Six-try Munster well worth the wait as they storm through

Castres blown away after delayed kick-off as province set-up Toulon quarter-final clash

Simon Zebo leaves the pitch after Munster’s 48-3 win over Castres. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Simon Zebo leaves the pitch after Munster’s 48-3 win over Castres. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Munster 48 Castres 3

On days like this, patience is a virtue. The crowd went away and came back again, as did the two squads, before all returned to witness Munster yet again seal the deal on the last day of the European Champions Cup pool stages. In truth, it wasn’t especially dramatic by their standards.

Going into the match, they needed a bonus point win to nail a home quarter-final, although as events transpired in Pool One, all they needed was a win. While they only had one try by half-time against an initially stubborn Castres, the latter’s resistance always felt futile, and Munster tagged on five tries to win pulling away, so earning a home quarter-final against Toulon.

As well as patience, there was their much discussed discipline -Munster winning the penalty count by a whopping 18-6 - with Castres also having two players binned, during which time Munster scored two of their tries.

There was also pack power, with two tries coming from lineout mauls and another from a succession of scrums. The men in the engine room had an industrious day, while there were also big games from CJ Stander and Chris Kloete, and with Conor Muraay and Ian Keatley pulling the strings, the performance was varnished with tries by the pacey, twinkle-toed Keith Earls and Simon Zebo, whose early assurance under the high ball was a source of comfort for Munster.

The complete quarter-final lineup. Matches will take place on 29/30/31 March / 1 April 2018 and the confirmed kick-off times, dates and broadcasters will follow next week. Photo: Champions Cup Twitter
The complete quarter-final lineup. Matches will take place on 29/30/31 March / 1 April 2018 and the confirmed kick-off times, dates and broadcasters will follow next week. Photo: Champions Cup Twitter

They recycled the ball ferociously but until dominating possession, their fast-up line speed and effective tackling went much of the way toward disabusing Castres of any interest in the outcome. They have baggage against Munster, for this was their tenth defeat in 14 meetings. 

The three-hour delay caused by a slightly flooded pitch was the correct decision, with players’ safety paramount, and in truth come kick-off the Thomond Park surface held up pretty well. Even so, with the breezy conditions, it was a far cry from last week’s indoor, all-weather affair in Paris. 

The game’s first bout of handbags, after Munster had been awarded a scrum penalty, prompted the first rendition of Stand Up and Fight, but that quickly became a chorus of boos as Ben Whitehouse penalised Jean Kleyn for sparing it by patting Antoine Tichit on the side of the face. This afforded Rory Kockott a soft opening three-pointer. 

David Kilcoyne’s good line speed and hit forced a spillage from Tichit soon after, so earning Munster their first set-piece in the Castres half 15 minutes in. After Rory Scannell trucked it up, pick and goes by CJ Stander and Chris Kloete had Munster roaring through the phases, their reward being Ian Keatley’s leveller, albeit it came at the cost of losing Kilcoyne, who seemed to suffer a leg injury after making a good carry. 

Whitehouse’s fussy refereeing, scrum re-sets and one decision to award Castres a turnover scrum despite the tackler not releasing frustrated home team and crowd alike, although Munster’s shunt on the resulting put-in enabled Keatley to nudge them in front.

Murray’s box kicking had been a little over-cooked, but that had been part caused by Geoffrey Palis dropping one and Kylian Jaminet returned another one out on the full. Soon Munster were turning down shots at goal to work their way into the corner.

Persistent offside saw Thomas Combezou yellow carded and Munster opted for a five-metre scrum. An indirect penalty led to the quick-thinking Murray tapping quickly, Zebo taking Keatley’s pass and shifting the ball on sharply before being tackled by Jaminet for Earls to finish in the corner. Keatley converted from the touchline. 

Simon Zebo dives to score against Castres. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
Simon Zebo dives to score against Castres. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

It should have been a double-whammy after Scannell tipped on turnover ball to Farrell who straightened through a depleted midfield and passed inside to Murray, but the scrum-half, perhaps because he’d slightly over-ran the ball, attempted a transfer to Conway which didn’t go to hand. Every replay drew a bigger collective groan. 

However, news of events in Pool One meant that Munster only had to win to ensure a home quarter. They, and much of the crowd, appeared unaware of this. Twice they kicked penalties soon after the resumption to the corner, and having lost the first throw, Marshall found Kleyn with the second and a patient, perfectly formed drive led to Marshall piling over the line with Murray latching on.

Another close-range lineout drive was held up over the line, followed by a scrum penalty. A third try was denied them when Whitehouse adjudged Conway’s pass to Earls was fractionally forward, and again after recourse to the TMO Murray used his upper body strength to spin through three tacklers but lost control of the ball before grounding it.

In any case, having pitched up tent on the Catres try-line, two more scrum penalties led to a yellow card for Daniel Kotze, who looked understandably bemused as he’d only been in the game for two minutes, and then a penalty try.

Within two minutes, Simon Zebo sealed the bonus point. As was the case last week, it was initiated by another of those dancing counter-attacks by Earls. He had Zebo on his outside, and the full-back sliced through Palis and Jaminet to score his 59th Munster try.

This allowed the Munster Brains Trust to empty the bench, and Joe Schmidt will have been content to see Earls, Keatley and Murray all depart to huge ovations, as well as Kloete.

Alex Wootton was barely on for Earls when he wriggled through for Munster’s fifth try, and on a day of song, with that the Red Army launched into a vociferous blast of The Fields before more pack power yielded a try for James Cronin off another line-out maul, and Hanrahan even landed the touchline conversion to complete a perfect day off the tee for Munster’s kickers.

Billy Holland and Munster celebrate Simon Zebo’s second half score against Castres. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
Billy Holland and Munster celebrate Simon Zebo’s second half score against Castres. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

The players returned to the pitch to thank those who had returned to the ground, and then remained after the whistle, to chants of ‘Mun-ster, Mun-ster’ as Zebo threw his boots into the crowd. A pretty good day all round then, eventually.

Scoring sequence: 14 mins Kockott pen 0-3; 18 mins Keatley pen 3-3; 26 mins Keatley pen 6-3; 34 mins Earls try, Keatley con 13-3; (half-time 13-3); 45 mins Marshall try, Keatley con 20-3; 57 mins penalty try 27-3; 59 mins Zebo try, Keatley con 34-3; 68 mins Wootton try, Hanrahan con 41-3; 80 mins Cronin try, Hanrahan con 48-3.

Munster: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (c), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.

Replacements: James Cronin for Kilcoyne (18 mins), John Ryan for Archer (43 mins), Niall Scannell for Marshall (49 mins), Darren O’Shea for Holland (62 mins), Alex Wootton for Earls (63 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (65 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for Kloete (66 mins), Duncan Williams for Murray (69 mins). 

Castres Olympique: Geoffrey Palis; Kylian Jaminet, Thomas Combezou, Robert Ebersohn (c), David Smith; Julien Dumora, Rory Kockott; Antoine Tichit, Jody Jenneker, Damien Tussac, Alexandre Bias, Thibault Lassalle, Yannick Caballero, Steve Mafi, Alex Tulou.

Replacements: Kevin Firmin for Jenneker, Tudor Stroe for Tichit, Victor Moreaux for 5 (all 48 mins), Daniel Kotze for Tussac (54 mins), Tussac for Tulou (56-66 mins), Yohan Le Bourhis for Palis, Afusipa Taumoepeau for Combezou (both 61 mins), Yohan Domenech for Kockott (71 mins), Baptiste Delaporte for Tussac (66 mins). 

Sinbinned - Combezou (32-42 mins), Kotze (56-66 mins).

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales).
 

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