Draw puts early pressure on Munster as they face into daunting Exeter trip

Graham Rowntree rues his side’s lack of composure in scoring positions as Bayonne fight back for draw

Champions Cup Pool 3: Munster 17 Bayonne 17

It is not the first time Munster will have to dig deep to stay in the Champions Cup beyond the first phase. When they travel later this week to face an Exeter side that beat Toulon by a point in France, it’s already win or bust in round two.

Graham Rowntree knew that after his side scored just three points in the second half against Bayonne on Thomond Park on Saturday night allowed the French club in for a try at the end, a beautifully struck conversion from outhalf Thomas Dolhagaray from right on the touchline turning the match into a frustrating and costly lost opportunity for Munster.

From Rowntree’s position it wasn’t the try four minutes from time that hurt. It was Munster’s unwillingness or inability to strike from scoring positions, 10, five, three metres out, especially in the second half. A lost five-metre lineout, Craig Casey coming up inches short, knocking on the Bayonne line but repeatedly coming away with nothing, even kicking to touch in the first half instead of trying to build the scoreboard. And by the sting in the end Munster hadn’t put enough between themselves and a dangerous but average opposition.

“Hindsight’s wonderful, yes. I’m not going to beat myself up over those decisions, or the captain’s decision there,” said Rowntree of Munster opting to kick for lineouts rather than points. “As I say, hindsight’s wonderful.


“We’ve got to finish off the last metre, the last two metres, when we get near the goal line. That composure to get near their goal line and finish off those opportunities. You need tries. We proved that last year, we need tries. It will be a difficult 48 hours for us, reviewing that and stewing over that. It feels like a loss. Then we’ll move forward quickly enough at the start of the week.”

Munster went into half-time 14-3 ahead after playing into the wind in the first half. It was an encouraging 40 minutes despite an explosive opening phase from the French visitors with scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud kicking them into a 3-0 lead. But Shay McCarthy jinked and darted his way through on 10 minutes after Munster had run Bayonne to the left touchline then right again for the first Munster try.

Gavin Coombes dived in from a yard out after the ball had come from Fineen Wycherley at a Munster lineout and rumbled up to between the Bayonne posts, Coombes lifting and lunging over and Jack Crowley converting both for a 14-3 lead after 21 minutes.

However, it was Bayonne’s replacement prop who showed how timing and momentum pays when close to the line. Loosehead Matis Perchaud picked out a charging Junior Tagi, who flung himself between bodies shortly after half-time to make it 14-10 before a Crowley penalty midway through the half stretched Munster’s lead to 17-10.

Bayonne’s final score came when they found touch in the Munster 22. A rolling maul with replacement scrumhalf Gela Aprasidze peeling away and feeding left wing Remy Baget steaming up the touchline earned Bayonne their final try to an unforeseen draw. According to French journalists Bayonne didn’t think they would take away anything before the match.

An injury-time drop goal attempt from Crowley finally summed up the night as it spun away to the right and Rowntree is in little doubt about the extent of Munster’s task at the weekend, when they travel over to meet Exeter at Sandy Park next Sunday (1.0).

“They’re a good team, aren’t they? A historic team, they’ve got a rich pedigree, previous Champions Cup winners. I’ve got a lot of respect for them, had a lot to do with them over the past 15 years,” said the Munster coach.

“It’s a big challenge. As I keep saying, we’ve been away from home and in big challenges before recently, and we’ll look forward to that at the start of the week. We’ll see what bodies we can pick, review the game, get better, look forward.”

The hope is Peter O’Mahony might be back along with several other players giving Munster more experience, although Rowntree stressed how well the younger players, such as academy outhalf Tony Butler, came on and performed. A glimmer of optimism albeit on a weekend where all Munster wanted was a result.

“Certainly last week’s news was he [O’Mahony] wasn’t as bad as we thought he was initially, so potentially, yeah ... Our big South African secondrows [Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman], we won’t see them anytime soon but potentially Diarmuid Barron, Oli Jager, Shane Daly, Peter O’Mahony. There we go.”

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