Munster stage remarkable comeback win to raid Clermont fortress

Johann van Graan’s side overturn 19-point deficit to keep up unbeaten start to the season

Munster’s players celebrate after the final whistle of their Heineken Champions Cup game against Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin  in Clermont-Ferrand. Photograph:  Thierry Zoccolan/AFP via Getty Images

Munster’s players celebrate after the final whistle of their Heineken Champions Cup game against Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand. Photograph: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP via Getty Images

 

Clermont Auvergne 31 Munster 39

JJ Hanrahan entered the public consciousness as the Ireland under-20 outhalf who coolly kicked the ‘Baby Boks’ to an unthinkable loss in South Africa. On Saturday night the 28-year-old Munster 10 reclaimed that status with a nerveless nine from nine, 24 points to secure victory in a European fortress that always breaks the brittle of mind.

The rout is never far from reality when Clermont are hosting in the Champions Cup. That suffocating feeling of trailing 21-6 and then 28-9 looked to be heading towards a 40, 50 point wipe out.

Instead, this goes down as one of Peter O’Mahony’s greatest tutorials in the art of leadership.

“We came here to win,” said Munster head coach Johann van Graan. “Not a bonus point, a win.”

The secret to survival at Stade Marcel-Michelin is to stay in the fight. Or just hang on for dear life. Kick every point too.

Oh and find your touch. But when you miss touch or someone drops a restart do not – under any circumstances – let the errors become a pattern. Stay in the moment. Stay in the fight.

Munster’s young and old refused to fade despite multiple moments when they would be forgiven for doing just so.

Clermont only needed 26 seconds to claim their first try. The Munster goose appeared plucked and cooked when Damian Penaud glided over for a third try inside 15 minutes.

The bonus-point fourth took 23 minutes as hooker Etienne Fourcade barrelled through Hanrahan. The outhalf was isolated because his pack were unable to cope.

Or so it seemed. CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne and O’Mahony were immense from start to finish, each attempting to stem the tide but the other five in red seemed out of their depth. In fact, they were just hanging on in there when measured against the ultimate club opposition.

To a man the Munster pack grew into this contest.

Clermont were stunningly effective from the kick-off thanks to their two Fijian forces of nature. Anyone who witnessed Peceli Yato stretching his legs at last year’s World Cup will know what a sensational athlete Munster needed to contain.

Yato’s ferocious charge in the opening skirmish saw Gavin Coombes easily fended and Keith Earls brushed aside before a ridiculous offload put Alivereti Raka over.

Clermont Auvergne’s Peceli Yato is tackled by Jean Kleyn and Keith Earls of Munster. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Clermont Auvergne’s Peceli Yato is tackled by Jean Kleyn and Keith Earls of Munster. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

The second try goes down as Shane Daly’s fault and perhaps the new Irish winger could have avoided a deliberate knock-on and sinbinning but the dam had already burst. Penaud got under the skin of referee Matthew Carley when signalling for the yellow card but, on review, the Englishman had no choice. The big screen replay compelled Carley to run under the posts for a penalty try.

It took Clermont another eight minutes to profit from their numerical advantage but during this period they badly exposed Munster loosehead Josh Wycherley. The 21-year-old was only promoted for his European debut after James Cronin followed Dave Kilcoyne and Jeremy Loughman into rehabilitation.

Rabah Slimani’s WWE-style celebration left no one in any doubt about what happened to Wycherley in the 14th-minute exchange that left the Cork prop floating in agony above the scrum. Penalty. Redemption seemed impossible but Wycherley refused to submit.

Like a cat toying with a mouse, Clermont went to their maul before Raka flung a bouncer out to Penaud on the right wing.

Hanrahan, showing a steeliness not seen from him at this level before, posted three difficult penalties to keep Munster in touch at 21-9 but Fourcade’s try seemed to secure the result.

Munster stayed in the fight. Damian de Allende forced his way into the game leading up to Mike Haley’s well-taken try as Hanrahan added the extras (on BT Sport Geordan Murphy identified the fingerprints of Stephen Larkham’s attacking brain).

When Hanrahan made it five from five early in the second half, Munster shot themselves in the foot as Daly fumbled the restart to gift Clermont an attacking scrum. “You have it Josh,” roared a voice as the young prop re-entered Slimani’s hurt locker.

Remarkably, Carley gave Munster the penalty. Stander celebrated by pursuing and talking into Yato’s face. The momentum shift was confirmed by their maul marching into Clermont territory.

And then, for a split second, Hanrahan blinked. The Kerry man punted a penalty dead, which meant a Clermont scrum near halfway instead of defending their own try line.

