Gerry Thornley: Munster down and out after Paris humiliation

European glory is a distant memory after disjointed showing against Stade

Stade Francais’ Josaia Raisuqe received a red card for contact with the eye area of Munster’s CJ Stander during the Champions Cup game at Stade Jean Bouin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Stade Francais’ Josaia Raisuqe received a red card for contact with the eye area of Munster’s CJ Stander during the Champions Cup game at Stade Jean Bouin. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Stade Francais 27 Munster 7

Munster didn’t just suffer a third successive pool defeat for the first time in their proud European history. This was a humiliating surrender, despite playing the entire second half against 14 men after trailing 10-0 at the break.

The scale of the defeat has to prompt a deep rooted analysis of where the organisation has gone wrong and what needs to be done to rectify it. Not since the dark days of the mid-90s, and perhaps not even on this scale, have they looked so far from dining at European rugby’s top table. Their campaign is in shreds with two games to go.

They didn’t play too badly in the first half, and it might well have been a much different game but for two missed penalties in the second half.

But they were second best in the collisions all day and the way they fell off tackles and lost their shape in defence in the second half embarrassed this once proud European force.

In addition to mastering the basics better – notably scrum and maul – another key difference was the superior speed and quality of Stade’s ruck ball. Whereas Sergio Parisse, Sekou Macalou, Waisea Vuidarvuwalu et al ran hard and straight and support players arrived to clear-out quickly, Munster struggled in contact and thus struggled to generate quick ball.

When Munster went wide with any success, they usually ran out of numbers and their breakdown work lacked accuracy.

Facing 14 men for the entirety of the second half, and with their European season on the line, they were the ones who lacked composure. Roared on by the home crowd, Stade – brilliantly led by Parisse – were the team with purpose and direction.

After the customary pre-match entertainment hereabouts, the crowd quickly settled into chants of “Pa-ris” Pa-ris” to backdrop of loud drum beats.

Stade were quick to show their counter-attacking intentions, Hugo Bonneval running back a kick from Keatley, Parisse providing the link with a skip pass to give Josaia Raisuqe a run up the line. But a second turnover at ruck time, Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander combining led to the first of a couple of good touchfinders by Keatley. Such was the line speed of the Stade defence that he didn’t have much choice, and a third soon followed.

Just as disconcertingly for the few Munster fans present, more a squadron than an army for this re-arranged fixture, Stade were winning the early collisions. Andrew Conway had to depart early on after retrieving his own chip ahead but then landing awkwardly in the ensuing aerial collision.

Simon Zebo switched to fullback upon the introduction of Ronan O’Mahony, and this was followed by BJ Botha hobbling off to be replaced by John Ryan. In between there was a big carry up the middle by Macalou and some good footwork out wide by Julien Arias.

In the one scrum with Botha, Munster had been shunted backwards, but after O’Donnell and Mike Sherry executed a choke tackle to earn a second Munster put-in, their second scrum held up better. Ryan locked the next two so well that Stander was able to run hard at the number 10 channel both times.

They had almost struck stealthily too, after clever offloads by Rory Scannell and Keith Earls in turn led to Keatley chasing his own grubber and nearly beating the dawdling Raisuqe.

After Julien Dupuy played the ball from an offside position, Munster went up the line to their maul, Sylvain Nicolas bringing it down. Keatley lined up the penalty, about seven metres in from the right touchline. Given his and Munster’s recent history, it was a significant kick. He pushed it across the face of the posts.

After Munster made their first turnover, Stade again used way more width to find Arias on the far side, and were relieved that Sherry forced another relieving turnover. Stander poached for a turnover penalty as well, albeit this was undone when Robin Copeland couldn’t hold the Sherry throw, although he clearly had his arm tugged illegally.

Munster defended a close-in lineout, Stander effecting another steal after the maul was sacked and then making a stunning offload to the supporting David Kilcoyne. From the recycle, Zebo and Francis Saili freed their hands to release O’Mahony, but he slipped when checked by Bonneval and Munster ran out of numbers at the breakdown.

By contrast, Stade were more penetrative through the middle, their initial wide game stretching Munster, and soon did so to telling effect. Paul Williams released Parisse when offloading in the tackle to make the early inroads, and after Paul Alo-Emile trucked it up, Williams came from depth to take Dupuy’s pass and beat Dave Foley’s tackle, and was flying too quickly for either Stander or Zebo to stop him from scoring his fourth try of the tournament.

