Leicester Tigers were beaten 16-25 by visitors Munster in Round 4 of the European Champions Cup at Welford Road on Sunday.
An early try from Mathew Tait after smart work by Graham Kitchener got Tigers off to a great start and they led 10-3 after quarter of an hour. But penalties started to mount up against the hosts as Munster enjoyed the bulk of possession and Ian Keatley was able to chip away at the lead until finally edging the visitors in front just before half-time.
A score from Munster No8 CJ Stander swing the impetus in the visitors’ favour with Tigers a man down at the start of the second half
Tigers fought their way back into the game at 16-19 but couldn’t find the next score in an enthralling arm-wrestle between two double European champions as the Irishmen added a couple of penalty kicks to leave their hosts empty-handed.
Munster recorded a 33-10 triumph at Thomond Park last weekend in the third round of fixtures in Pool 4 to take top spot in the group. Only five points separate all four teams going into the Round 4 weekend, making this another massive fixture at the home of the Tigers.
In team news announced on Friday afternoon, Tigers welcome back centres Matt Toomua and Manu Tuilagi, while Australia international hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau is in line for his debut after being named among the replacements.
Munster include skipper Peter O’Mahony who has just announced a new three-year contract with the Irish Rugby Union, while Keith Earls returns to the matchday squad after injury.
After an emotional farewell to Tom Croft just ahead of kick-off, Tigers got off to a good start, taking the lead with a penalty less than two minutes into the game.
Tigers kicked off and were awarded an immediate lineout which brought the penalty and George Ford kicked the three points.
Aggressive defence forced two knock-ons by Munster on halfway in the opening few minutes, but Tigers were unable to take advantage as the first scrum brought a penalty to the visitors. They pumped the ball into the right-hand corner and, when Tigers contested the lineout, the referee blew for playing the man in the air.
Munster went to the corner again, but the Tigers forwards met the maul and stood up to consecutive phases before being penalised again for playing the scrum-half without the ball. Skipper Peter O’Mahony this time pointed to the posts and Ian Keatley levelled the scores with 10 minutes gone.
Tuilagi got his hands on the ball for the first time on 11 minutes in midfield and in the next phases Tigers had another penalty which Ford kicked down the left and it led to the opening try for Mathew Tait.
With Tigers opening play on the left, Graham Kitchener found Tait and suddenly a gap opened for the full-back and the dummy allowed him to run through and score his first of the season. Ford’s conversion made it 10-3 and had the home crowd in good voice.
Dan Cole looked unfortunate to be penalised at ruck on halfway following the restart but Keatley again put Munster into the Tigers 22.
After standing up to the lineout, another massive defence effort saw Munster held up with the ball in the centre of the field.
Tigers remained pinned inside their own half as Munster looked for a platform and the home defence stuck to task.
Referee Mathieu Raynal spoke to captain Tom Youngs and Cole after the Tigers tighthead conceded as third penalty in the opening 20 minutes as Munster began to build momentum in possession. Keatley knocked the kick over to reduce the deficit to four points at 10-6.
Logo Mulipola replaced Kyle Traynor with half an hour gone Tempers flared momentarily when Tigers were whistled for a late tackle on Conor Murray, and Keatley again went to the right-hand corner. Munster set up the drive and gained another penalty with Tigers on their own five-metre line.
Skipper Youngs was asked to have a word with the Tigers players as Keatley called for the tee and slotted his kick to make it 10-9 as the rain lashed Welford Road.
Tigers hearts fluttered with five minutes to go before half=time when Munster hacked ball towards the tryline from halfway, but Tait got back to recover and beat the first attacker to clear the anger.
There was time for one more attack, which brought a penalty for offside and Keatley put over the kick to put Munster in the lead for the first time, and worse was to follow when Cole was penalised again and the referee showed a yellow card as the clock reached 40 minutes.
Munster had another penalty as Kitchener and Tom Youngs contested a breakdown in front of the dugouts and this time, with the home crowd showing their displeasure, Conor Murray chose to kick from halfway but pushed it wide of the right-hand post as the half ended with the visitors 12-10 in front.
And they stretched the lead with a try at the start of the second half as CJ Stander forced his way over the line following a break by Murray. Referee Raynal checked with the TMO before awarding the try and Keatley kicked the extras as the visiting fans celebrated.
