Magnificent Munster march into the last four

Rob Penney’s side take Toulouse apart at Thomond Park to reach Heineken Cup semi-finals

Munster 47 Toulouse 23

In the end, it was a shellacking, a good old fashioned rout but there weren't too many complainants about the aesthetics of the contest in a record crowd of just over 26,200 - they added in a few extra seats for the game - that understandably serenaded Munster as they negotiated passage to the semi-final of the Heineken Cup.

It’s certainly possible to quibble about the brittle nature of the Toulouse performance - they mentally abdicated long before the final whistle and only played fitfully - but there’s little reason to denigrate the home side’s effort. They filleted the four-time European champions and it could have been worse for Toulouse if Munster had sorted out a number of glitches a little earlier.

The home side started brilliantly and if they’d continued in that vein the game might have been over at half-time instead of delicately balanced at 13-9. Two tries early in the second half removed any doubt about the outcome, while the final brace of tries in the six that Munster scored, were tagged on rather bloodlessly.

CJ Stander, who replaced the injured Munster captain Peter O'Mahony on 18 minutes, was outstanding and deserved his man-of-the-match award but it could have gone to any of the pack in truth. Paul O'Connell had a superb match, James Coughlan and Dave Kilcoyne carried aggressively, so too Damien Varley while young David Foley continues to grow into the jersey. Tommy O'Donnell did well over the ball and to link play.

This is where Munster won this match, and specifically, in their lineout maul; a bludgeoning tool to which Toulouse had no answer. Its effectiveness was written into three of the tries.

Ian Keatley landed seven from 10 attempts and Munster’s back play showed flashes of excellence. A Toulouse side, emaciated by injuries to a number of key players, gifted Munster too many points and showed only glimpses of the rugby of which they are capable. They’ll remember their first visit to Thomond Park for all the wrong reasons.

Toulouse made a couple of late alterations with Luke McAlister, a doubt before the game promoted to the starting team while Lionel Beauxis went the other way and began among the replacements. Yannick Nyanga was ruled out and his place was taken by Clement Poitrenaud.

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony offered an early indicator of his team’s mindset as he nicked Toulouse’s first lineout, albeit at a personal cost as he wrenched his shoulder/arm and despite initially recovering following treatment he was forced to succumb to the problem after 18 minutes.

At that point the home side led 10-3 and were dominant in most facets of the game, no doubt heartened by the manner in which they scored the opening try of the game on five minutes. Keith Earls had the simple task of dotting down following just under three minutes of wonderful continuity, based on hard carrying, clever variety in terms of the point of attack and zealous protection of the ball.

Patience was also in evidence and not forcing the pass. It was a really high quality passage of play that saw Munster work their way from the Toulouse 10 metre line to within the shadow of the goalposts before they moved the ball wide and Simon Zebo gave Earls a run-in from half a dozen metres.

Keatley, who had been prominent on a couple of occasions in the build-up, kicked a brilliant conversion from close to the touchline and then tagged on a penalty on 15 minutes. In between Munster’s brace of scores, the French side responded with a penalty from Luke McAlister, gifted by the home side who were sloppy from the kickoff after the try.

Munster might have had a second try on 19 minutes, when after Keatley kicked to touch in the Toulouse 22, Paul O’Connell caught the lineout and the home side mauled their way to within a couple of metres of the visitors’ line. As the two packs collapsed Conor Murray broke away and despite showing good strength to get over the line, he was prevented from scoring by Louis Picamoles.

On 21 minutes Munster went further ahead when Toulouse tighthead prop Yohan Montes was penalised at a scrum and Keatley maintained his rhythmic ball striking to land a second penalty. Toulouse, who had struggled to get a foothold in the first 20 minutes, finally managed to apply some pressure, and were rewarded when Stander - he made a very positive impact on his arrival - was penalised at a ruck.

