Super Rugby Pacific: Champion Crusaders become latest international scalp for Irish Munster club

Champion Crusaders have fallen desperately short in their Super Rugby Pacific pre-season opener, falling 21-19 to Irish club side Munster at Cork.

Striking a battle-hardened team in the midst of their United Rugby Championship campaign, the NZ visitors trailled for most of the contest, drawing level with 15 minutes on the clock, only to concede the advantage back to their hosts.

Into added time, they had a chance to snatch a draw, when replacement lock Jamie Hannah was drive across the line from an attacking lineout, but first-five Rivez Reihana pushed his conversion attempt wide, as the 'Red Army' celebrated.   

Mitch Drummond scores the Crusaders' opening try.
Mitch Drummond scores the Crusaders' opening try. Photo credit: Getty Images

Even without their All Blacks, still on extended rest, the Crusaders had enough international class to take on a club side with a rich history of success against touring sides - including the All Blacks in 1978.

The Super Rugby juggernauts were plagued by early penalties and turnovers that kept them pinned inside their own 22 for the opening 15 minutes, eventually buckling to allow lock Gavin Coombes over from close range.

Wales international Leigh Halfpenny was an early casualty with a shoulder injury, and only desperate defence from Macca Springer, Taha Kemara and Dallas McLeod behind their line denied fullback Shane Daly a second try for the home team.  

Crusaders skipper Quentin Strange earned a yellow card on the half hour, after leaving his feet at a midfield breakdown, and from a series of attacking lineouts, Coombes plunged over for his second try.

Just before halftime, the visitors finally found some cohesion, when Springer broke down the left touchline and found McLeod in support, with halfback Mitch Drummond claiming the points untouched.  

After the break, Drummond thought he had a second try, when flanker Dom Gardner burst into the Munster 22 and fired an infield pass that deflected forward off the hands of hooker Angus Bell to the halfback, with a clear run to the line.

The Crusaders had to withstand another period of goal-line pressure, including a final warning for persistent infringement, but broke out of their own half, with Reihana putting McLeod into space and the powerful midfielder diving over in the corner.

The Crusaders lost Wales international Leigh Halfpenny to injury early.
The Crusaders lost Wales international Leigh Halfpenny to injury early. Photo credit: Getty Images

Reihana expertly guided the sideline conversion between the uprights to draw level, but the deadlock didn't last long. 

Next time down the park, Munster won a scrum penalty in front of the posts, but opted for the lineout. Again, from close range, hooker Scott Buckley burrowed across to restore the Irish advantage with 10 minutes to play.

The Crusaders had one last chance to snatch a result, when Daly took Springer in midair under a high clearance and they opted for an attacking lineout. They built phases on the Munster 22, but could find no way through the red wall, bolstered by a vocal home crowd.

Deep into added time, the visitors won another penalty 10 metres out from the tryline and again went to the corner. Strange won the lineout and offloaded to second-row partner Hannah, who was driven across by his pack.

Reihana hooked his conversion attempt and Munster added to their proud history against touring teams. 

The Crusaders will continue their northern pre-season tour against Bristol Bears next Friday (NZ time).

Munster 21 (Coombes 2 & Buckley tries; Carbery 3 conversions) Crusaders 19 (Drummond, McLeod & Hannah tries; Kemara & Reihana conversions)