Morne Steyn converted and after Stade scrummed for a penalty when Munster initially held firm only to retreat on the loosehead side, Steyn made it 10-0.

Munster had a mountain to climb, all the more so given they had also lost O’Donnell by then and given their difficulty in making the scoreboard tick, but with the last play of the half they were given a lifeline.

With Munster failing to maximise an advantage thanks to Zebo’s poor pass to Earls, and with the whistle gone, Raisuqe needlessly pushed Stander in the face, his hands making contact with the latter’s eye area. The TMO Derek Bevan, sought recourse to the video replay, and he and Nigel Owens agreed the winger’s action merited a red card.

Alas, to a cacophony of boos from the outraged home fans, Keatley’s 45-metre penalty 15 metres in from the left touchline fell to the left and wide. Psychologically, it would have been very timely, and made it a one-score game with 40 minutes to come against 14 men.

Munster re-emerged first to conduct some warm-up drills, which seemed a statement of intent but after a break by Keatley, Jack O’Donoghue made the first of two knock-ons, which led another big Stade scrum. Munster put some width on the ball to make their man advantage tell, but a kick out on the full by Keatley interrupted their momentum again.

After Jonathan Danty then freed his hands to release Williams up the middle, Copeland was adjudged to have entered from the side and Steyn made it 13-0. Keatley’s reverse restart promptly went out on the full; cue scrum penalty although surprisingly, even from half-way, Steyn missed.

Munster’s last chance effectively went just past the hour when cleverly working an overlap by holding their depth to outflank the Stade defence but after recourse to a video replay, Saili’s pass for Rory Scannell to finish in the corner was correctly adjudged forward.

In almost surreal fashion, The Fields briefly echoed around the stadium, whereupon the outstanding Macalou burst through the tackles of Stander, Keatley and O’Donoghue before stepping Earls.

Munster sought to run it from everywhere, but instead were outflanked off a turnover for Bonneval to beat Saili’s despairing tackle and then brush past Zebo’s poor effort to score. Suddenly it was 27-0 and becoming more than a little embarrassing.

On the verge of completing their first pointless 80 minutes in Europe, Munster managed to avert that indignity when Zebo chipped up the line and Rory Scannell gathered and offloaded for Conor Murray to twist and reach out for the line in the tackle.

That Scannell applied a left-footed conversion from the left touchline was almost ironic.

Cue a hearty rendition of La Mareillaise. The Parisians were fully entitled to that.

Scoring sequence: 33 mins Williams try, Steyn con 7-0; 37 mins Steyn pen 10-0; (half-time 10-0); 55 mins Steyn pen 13-0; 67 mins Macalou try, Steyn con 20-0; 71 mins Bonneval try, Steyn con 27-0; 75 mins Murray try, Scannell con 27-7.

STADE FRANÇAIS PARIS: Hugo Bonneval; Julien Arias, Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, Paul Williams, Josaia Raisuqe; Morné Steyn, Julien Dupuy; Zak Taulafo, Laurent Sempéré, Paul Alo-Emile; Hugh Pyle, Paul Gabrillagues; Sekou Macalou, Sylvain Nicolas, Sergio Parisse (capt).

Replacements: Rabah Slimani for Alo-Emile (47 mins), Laurent Panis for Sempéré (48 mins), Jonathan Danty for Arias (51 mins), Heinke Van der Merwe for Taulafo (53 mins), Jonathan Ross for Nicolas, Julien Tomas for Dupuy (both 71 mins), Gerhard Mostert for Gabrillagues, Jules Plisson for Bonneval (both 73 mins). Sent off: Raisuqe (40 + 1 mins).

MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha; Dave Foley, Mark Chisholm; Robin Copeland, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (capt).

Replacements: Ronan O’Mahony for Conway (9 mins), John Ryan for Both (11 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for O’Donell (23-30 and 36 mins), Mario Sagario for Ryan (58 mins), Niall Scannell for Sherry, Denis Hurley for Keatley (both 69 mins), Billy Holland for Chisholm (79 mins). Not used: Tomas O’Leary.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

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