With the wind in Munster’s sails, Simon Zebo threatened down the left before Tait covered and cleared to touch.
Ford saw a chance to chip in behind the Munster backline as Tigers strove to get into opposition territory, but the ball bounced in front of Tuilagi who knocked on.
A fabulous counterattack by Jonny May from near his own line ended in the Munster 22, with Tuilagi making a big hit on Cloete as he wrapped up ball.
Tigers gained the throw, however, and the backing of a big crowd as they stormed forward, with Mapapalangi, Kalamafoni and skipper Youngs carrying purposefully. The whistle against scrum-half Murray brought a chance for Ford to have his first sight of goal since the 13th minute and he dispatched the kick to make it 13-19 on 52 minutes.
Mulipola led some resistance on halfway as Keatley miscued a kick into touch, and although Tigers were getting hands on the ball, possession was stuck in the middle third of the field.
Tatafu Polota-Nau ran out for his debut approaching the hour mark after a huger shift in the front row from Youngs, with Luke Hamilton replacing Mike Williams at flanker.
The hooker’s first involvement was an attacking lineout but, although he missed his man, there was a knock-on at the tail and Tigers had the scrum put-in. Tuilagi and Mulipola carried strongly but Munster stood up in defence until Ben Youngs had the ball knocked out of his hands at a ruck. After checking the replay, referee Raynal sin-binned replacement prop John Ryan and Ford kicked the points and Tigers were three points down at 16-19.
After Keatley put a drop-goal attempt wide, Munster returned to the attack and were rewarded with a penalty 35 metres out but the Irish fly-half pulled the kick wide.
Spilled ball in attack from Tigers allowed Munster to hack play 50 metres upfield and then had a scrum put-in but lost ball themselves on the Tigers 22.
Ford judged a kick from deep perfectly to put Munster on the defensive but they cleared their lines as the contest remained in the balance.
Munster picked off a Tigers lineout and then had a penalty when their maul was pulled down on the 22. This time Keatley made no mistake with the kick as his kick gave the Irishmen a six-point cushion.
They had the chance to go for another score with an attacking lineout, but Tigers escaped as ball was lost on the Minster right.
Moments later, though, Tigers were penalised 30 metres out and Keatley kicked to stretch the lead again at 16-25 with just three minutes left on the clock.
Tuilagi almost found his way to the line in time that remained but was tackled in the right-hand corner and the game ended on a knock-on near the Munster try line.
Tigers are back in action at Welford Road on Christmas Eve when defending European champions Saracens are the visitors. Match tickets are still available
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Tickets sold for this evening's game was 23,100. Thank you all for your support
Tigers finish the game on the attack through a bullocking Manu Tuilagi run. But a knock-on brings the game to an end and it is Munster celebrating on the final whistle
It goes over
Keatley doesn't strike it cleanly but it goes over to move Munster nine points ahead with 90 seconds on the clock
Luke Hamilton is pinged for holding on and Keatley has this penalty from an angle on the right, almost certainly for the game ...
Munster fans in full voice
It's the Munster fans singing their Fields of Athenry anthem as they close in on victory. Tigers have the scrum put-in but it's deep in their own 22
Munster stretch their lead
Keatley stretches the Munster lead with a penalty bang in front after Tigers are adjudged to have pulled down a maul. They lead 22-16
Nick Malouf and Dom Barrow are on for Thompstone and Kitchener. Ryan returns from the sin bin
Ford wins his kick battle
Ford and Zebo exchange kicks, with Ford finding a wonderful touch inside the Munster 22
It's been full on!
There has been no inch given in a full-blooded confrontation, summed up by this photo of skipper Tom Youngs
Good work on the floor by Kalamafoni wins the penalty. Tigers are right back in this. Lineout to come on the Munster 10m line.
Keatley has inexplicably missed that penalty. He has kicked well all game but pulls that one across the posts. It stays 19-16 to the visitors
Missed drop goal
Keatley drops deep for the drop goal attempt but skews it wide. But Munster do have a penalty after Zebo was tackled after he kicked the ball moments later.
Ford lands the penalty
Ford lands a simple penalty and Tigers are back to within three points. They trail 19-16
Apologies, it was the Munster No18 John Ryan who is yellow carded and not their No8 Stander.
