Thomond Park roars as four-try Munster rout Toulouse

A 12th European Cup semi-final in 21 years for Munster as old foes brushed aside

Munster fans celebrate their team’s first try against Toulouse at Thomond Park. Photograph: Getty Images

Munster fans celebrate their team’s first try against Toulouse at Thomond Park. Photograph: Getty Images


Munster 41 Toulouse 16

Munster duly joined Leinster in the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup after another of those stirring, Thomond Park quarter-final occasions. In truth, it was something of a rollercoaster ride, with Munster having to withstand all manner of hits, figuratively and literally, against a heavyweight Toulouse before pulling clear with a 17-point flurry in the last five minutes.

They will now await the outcome between Saracens and Glasgow on Sunday before knowing whether they will play the former in the Aviva Stadium or Glasgow in Murrayfield three Saturdays hence. It could be that, like Leinster, they’ll go into that game as slight underdogs, especially if the champions and favourites Saracens overcome Glasgow, but there’s something about Munster again.

As in their pomp, the collective adds up to more than the sum of their individual parts.

They weren’t, until the death, at their most clinical, admittedly against a Toulouse team that, led by the phenomenal Thierry Dusautoir, turned up for one last shot at glory in a grim season. However, Munster’s defence was immense, so too work-rate of their pack, and they dug in time-honoured fashion, into their reserves of player strength and resolve.

Having lost Conor Murray before kick-off, their captain Peter O’Mahony (who had been outstanding) departed with half an hour to go and their vice-captain CJ Stander followed with a quarter of the game to go, as well as Keith Earls in between. But Billy Holland, aided by Donnacha Ryan, steered the ship home.

In Murray’s stead Duncan Williams was rightly roared off after a fine game, while Jack O’Donoghue, Dave O’Callaghan and co added real energy and intensity off the bench. John Ryan had a mighty match, thumping Toulouse’s big carriers to the ground, and was a rare if deserved tighthead recipient of the Man of the Match.

There were no weak links in the chain, all the way back to a very solid outing by Simon Zebo, and, of course, it helps when your steady-handed guiding light, Tyler Bleyendaal, also chips in with eight kicks out of nine for a 21 point haul to augment their four tries.

Munster began with their trademark intensity on occasions such as this, their pack drawing some lines in the sand with some potent, suffocating mauls to punish Toulouse’s early ill-discipline and build a ten-point lead, before some loose kicks into the first-half breeze gave Toulouse an entry into the game.

Despite having a much better line-out, Munster also lacked a little precision at times, and with the rub of the green going against them in some marginal calls or bounces of the ball, a 13-9 interval lead was scant reflection of their superior rugby. The game then ebbed and flowed until Munster’s barnstorming finale, but they were definitely deserving winners.

A degree of trepidation, or at any rate concern, had spread through the Munster fans on arrival after word began spreading that Murray’s neck/shoulder/arm injury had actually ruled him out after all, and this was then confirmed about an hour before kick-off. Murray’s leadership, kicking game and covering defence is perhaps even more integral and important to Munster’s game than to that of Ireland.

Williams, the 30-year-old understudy with 130 caps, was thus promoted to the starting line-up, with the 24-year-old Angus Lloyd, an ex-Blackrock schools and Trinity scrum-half on loan from Ulster, promoted to the bench, from where he had won both his previous caps against Zebre and Treviso.

Toulouse were also forced to withdraw Scottish lock Richie Gray, with Joe Tekori promoted to the second-row. The ripple effect, and perhaps news of Murray’s absence, prompted the visitors to revert to a 5-3 bench, with Portuguese scrum-half Samuel Marques added to the replacements.

As in the Aviva Stadium earlier, Thomond Park throbbed to capacity on a blustery, sun-kissed first evening of April. The one thing visiting teams need to do here, if possible, is to keep the crowd out of the game, and this particularly means applying discipline. Instead, the electric atmosphere was turned up several decibels after a good early take by Keith Earls when, from the recycle, Williams box-kicked and Francois Cros, the Toulouse number eight, led with his elbow has he hit the Munster scrum-half just below the neck.

