Sloppy Munster let opportunity slip by after Castres dogfight
Four missed kicks prove costly as Johann van Graan’s settle for losing bonus point
The Castres and Munster packs battle it out during the Heineken Champions Cup match at Stade Pierre Fabre. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The Munster veterans who dogged out dramatic wins on the European stage over the years must have cringed as they watched the current crop blow a golden opportunity to make life easy for themselves with two rounds left in the Heineken Champions Cup.
Then again, it’s in the Munster DNA not to do things the easy way and while they will go into their remaining two rounds top of their pool courtesy of Gloucester’s slip-up at home to Exeter Chiefs, this was a glorious opportunity blown to simplify their passage to the quarter-finals.
Munster made no effort in the bowels of Stade Pierre Fabre on a foul Saturday evening to camouflage this missed chance, although CJ Stander said it needed to be stated that they are still in control of their destiny as they prepare for the final two rounds against English opposition.
It was a sloppy performance by a wasteful Munster side in a bruising encounter which could yet have further disciplinary issues.
Three players, two from Castres, were binned in the course of the clash but Munster failed to score in either period when they had an extra man, although they only conceded three points when hooker Niall Scannell was in the bin.
“We had an opportunity for sure out there, we knew they were going to improve their game coming down here and we saw it last year,” said Stander.
“We are happy with the losing bonus point. But there were opportunities for us to get out there and get the win. It just shows you this competition how tough it is away from home.
“It was a dogfight. We knew it was going to happen, it was the same last week. We knew it was going to be that way this week. They have got a gameplan that they enforce on you. They were really physical tonight. We had opportunities we just didn’t take. We didn’t make it easy for anyone else to get those opportunities.”
Munster’s failure to get a try, a return of 50 per cent from eight penalties and a decision to tap and go just before the interval from a penalty in front of the posts before losing the ball, all contributed to their downfall.
Joey Carbery missed three penalties and Conor Murray was off target with one from distance on a day when the halfbacks started for Munster for the first time.
But Munster’s problems were all over the pitch, coughing up possession in the set-piece and not doing enough at the breakdown against the French champions, who were clearly up for an arm-wrestle – and more.
It was a most un-Munster performance in Europe and Stander acknowledged as much.
“When you play a quality opposition like that, that is always going to happen. If you don’t make sure to look after your possession or set-piece you are going to get the tail end of it.
“That happened to us once or twice. It’s something we can fix now. We made it difficult for ourselves in this pool, it was always going to be that way, but we could have made it easier for ourselves.”
Exeter’s win in Gloucester meant this really could have been a weekend for Munster to open a clear advantage in the pool but it never looked like happening in a scrappy encounter in the rain on a greasy surface.
Two penalties from Carbery opened up a 6-3 lead at the end of the opening quarter before a series of drives yielded the game’s only try after 24 minutes when loosehead Paea Fa’anunu got the touchdown.
Argentine Benjamin Urdapilleta, who had landed an earlier penalty, added the extras with Munster captain Peter O’Mahony adamant to referee Wayne Barnes that flanker Chris Cloete had been the victim of eye-gouging in the build-up to the score.
A missed effort from distance from Castres fullback Scott Spedding and Munster’s decision to tap and go in front of the posts ensured it remained 10-6 at the break, with Castres scrumhalf Rory Kockott binned just before the break for slapping the ball out of Murray’s hands at the base of a ruck.
Carbery pulled back a penalty after 51 minutes after missing his second of the afternoon but Urdapilleta cancelled it after Niall Scannell was pinged and binned at the breakdown after 56 minutes.
That made it 13-9 and after Murray was off target from 39 metres, Carbery cut the margin to the minimum 14 minutes from time but he was unable to score with his final effort from 40 metres on the right after 70 minutes.
Munster had enough possession to salvage it in the finish but conceding a penalty on their own scrum inside halfway and then coughing up a lineout when they were given one final chance to go from deep summed up a frustrating day.
Then again, Munster rarely take the easy road through the pools in Europe.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 2 mins: Carbery pen 0-3; 10 mins: Urdapilleta pen 3-3; 19 mins: Carbery pen 3-6; 24 mins: Fa’anunu Try, Urdapilleta con 10-3; 50 mins: Carbery pen 10-9; 56 mins: Urdapilleta pen 13-9; 66 mins: Carbery pen 13-12
CASTRES: S Spedding; M Laveau, T Combezou, F Vialelle, T Paris; B Urdapilleta, R Kockott; P Fa’anunu, K Firmin, M Clerc; T Lassalle, L Jacquet; Y Caballero, M Babillot (capt), M Vaipulu.
Replacements: A Tichit for Fa’anunu, W Hounkpatin for Clerc (both h/t), C Samson for Lassalle, J Radosavljevic for Kockott (both 60 mins), R Ebersohn for Vialelle (61), M A Ralier for Firmin (67), K Gimeno for Caballero (71), K Firmin for Paris (73).
MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, S Arnold, R Scannell, K Earls; J Carbery, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; T Beirne, B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt), C Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: A Botha for Cloete (55 mins), K O’Byrne for Botha (61-66), S Archer for Ryan (64), JJ Hanrahan for Carbery (73), J Loughman for Kilcoyne (75), F Wycherley for Holland (76).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU).