Gavin Coombes’ late try rescues Munster victory in France

Jack Crowley displayed guts and character while unruffled in kicking all his goals

Munster’s Gavin Coombes scores a late try to beat Castres. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Munster’s Gavin Coombes scores a late try to beat Castres. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Castres Olympique 13 Munster 16

Gavin Coombes’ late try rescued a Munster victory that seemed unlikely for long periods of this Heineken Champions Cup pool match at the Stade Pierre Fabre. It was typically gutsy and the result will supersede immediate performance concerns of which there were many, in an appreciably disjointed and fractured display.

Impressive individual contributions from Mike Haley, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony and Chris Farrell dragged their teammates into a position to snatch a result. A word too for Jack Crowley, he made his fair share of mistakes, but displayed guts and character while unruffled in kicking all his goals.

The early exchanges were pockmarked by errors, turnovers and a protracted kicking battle, a feeling out process that championed territory. The Castres lineout is one of the least successful in the French Top 14 and when the teams met in Limerick, Munster pilfered four. Peter O’Mahony kept the run going with an early steal.

The first row materialised on eight minutes after Munster had been awarded a penalty at the breakdown. Once the grappling had finished, referee Luke Pearce issued a final warning and Munster outhalf Jack Crowley bisected the posts with a beautifully struck penalty.

The young outhalf was brave in taking the ball to the line and looked after it better than some of his bigger and more senior teammates, while also demonstrating nice footwork on a couple of occasions.

O’Mahony was superb in those early minutes, a lineout steal here, a penalty turnover there and typically abrasive in all he did, including sundering a Castres’ maul.

Munster lost hooker Niall Scannell to a shoulder injury inside the first quarter and on three occasions were left to rue opportunities lost in the Castres 22, the first an unsympathetic pass from Mike Haley, the second and third lineout turnovers.

Castres proved more adept and ruthless on their first visit to the Munster 22, getting there by kicking two penalties to touch and then from a lineout platform seven metres out, they pounded away on the fringes.

Securing a third penalty the home side opted for a quick tap, a precursor to a gorgeously weighted grubber kick by outhalf Ben Botica with Thomas Larregain beating Keith Earls to the touch. The French club, second best for most of the first half an hour, nevertheless led 7-3.

Left wing Filipo Nakosi bounced Conor Murray and then Andrew Conway in tackles en route to the Munster 22 but Castres then promptly conceded a penalty.

Another superb O’Mahony lineout steal in the home side’s 22 gave his side one last chance in first half injury time but Botica stole in to turn over the ball at a ruck after Coombes flick pass out of a tackle didn’t go to hand.

Second half

In some respects that encapsulated Munster’s performance in attack, careless and imprecise when opportunities beckoned. In contrast five minutes after the re-start the visitors produced their most cogent passage of play that eventually led to a penalty which Crowley kicked to make it 7-6.

The outhalf tagged on another soon after 49 minutes, Haley’s superb initial run the catalyst, but it was complemented by width, fluency and offloading out of the tackle. A handling error from Crowley pre-empted the concession of a penalty which Botica kicked to nudge the home side back in front at 10-9.

It had long been evident given the nature of the exchanges that the team that made the fewest critical errors would win the match. Munster head coach Johann van Graan made five changes on 60 minutes, one of whom Jeremy Loughman conceded a penalty for dumping Kockott on the ground. Botica made it 13-9 on 66 minutes.

A brilliant break from John Hodnett forced Castres to concede a penalty just outside their 22, O’Mahony turned down the three points in favour of going to the corner but replacement Ryno Pieterse nicked the lineout.

Beirne rescued a teammate’s handling mistake by forcing a brilliant breakdown penalty. Castres conceded another from a maul and on advantage Crowley’s lovely chip was gathered by Chris Farrell but Casey could not hold a try scoring pass.

Any frustration was gone in 60 seconds. Munster kicked to the corner, the forwards hammered away and then number eight Coombes used his power and reach to dot down when cutting back to the short side of a ruck. Crowley added the conversion. It was an unlikely salvation but that won’t matter one iota when parsed against the result.

Scoring sequence - 8 mins: Crowley penalty, 0-3; 27 mins: Larregain try, Botica conversion, 7-3. Half-time: 7-3. 45 mins: Crowley penalty, 7-6; 49 mins: Crowley penalty, 7-9; 52 mins: Botica penalty, 10-9; 66 mins: Botica penalty, 13-9; 76 mins: Coombes try, Crowley conversion, 13-16.

Castres Olympique: T Larregain; A Zeghdar, T Combezou, P Aguillon, F Nakosi; B Botica, S Arata Perrone; A Tichit, B Humbert, A Guillamon; L Jacquet (capt), J Whetton; M Kafatolu, S Meka, B Delaporte. Replacements: R Kockott for Arata Perrone 19 mins (HIA); J Nostadt for Tichit 50 mins; M Tierney for Guillamon 50 mins; P Colonna for Humbert 60 mins; R Pieterse for Whetton 60 mins; , H Hermet, L Le Brun for Larregain 65 mins; B Guillemin for Nakosi 70 mins; H Hermet for Delaporte 71 mins.

Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; J Crowley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; F Wycherley, T Beirne; P O’Mahony (capt), J O’Donoghue, G Coombes. Replacements: D Barron for N Scannell 18 mins; J Loughman for Kilcoyne 60 mins; C Casey for Murray 60 mins; J Ryan for Archer 60 mins; J Kleyn for Wycherley 60 mins; S Daly for Earls 60 mins; J Hodnett for O’Donoghue 65 minutes.

Referee: L Pearce (England)

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