It was so late that the on-field officials missed it, but the TMO didn’t, and after several replays Cros was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card.

From halfway, Tyler Bleyendaal extracted every inch from his penalty to find touch seven or eight metres from the touchline. Niall Scannell went to Stander at the front, and Toulouse came into the maul from the side. After a few drives were repelled with advantage, Munster went back to the corner, their hooker finding Tommy O’Donnell at the tail. David Kilcoyne, twice, and Jaco Taute carried hard and straight, and from the fourth phase John Ryan crashed into and took the tackles from Florian Fritz, Jean-Marc Doussain and Thierry Dusautoir no less, to score.

Bleyendaal made it 7-0, and Dusautoir, Toulouse’s rallying point and captain, temporarily departed to the blood bin. He and Gray’s absence was immediately felt when Peter O’Mahony, as he does, pilfered Leonardo Ghiraldini’s first throw. After Zebo countered and linked with Darren Sweetman, another Munster maul yielded another penalty from which Bleyendaal made it 10-0.

Even when Bleyendaal horribly screwed his touch finder off the restart, affording Toulouse an attacking line-out and a chance to go through one of their power plays, Munster drew another psychological line in the sand by keeping their shape and making their tackles through 16 phases.

Nonetheless, after Florian Fritz was wide with a wind-assisted penalty from half-way, Maxime Médard had ample time to counter off a poor kick by Rory Scannell. Their wingers worked hard off their wings, Yoann Huget popping up from a line-break, and Munster were indebted to O’Mahony for a well-timed tackle on Doussain, even if it did lead to O’Mahony being pinged for not rolling away and Doussain opened Toulouse’s account.

Strong chasing and contesting by Darren Sweetman earned the Munster lineout from which CJ Stander was launched at Doussain, and after Taute charged at Ghiraldini, the already weary-looking Tekori was penalised for a lazy, one-armed high hit on Kilcoyne. Bleyendaal made it 13-3.

But Toulouse weren’t going away, and went through the phases off a slightly over-cooked box-kick by Williams. Twice they went to the corner, before Taute was a little harshly penalised for not releasing after stopping Doussain in his tracks, the Toulouse outhalf tapping over the penalty.

Munster regained their control, with O’Mahony imperious at linout time, and a wonderful, basketball-type offload by, of all people, Donnacha Ryan, freed Taute, who linked infield with Rory Scannell. His offload was deflected infield, and Bleyendaal gathered to score, but several slow-motion replays showed that the ball had travelled fractionally forward from O’Donnell’s diving left hand before Bleyendaal gathered.

Instead, Munster unluckily conceded another three points with the last kick of the half when Rory Scannell’s attempted punt was slightly blocked, and when the ball deflected forward off Donnacha Ryan as he contested in the air Williams gathered from a marginally offside position.

Talk about inches, and the net effect of these marginal calls was that Munster’s lead was trimmed to 13-9 at the break, when it could easily have been 20-6.

A typically thrilling run from Zebo from his own take re-launched Munster from the resumption, and when Yoann Maestri ignored JP Doyle’s warnings and continued to play the ball, Bleyendaal opted for a shot at goal from halfway. He gave the shot plenty of air, and the wind carried it just over the bar.

Munster sought to turn the screw, Rory Scannell kicking up the line, and then Bleyendaal to the corner after Zebo took the ball as first receiver to bring the Toulouse left-winger, Paul Perez, up into the defensive line.

Medard couldn’t get much distance into the wind, and Munster went to their maul. When Tekori was done for not releasing, O’Mahony decided it was time to go to the corner and for the jugular. Feeding time at the zoo.

The pack cleverly transferred the point of attack from the maul, and a sequence of sharp pick-and-goes culminated in Stander plunging over. There’s no stopping Stander from that range. Thomond erupted, although O’Mahony hobbled off with a leg injury.