The Toulouse scrum was firmly on top at this juncture, the home side forced into giving away a few penalties. McAlister, back by a strong breeze, punished them by driving them back 50 and 60 metres. It took a brilliant tackle by Munster fullback Felix Jones to prevent his Toulouse counterpart Maxime Medrad from giving a try scoring pass to Hosea Gear.

The French side’s dominance was rewarded with a third penalty just before the interval to make it 13-9 at the break. Munster will have felt a little underwhelmed in the dressing room rightly feeling that they should have been further ahead on the scoreboard.

They set about rectifying that immediately on the resumption and once again it was the lineout maul, so effective in eking out huge yardage for the home side that provided the catalyst. They mauled Toulouse to within metres of the French club’s line, Murray had a snipe and although he was stopped short, Dave Kilcoyne barrelled under the Toulouse pillars for a try.

Keatley converted as the outhalf would do again five minutes later.

Once again the lineout maul was the buttress. This time hooker Damien Varley broke off early, was hauled down short, Murray surged for the white line but it was Stander who eventually touched down.

Toulouse coach Guy Noves began to empty his bench and the game, for all intents and purposes appeared to have ended as a contest. However, the four-time French champions produced eight minutes of gorgeous rugby coherence that yielded one try for Hosea Gear and might have done a second: at 27-16 there was a little left on the bone in terms of the game.

Munster needed to restore some control - Kilcoyne and Montes received yellow cards for persistently trying referee Nigel Owens' patience at the scrum - and this came in the form of a penalty, which Keatley posted. In desperation Toulouse tried a quick drop out soon after, butchered it and from the turnover Munster centre Casey Laulala cantered over for a try; Keatley could not improve upon it but at 35-16 on 63 minutes, the home side were firmly in the box seat.

To their credit Toulouse kept plugging away and were rewarded on 72 minutes with a try from flanker Joe Tekori, converted by another replacement Jean Marc Doussain. Much to the delight of the crowd there was still a little room on the clock for Zebo to add some colour, crossing for a try following a trademark goosestep. Once again it had come from a Toulouse turnover in their own 22, before O’Connell rounded off the scoring with his first Heineken Cup try since 2009.

Scoring sequence

5 mins: Earls try, Keatley conversion, 7-0; 7 mins: McAlister penalty, 7-3;15 mins: Keatley penalty, 10-3; 21 mins: Keatley penalty, 13-3; 28 mins: McAlister penalty, 13-6; 32 mins: McAlister penalty, 13-9; 41 mins: Kilcoyne try, Keatley conversion, 20-9; 46 mins: Stander try, Keatley conversion, 27-9; 53 mins: Gear try, Beauxis conversion, 27-16; 61 mins: Keatley penalty, 30-16; Laulala try, 35-16; 72 mins: Tekori try, Doussain conversion, 35-23; 75 mins: Zebo try, 40-23; 79 mins: O'Connell try, Keatley conversion, 47-23.

Munster: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, BJ Botha; D Foley, P O'Connell, P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, J Coughlan. Replacements: CJ Stander for O'Mahony 18 mins; J Ryan for O'Donnell 49-58 mins; D Casey for Varley 55 mins; D O'Callaghan for Foley 58 mins; JJ Hanrahan for Downey 66mins; G van den Heever for Earls 68 mins; D Williams for Murray 76 mins; Ryan for Botha 76 mins.

Toulouse: M Médard; Y Huget, F Fritz, G Fickou, H Gear; L McAlister, J Vermaak; G Steenkamp, C Tolofua, Y Montes; Y Maestri, P Albacete (capt); Y Camara, J Tekori, L Picamoles. Replacements: J Bregvadze for Tolofua 46 mins; C Baille for Steenkamp 46 mins; R Millo-Chluski for Maestri 46 mins, C Poitenaud for Medard 49 mins; L Beauxis for McAlister 51 mins; G Galan for Picamoles 58 mins; JM Doussain for Beauxis 60 mins.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

Yellow cards: Y Montes (Toulouse) 48 mins; D Kilcoyne (Munster)