Munster let winning opportunity slide by as Bayonne fight back for draw

Remy Baget’s late try and touchline conversion from Thomas Dolhagaray earn French side two points

Champions Cup Pool 3: Munster 17 Bayonne 17

It sure felt in Thomond Park that Munster let this Champions Cup opener go. A drop kick last-gasp effort from Jack Crowley going wide with the last kick saw Munster heads sink and Bayonne arms raised simultaneously.

Munster had it won until four minutes from the end when Eoghan Clarke was penalised for not rolling away in midfield. Bayonne kicked well, gathered and set in motion their feared rolling maul.

Munster threw everything in but replacement scrumhalf Gela Aprasidze broke away and delivered to winger Remy Baget at speed on the touchline, outhalf Thomas Dolhagaray artfully converting to level the match at 17-17. Munster swept up field, but Bayonne had engineered what they needed, one creative play doing it.

It was the French side who also put the points on the board after just five minutes when Bayonne scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud kicked the game’s first penalty for a 3-0 lead after the Munster scrum was monstered. But it was an early scrum warning sign that didn’t materialise in a first half where Munster took more out of the red zone, when they got into it, than Bayonne could.


Preferring to kick to touch with penalties into a stiff breeze, Munster snapped back after 10 minutes with a wonderfully taken try by right wing Shay McCarthy. Having moved the ball left to right, it came back again right to left with Bayonne stretched.

It took a quick thinking, patted knock sideways out to McCarthy with a man outside as Munster pressed. But backing himself, 21-year-old McCarthy jinked and sprinted into the out of shape defence for the first try, with Crowley converting to make it 7-3.

After the flashing start Munster were then the freewheeling side, confident to run the ball and dominating the opening quarter. Tom Aherne, Tadhg Beirne and Crowley were all going well, with outside centre Alex Nankivell a real pain in the Bayonne neck.

A Crowley kick to touch and a clean take from Fineen Wycherley triggered a Munster drive on 20 minutes, a few phases taking the ball to the posts. Gavin Coombes was best positioned to pick and dive, Crowley again converting for 14-3 to give the home side a healthy lead.

While both teams had try chances in what at times became an open game, Munster held their 11-point lead into the break knowing the wind was on their backs in the second half.

But the scoring was slow when they came out with Crowley kicking a penalty on 51 minutes to make it 17-10 after Bayonne savagely defended multiple phases. Perhaps the best home side chance was about 10 minutes after Crowley’s kick when another wave washed over Bayonne as the home side muscled towards the French line.

Craig Casey was held inches short before man of the match Beirne overplayed a pass into touch. Munster will be disappointed with the territory and not adding at least another try. But in the end they left themselves open for a final sting, with an Exeter side buoyed by a 19-18 win away to Toulon earlier in the day up next at Sandy Park.

“It wasn’t a good enough version of us. Credit to them,” said a disappointed Munster head coach Graham Rowntree. “We had enough possession on their goal line and they held us out. We did some reckless things, chucking the ball into touch. On their try line we just needed to be better.

“We had opportunities, too many mistakes. We know all about next week (against Exeter). That’s going to be a huge game.”

SCORING SEQUENCE – 5 mins: M Machenaud pen 0-3; 10: S McCarthy try, Crowley con 7-3; 21: G Coombes try, Crowley con 14-3. Half-time 14-3. 48: J Tagi try, Machenaud con 14-10; 55: Crowley pen 17-10; 76: R Baget try, T Dolhagaray con 17-17.

MUNSTER: C Nash; S McCarthy, A Nankivell, R Scannell, S O’Brien; J Crowley, C Murray; J Loughman, S Buckley, J Ryan; F Wycherley, T Beirne (capt); T Ahern, J Hodnett, G Coombes.

Replacements: B O’Connor for O’Brien (19 mins); J Ryan for Archer, C Casey for Murray (both 50); A Kendellen for Coombes (55); J Wycherley for Loughman (60); T Butler for Scannell (69); E Clarke for S Buckley (72); J O’Donoghue for Hodnett (73).

BAYONNE: C Tiberghien; B Pourailly, P Muscarditz, R Buliruarua, R Baget; T Dolhagaray, M Machenaud (capt); M Perchaud, F Bosch, T Tatafu; D Marchois, K Mikautadze; P Huguet, B Heguy, R Bruni.

Replacements: Arnaud Erbinartegaray for Muscarditz (29 mins); J Tagi for Tatafu (44); Arthur Iturria for K Mikautadze, R Bourdeau for Bruni (both 55); T Spring for Riko Buliruarua (59); T Acquier for Perchaud (62); G Aprasidze for Machenaud (72).

Referee: L Pearce (Eng).

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Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times