Too little too late but Munster show huge heart at Thomond

A resilient side fought for every ball and came away with a much-deserved win

Munster 26 Stade Francais 13

There's still fire in the Munster belly after all. This redemptory bonus point win will have little tangible effect on their failed European Champions Cup campaign, and even shows what might have been, it reminded anyone watching that home team and fans alike can still generate that old Thomond Park fortress feel.

Had they not salvaged that much, there really would have been nothing to show from their European season. They may not be back, but they’re not gone either.

The official attendance was 18,884, whereas the actual attendance was 14,000-plus, though to their credit those there made the noise of twice that amount.


Although they again hadn’t a scrum really worth speaking about, they dug in and survived, if conceding a welter of penalties, while their pack won the maul battle hands down. They defended in Stade’s faces, hunted carriers and the ball in mini packs, executed choke tackles and competed feverishly for loose balls.

The work-rate missing last week was back in all its glory, not least from a tight five that didn't punch its' weight in Paris. Dave Foley had his best game of the season, Mike Sherry was excellent save for a couple of over throws and Tommy O'Donnell doesn't know how to have a bad game. And then there was CJ Stander, who had another mighty game and at times when Munster most needed him to do so.

They ran and retained the ball ambitiously, if not always successfully, and had a good n return from their ploy of going back down the short side. Their pack generated the steam for a mauling try, and with a couple of opportunist finishes either side of the break by Keith Earls and Simon Zebo, their confidence returned, and their response to a brief Stade rally left no room for argument. They were handsome winners.

Low-lying rain clouds added to the foreboding and even gloomy mood in the build-up to this lunchtime kick-off. There were plenty of empty seats in both stands and space on the terraces, but those that were in attendance were up for the fight, both in spirit and in song. Better a noisy semi-empty stadium than a quiet full one.

A little too much so in the case of Uruguayan prop Mario Sagario, who was penalised for blocking from Steyn’s chipped kick-off up the middle for the South African out-half to open the scoring a minute in.

Stade, with everything to play for, were also evidently up for it, flinging themselves into contact and quickly re-asserting their scrum supremacy from a week ago when Munster were done for whipping after two re-sets.

Nonetheless, there were also signs of the kind of mental brittleness French teams are known for, not least on Stade's two previous losses here. Munster were much the more willing to keep the ball in hand and play with ambition, a long flat pass by Rory Scannell, who had an impressive half, releasing Ronan O'Mahony up the line for a run, and when Simon Zebo grubbered through, Julien Dupuy clearly carried the ball over the line.

That said, JP Doyle initially signalled a restart before being corrected by his touchjudge, and even after a knock-on by Murray from CJ Stander’s poor pass under pressure at the base, Dupuy’s error was compounded by Steyn not only declining to kick downfield, but his pass to Waisea Vuidarvuwalu was forward.

A scrum penalty saw Munster opt for the corner rather than go for the posts. The Munster pack withstood the Stade counter-drive on landing from Billy Holland’s take, set themselves, and upped through the gears as they went around the edge for Mike Sherry to dot down his fourth try of the season. Vindication in every sense, for Keatley missed the conversion, from where the original penalty could have been taken.

After Steyn missed another scrum penalty from 45 metres, Keatley did find an excellent touch from a penalty but for the most part each pair of halves were content to go to the air for their chasers. Here, there were some fine takes by the receivers, such as Sergio Parisse, naturally, Zebo and Keith Earls.

The Munster maul, both in offence and defence, was atoning for their scrum and Munster were making Stade tackle, but mostly in Munster’s own half. And a huge hit by Jonathan Rosss on David Kilcoyne typified the way Stade were edging the collisions again.

A Sherry knock-on, another scrum penalty and Dave Foley, who had a much improved game, being penalised for grabbing the arm of Paul Gabrillagues at a line-out, enabled Steyn to put Stade in front with a softish three points.

Munster needed something and, out of the blue, cue Earls. The pass which found him on the right wing on half-way, forced the winger to check and come back infield. He feinted to pass infield but eyed up Pascal Papé, and left the lumbering lock jogging on the spot as he rounded him. That gave him a yard or two on the converging scramble and he took the tackle by Sekou Macalou to slide over under the posts. In the last minute of the half, Keartley’s conversion sent them in 12-6 up to huge applause. It couldn’t have been better timed.

