his five metre line. Jean Kleyn forced an important turnover after his fellow starting lock departed and CJ Stander ended up with the rare sight of twice as many tackles (21) as carries (10) completed on his stats sheet.

It was that sort of night for Munster. Exeter have a way of making errors an inescapable part of their opponent’s game, but with Peter O’Mahony powering through last week’s rib cartilage injury to add 16 tackles – including the final coup de grace – to the cause, Munster once again found a way to win.

Nic White gets to grips with O’Mahony. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It was definitely the toughest game of rugby since I came to Munster,” adds Van Graan after taking top spot in his first full pool campaign.

“Two teams who didn’t want to give up. If you get only one score in the second half, when games (usually) open up, it shows you how intense it was.

“It won’t go down as the prettiest game of rugby…  we open up our eyes tomorrow morning and we’re in a quarter-final, that’s the main thing.”

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