Yellow for Munster's Stander
Referee Raynal gives a knock-on against Youngs but gets the call from his team to check it. It's a blatant knock down by Stander and he is sent to the bin.
Hamilton and Cole team up to win the penalty against Peter O'Mahony. Ford kicks deep but Munster knock-on the lineout and Leicester have a scrum 10m out.
Debut for Polota-Nau
Tatafu Polota-Nau comes on for his Tigers debut to replace Tom Youngs. Luke Hamilton also on for Mike Williams
Tigers up the intent
Tigers have stepped up the intensity since Cole returned from his sin bin. It forces Keatley into a mistake as he kicks out on the full
Tigers hit back
Ford lands the penalty to bring Tigers back to within a score of their visitors. The noise levels around Welford Road have gone up a notch too.
Penalty to Tigers
Tigers at last have a penalty of their own. Waves of players rain down on the Munster defence and eventually they infringe giving Ford a shot at goal.
Mayhem from May
Jonny May mops up in his own 22 and then bursts into life. He sprints up to halfway, kicks ahead but Cloete gets back to clear up. Welford Road finds its voice again
Munster attacking in waves
Munster attack from deep with Zebo kicking into the Leicester 22, where Tait mops up and finds touch
Keatley adds the extras and Munster are more than a score ahead. They lead 19-10.
It's a try
The officials award the try. And it is CJ Stander who has claimed it, burrowing over after Murray's initial break.
Have Munster scored?
Munster steal the lineout and Murray ghosts through a hole at the back. Tait holds him up but they go again and claim the try next to the posts. TMO time
Front row reshuffle
With Cole off the pitch, Thompstone comes off for Traynor to pack down at the scrum. Munster secure possession and find touch on the Leicester 22
Tigers on the attack
Simon Zebo spills a high kick and Tigers attack through Tom Youngs. It goes through the hands but Tait is heavy on his kick, which runs dead in-goal.
The teams are back out
Munster are first out, followed by the Tigers. Tigers will be a man short for the first nine minutes or so with Dan Cole in the sin bin.
The rain has stopped during half-time. It looks like Tigers will have a breeze at their backs this half as they attack the Mattioli Woods Stand end.
Murray misses penalty
Murray steals a couple of yards, which is missed by referee Raynal. But Murray misses his penalty to the right of the posts. Tigers will have to come from behind in the second half. They trail 12-10 at the break
Dan Cole will spend 10 minutes in the bin after receiving a yellow card for infringing in the Munster 22. Boos all round Welford Road as he pings Tigers again at a lineout.
Munster take the lead for the first time in the game as Keatley lands his fourth penalty.
Another Munster penalty
Monsieur Raynal is not the flavour of the month with the home fans as he whistles Tigers for offside. Keatley with another kickable penalty attempt.
That man Tait
Great defensive work by Tait. Rory Scannell kicks through but Tait gets back, collects the ball and then makes ground for Youngs to find touch.
Munster back to within a point
Tom Youngs is pinged for side entry and Keatley lands his third penalty of the contest. Tigers lead 10-9
Logovi'i Mulipola is on for Kyle Traynor at loosehead prop. Meanwhile, Graham Kitchener is adjudged to have tackled Murray late and Munster kick back into the Leicester 22.
Tigers need a foothold
Tigers are struggling to get any territory in the pouring rain. Ford hangs a huge kick on Sweetnam that he does well to catch with Tuilagi bearing down.
Tigers need a foothold
Tigers are struggling to get any territory in the pouring rain. Ford hangs a huge kick on Sweetnam that he does well to catch with Tuilagi bearing down.
Munster are enjoying plenty of possession, but Tait is alert to the danger as Sweetnam collects a kick on the right and tackles him into touch.
Scare for Tigers
Chris Cloete breaks the Leicester line but is isolated as he is tackled by Sione Kalamafoni and spills possession. Ford's kick is charged down before he gets another chance and finds touch on halfway.
Slick handling from the Tigers in wet conditions, but Mike Williams's pass goes into touch with space opening up.
Keatley knocks over his penalty to cut Tigers' lead to four points at 10-6
Shot to nothing
Munster, with a penalty advantage, kick wide for Alex Wootton, buit Thompstone beats him in the air. Play comes back and Keatley will have a simple kick.