Desperation and edginess crept into the Toulouse game. Medard couldn’t take a hard flat pass from Fritz, and the two Toulouse veterans couldn’t even look at each other. Toulouse were beginning to crack, though in fairness they withstood another fierce battering of hard carrying. A tip tackle on Stander by Tekori enabled Bleyendaal to make it 24-9.

However, out of the blue, Touluse’s willingness to run from deep saw them break out through Maestri, and he freed Perez to run in the try from 45 metres. Recourse to the TMO clearly showed that the final pass had been about three metres forward. But Doyle decreed that “I need an angle to prove it’s a forward pass.” So without one, he awarded the try. An awful decision. Doussain’s fine conversion reduced the lead to 24-16. It breathed new life into Toulouse. Game on.

Munster’s superior scrum had not been rewarded heretofore by Doyle, and the replacement James Cronin lost his bind, allowing Toulouse to go up their line. On they went through 14 phases, and in their hour of need, the home crowd upped their chanting of ‘Mun-ster, Mun-ster’. Whereupon, a double hit by Billy Holland and O’Donnell forced a spillage and earned relief. Although Munster now also lost a limping Stander with an injury to the lower part of his left leg, it felt big, as did a Doussain fumble when Toulouse came calling again.

Their scrum held, and when Holland was taken out in the air by Maestri, they went up the line again. This time Piula Faasalele stole the throw, but when sub winger Arthur Bonneval ran the ball from deep and was tackled brilliantly by O’Donoghue, he was adjudged not to have let go off the ball in the tackle. As he hadn’t been held, it looked harsh, but Bleyendaal made it 27-16.

Toulouse had no option but to play catch up. When the ineffectual Doussain saw Taute shooting up with intent, and attempted to tip on a pass from the anonymous Sébastien Bézy, he merely missed the ball and Darren Sweetnam kicked on, gathered and sealed the deal with the try.

Bleyendaal converted as he did again after a dancing break by Rory Scannell led to the outhalf’s skip pass being tipped on by Zebo for Andrew Conway to score in the corner. Bleyendaal even tagged on a trademark touchline conversion.

That was actually a bit tough on Toulouse, but Munster won’t care about that. They’re in the semi-finals again.

Scoring sequence: 5 mins J Ryan try, Bleyendaal con 7-0; 10 mins Bleyendaal pen 10-0; 18 mins Doussain pen 10-3; 28 mins Bleyendaal pen 13-3; 32 mins Doussain pen 13-6; 40 mins Doussain pen 13-9; (half-time 13-9); 43 mins Bleyendaal pen 16-9; 48 mins Stander try 21-9; 53 mins Bleyendaal pen 24-9; 56 mins Perez try, Doussain con 24-16; 75 mins 27-16; 76 mins Sweetman try, Bleyendaal con 34-16; 80 mins Conway try, Bleyendaal con 41-16.

Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Tyler Bleyendaal, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: Dave O’Callaghan for O’Mahony (50 mins), Rhys Marshall for N Scannell, James Cronin for Kilcoyne (both 59 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for Stander (66 mins), Andrew Conway for Earls (57 mins), Angus Lloyd for Williams (77 mins), Francis Saili for Taute (78 mins).

Not used: Stephen Archer.

Toulouse: Maxime Médard; Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Gael Fickou, Paul Perez; Jean-Marc Doussain, Sébastien Bézy; Cyril Baille, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Census Johnston, Joe Tekori, Yoann Maestri, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Yacouba Camara, Francois Cros . Replacements: Talalelei Gray for Dusautoir (6-15 mins), Julien Marchand for Ghiraldini, Dorian Aldegheri for Johnston (both 50 mins), Gurthro Steenkamp for Baille (59 mins), Piula Faasalele for Tekori, Luke McAlister for Fritz, Arthur Bonneval for Huget (all 69 mins).

Not used: Samuel Marques,

Referee: JP Doyle (England).

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