Championship minutes, and with the help of the Munster backroom team at half-time, they struck again within two minutes of the restart. Sucking in the defence with close-in runners off a line-out and then decoy runners, Keatley chipped sumptuously infield over the advancing pink line and Zebo, clearly reading a pre-planned move, sped onto the ball, gathered it one-handed and likewise slid in under the posts for Keatley to make it 19-6.

Then, when Stade finally got tough, CJ Stander got going. After a trademark turnover when poaching and immovable over Rabah Slimani, the Munster captain endeavoured to atone for Ronan O’Mahony’s yellow card – correctly sin-binned when taking out the airborne Hugo Bonneval, albeit unintentionally.

Stander scragged the counter-attacking Bonneval over the touchline to a thunderous roar before retrieving the ensuing overthrow by Sherry in midfield and when Paul Williams played the ball off his feet, Keatley sent the penalty up the line. It ticked a number of boxes, playing to the crowd and running down the clock, although they were done for accidental offside. But Francis Saili, Earls, Scannell and, of course, Stander executed a choke tackle on Julien Arias. Keatley and Sherry then did likewise on Parisse.

Scannell followed a neat touch-finder with a covering ball and tackle on Parisse to prevent the offload after he latched onto a chip by Steyn. Munster looked in control, but they handed Stade a lifeline when Sherry overthrow at a line-out and Panis collected and fed Ross to sprint through a big gap between Keatley and O’Donnell too also score under the posts.

Suddenly it was a one-score game but Munster’s response was, well, vintage Munster. After Stander’s carry won another penalty he then retrieved another overthrow by Sherry ahead of Panis, and when Ross played the ball on the deck, again they went up the line.

With an advantage from the line-out maul, they went wide where Zebo had a good carry. From the penalty against Bonneval for going off his feet, Murray tapped, dummied and went. He was collared just short of the line but, after a superb clear-out by Donnacha Ryan, needless to say Stander was on hand to pick and plunder the bonus point try.

To pointedly huge cheers, Keatley landed the difficult conversion. After that, buoyed by hungry performances from Robin Copeland and others off the bench, there was no way Munster were allowing Stade in for a bonus point, closing out the game with a group choke tackle.

Not complete redemption, for the performance also demonstrated how much better they could have done in this group, but they can sleep a little easier these next few nights. There’s life in the Munster dog after all.

Scoring sequence: 1 min Steyn pen 30-3; 19 mins Sherry try, 5-3; 37 mins Steyn pen 5-6; 40 mins Earls try, Keatley con 12-6; (half-time 12-6); 42 mins Zebo try, Keatley con 19-6; 63 mins Ross try, Steyn con 19-13; 68 mins Stander try, Keatley con 26-13.

Munster Rugby: Simon Zebo; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Ronan O'Mahony; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Mario Sagario, Dave Foley, Mark Chisholm, Billy Holland, Tommy O'Donnell, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: John Ryan for Sagario, Donnacha Ryan for Chisholm (both 49 mins), Lucas Amorosino for R Scannell (61 mins), Niall Scannell for Sherry, Robin Copeland for Holland (both 69 mins), Jack O'Donoghue for Stander, Tomas O'Leary for Murray (both 74 mins), Liam O'Connor for Kilcloyne (77 mins). Sinbinned: O'Mahony (50-60 mins).

Stade Français Paris: Hugo Bonneval; Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, Jonathan Danty, Paul Williams, Julien Arias; Morné Steyn, Julien Dupuy; Zak Taulafo, Laurent Panis, Rabah Slimani, Paul Gabrillagues, Pascal Papé, Sekou Macalou, Jonathan Ross, Sergio Parisse (capt). Replacements: Sylvain Nicolas for Macalou (58 mins), Hugh Pyle for Papé (65 mins), Heinke Van der Merwe for Taulafo, Paul Alo Emile for Slimani (both 61 mins), Julien Tomas for Dupuy (74 mins), Jules Plisson for Steyn (74 mins). Not used: Zurabi Zhvania, Jérémy Sinzelle.

Referee: JP Doyle (England).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times