The heavens open
There is heavy rain falling now on Welford Road but the hardy souls on the Terrace are taking it in their stride
Hard work from Cole
Dan Cole smothers his man in the maul and wins the scrum put-in. He then does his bit to secure the ball for Youngs to find touch in the Munster half.
Jonny May is alert to Keatley's kick through, goes into contact and sets up the ruck for Ben Youngs to find touch
Back and forth
Now it's Munster's turn to attack. They have their own lineout on the Tigers 22.
Ford converts, just!
Ford takes his time over his conversion and is almost charged down but gets his kick away, which squeezes inside the far post.
Tait on the mark
Four Munster defenders bought that dummy from Tait and he scoots over from 22m to score his first try in 37 games.
Mathew Tait, you beauty!
Munster pinged at the breakdown
Billy Holland fails to roll in midfield and referee Raynal is quick to whistle the Munster lock. Tigers lineout now on the visitors' 22
Ian Keatley knocks over the penalty. It's 3-3 here at Welford Road.
Roared on by the Crumbie, Tigers fly off the line into the tackle. Too quickly for the liking of referee Mathieu Raynal, who pings Ben Youngs for playing his opposite number Conor Murray
Munster fail to make headway from the lineout but play is brought back for an infringement. They go to the corner again.
Munster have a lineout 5m out after a booming penalty from Ian Keatley
Large visiting support is making for a cracking atmosphere. Tigers fans unhappy as the home side are pinged at a scrum.
Tuilagi and Toomua involved early
Manu Tuilagi is invited to run hard from his own 22 while Matt Toomua has already shown a lovely appreciation of weight on his pass. Good early signs.
Ford makes a sweet contact with his penalty to give Tigers an early lead. Keep it going boys.
Tigers have an early kick at goal from out on the right ...
Adam Thompstone tackles Darren Sweetnam into touch in the first action of the game and Tigers have a lineout 10m out.
George Ford will get us underway amid a huge noise at Welford Road. Tigers are attacking the Robin Hood Stand at the Aylestone Road end of the ground.
Smoke on the Water
The stamping starts up as the familiar refrain of Smoke on the Water starts up. And what a noise to greet Tom Youngs and the team!
Here come the visitors
Munster make their way onto the field. There is a good sized travelling support to greet them too.
Once a Tiger ...
What a reception for Tom Croft. If Welford Road is half as noisy throughout the game then it will be some atmosphere
A standing ovation from all sides of Welford Road for Tom Croft as he says an emotional farewell following his retirement. Thank you Crofty!
Warm-ups are over
Tigers get a huge reception as they leave the pitch following their warm-up. Things warming up nicely.
10 minutes to kick-off
Munster have finished their warm-up and head back into the changing rooms
The Tigers boys have begun their warm-up for this evening's crunch Champions Cup clash
Recently retired Tiger Tom Croft will be making his way on to the Welford Road pre-match this evening. If you're here at the game, make sure to be in your seat to say #ThanksCrofty to the Leicester legend.
THINGS ARE WARMING UP AT WELFORD ROAD
Both Teams have begun making their way on to the 125-year-old pitch as we are now just forty minutes from kick-off here in this Round 4 Champions Cup clash.
There really is a buzz about the crowd as the European Rugby energy fills the stands.
ISN'T THAT A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES?
LIVE FROM THE ROOMS AT WELFORD ROAD
TOOMUA AND TUILAGI
All the news over the past 48 hours has been about the return of the Tigers international centre-pairing in the form of Australian Matt Toomua and England's Manu Tuilagi, which certainly sets the scene for a serious showdown following last weekend's Thomond Park clash.
Can the pair help Tigers right their wrongs from the away loss? We will see in just over one hour here at Welford Road!
Awaiting kick-off with nervous energy? Why not have a read of the Big Match Preview!!
Head to the 'News' tab on both App or Website and you'll find it there, to get you even further in the mood for this blockbuster clash between two long-time European rivals.
It's a balmy 7 degrees in Leicester and while a drizzle of rain has fallen throughout the day, it's currently ideal conditions for rugby as we close in on the final hour before play gets underway.
WELCOME BACK TO WELFORD ROAD
Ahhh, yes! The feeling of European Rugby back at Welford Road is one like no other. Tigers v Munster - this is going to be BIG!!