Again, Munster stayed in the fight. Hanrahan made it six from six to make it a six-point game and when Judicaël Cancoriet was sinbinned – for an off the ball no-arms tackle on Rhys Marshall – the Munster 10 man made it 28-25.

Next, Coombes was penalised for not rolling away after a hefty tackle on Fourcade. Lopez made it 31-25.

The losing bonus-point can feel like a victory against Clermont but Munster sensed blood, and they seemed much fitter entering the last 20 minutes. John Ryan dropped the ball in spitting distance of the try line but recovered to mince the Clermont scrum just after Craig Casey’s clever rugby brain was added to the party.

The diminutive scrumhalf wasn’t long winning a penalty that Hanrahan kicked to touch. Clearly, Munster were hunting a famous win. The maul got next to nowhere but Carley whistled Paul Jedrasiak for collapsing the mass of bodies.

Again, Hanrahan went to the corner. Marshall piloted the drive into touch but Beirne stole the Clermont throw, only to be dragged to earth by Thibaud Lanen.

“OUTRAGEOUS,” yelled O’Mahony.

“Move away Peter,” Carley implored the Munster captain. “Peter! Move away! Peter: Let me do my decision.”

Lanen was sinbinned, O’Mahony slipped the lineout into Jack O’Donoghue’s hands and this subtle shift in direction allowed Stander to be mauled over.

Hanrahan’s brilliant conversion gave Munster the lead for the first time with nine minutes to play.

Clermont finally turned to Morgan Parra (Sébastien Bézy had been excellent) to retain some control as the contest descended into viciousness. Stander more than embraced these rules of engagement with his choke tackle on Adrien Pélissié earning a Munster put in.

Remarkably, the scrums had fully turned Munster’s way. As the seconds ticked away Carley warned Parra about messing with Casey.

“Morgan, keep your hands to yourself.”

Wycherley, perhaps buoyed by big brother Fineen entering the fray, screwed Sipili Falatea into the dirt.

“That’s the stuff that dreams are made of,” said Van Graan. “To start your first European game in Clermont against Slimani, one of the best scrummagers in the world and to come up with that performance is exceptional.

“It’s a whole squad effort, but when I phoned Josh on Thursday evening and said: ‘You are starting, are you ready’, he said: ‘Coach, I’m ready to go.’

“I’ve said it a few times over the last few months, it’s about backing our squad and that’s what we did.”

Once again, Hanrahan rejected the kick at goal. The bravery paid off with Kevin O’Byrne burrowing under the turf for the match-winning try.

Hanrahan kicked the extras before hurting his arm at the death. A tiny blip on one of the great European days for Munster.

SCORING SEQUENCE - 1 min: A Raka try, 5-0; C Lopez con, 7-0; 4: JJ Hanrahan pen, 7-3; 6: penalty try, 14-3; 8: JJ Hanrahan pen, 14-6; 14: D Penaud try, 19-6; C Lopez con, 21-6; 19: JJ Hanrahan 21-9; 23: E Fourcade try, 26-9; C Lopez con, 28-9; 28: M Haley try, 28-14; JJ Hanrahan con, 28-16. Half-time. 43: JJ Hanrahan, pen, 28-19; 51: JJ Hanrhan pen, 28-22; 57: JJ Hanrahan pen, 28-25; 60: C Lopez pen, 31-25; 68: CJ Stander try, 31-30; JJ Hanrhan con, 31-32; 77: K O’Byrne try, 31-37; Hanrahan con, 31-39.

CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Kotaro Matsushima; Damian Penaud, Jean-Pascal Barraque, George Moala, Alivereti Raka; Camille Lopez (capt), Sébastien Bézy; Peni Ravai, Etienne Fourcade, Rabah Slimani; Paul Jedrasiak, Peceli Yato; Judicaël Cancoriet, Clement Lanen, Fritz Lee.

Replacements: T Lanen for C Lanen (49 mins) E Falgoux for P Ravai, S Falatea for R Silmani (both 54 mins), A Pélissié for E Fourcade, M Parra for S Bézy (both 71 mins), T Veredamu for J Cancoriet (78 mins).

Clermont: Judicaël Cancoriet (56- 66 mins).

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; Josh Wycherley, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (capt), CJ Stander.

Replacements: F Wycherley for J Kleyn (55 mins), J O’Donoghue for G Coombes, C Casey for C Murray (both 63 mins), K O’Byrne for R Marshall, B Holland for P O’Mahony (both 71 mins), L O’Connor for J Wycherley (76 mins), R Scannell for JJ Hanrahan (79 mins)

Yellow card: Shane Daly (6-16 mins)

Referee: Matthew Carley (England).

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