Toulouse deliver one of their great performances to down Munster

Province have nothing to be ashamed of as Top14 giants enjoy themselves in the sun

Munster 33 Toulouse 40

Before the start of the second-half loud screeching could be heard coming from inside the west stand. Gradually the Toulouse players re-emerged onto the pitch, while a corridor of replacements and staff maintained their high-pitched hollering.

They were back and they meant business. The Toulouse playing squad and back-up staff had been noisy from their warm-up and throughout the game, not lest in beseeching Wayne Barnes for decisions in their favour or celebrating big moments.

Furthermore, on a day when the acoustics made for a neutral venue, the blue skies and warm sunshine made conditions akin to the south of France.

Toulouse had started like an express train and shown flashes of brilliance, yet Munster had responded with some of their best rugby of the season. Two well-worked Keith Earls tries had earned them a deserved lead of 16-9, albeit Joey Carbery couldn't nail either touchline conversion.

As it transpired, Toulouse had the better half-time too. Within three minutes of the restart the outstanding Romain Ntamack, despite running sideways and with no advantage play, spotted Joey Carbery was positioned slightly infield. The outhalf deftly chipped toward the touchline for left-winger Matthis Lebel (11 tries in 15 Top 14 games this season) to gather and take Carbery's tackle to score.

What’s more, unlike Carbery, Ntamack landed the touchline conversion to draw the sides level.

Then, after Gavin Coombes scored from a close-range tapped penalty, Ntamack spotted space on the other wing and chipped to Cheslin Kolbe where Earls conceded a penalty by clipping the airborne South African’s leg.

Ntamack tapped the penalty to the corner and from a throw so blatantly crooked that Alban Placines, with his first touch, took the ball one-handed with his inside arm. Two phases later, their brilliant hooker and captain Julien Marchand powered through the tackles of CJ Stander and Joey Carbery to score.

Ntamack’s conversion brought the sides level for a third time at 23-all, and afterwards he revealed that it was the result of something his coaches, most probably backs coach Clement Poitrenaud, had detected in the first period and relayed during the interval.

“This does not come from the players but from the coaches who had seen him from the edge of the field. We noticed that the opposing wingers and rear closed quite early. There were opportunities in these areas and it smiled on us. With the wingers we have, the task was made easier!”

The match stats confirm it was, overall, a fairly even match. Munster shaded the possession, the carries and metres gained, but to underline Toulouse’s greater potency - through the power game of their forwards and the trademark footwork and offloading of their relatively sleight backs - they made more line breaks (seven to three), offloads (22-9) and beat more defenders (31-20).

Munster, rebounding from the disappointment of last week's Pro14 final defeat by Leinster, gave it their all. Identifying space on the edges, they played with plenty of width and Conor Murray also used the blindside cleverly.

Stander, in his 50th and final European game for Munster, led the charge with the joint most carries (16) and tackles (14), while the Damien de Allende and Chris Farrell midfield produced their most powerful performance in tandem to date.

De Allende’s footwork as well as his strength actually caught the eye even more than his fellow Springboks World Cup winner Kolbe, and it was his big carries which led to the two Earls tries that took the winger to within one of Simon Zebo’s all-time Munster record of 60 tries.

The wonder was that de Allende became so underused in the second-half. Nontheless, the outcome remained finely balanced as Munster began pushing hard again inside the final quarter and ultimately pivoted to some degree on Barnes’ officiating.

First, replacement hooker Peato Mauvaka was allowed to come through on Conor Murray inside the Toulouse 22. Then, after JJ Hanrahan injected some zip into their back play, Munster twice failed to convert tries in each corner before having to settle for three points when, if Barnes was in any way consistent, Ntamack had to be binned for not rolling away to slow down ball and prevent a try.

Instead, and typical of a tit-for-tat match, after Toulouse worked Lebel into space and he brilliantly stepped Hanrahan to put Dupont over, Barnes made a very questionable call in pinging Niall Scannell for not rolling away.

The outcome was then sealed when Dupont ran in his second and Barnes, in tandem with his TMO, was not of a mind to change his onfield decision to award a try even though Dorian Aldegheri appeared to knock the ball on with his left arm.

In mitigation, the evidence was not full proof, and although Coombes had a second close-range, consolation try, in truth Toulouse finished the stronger and were deserving winners of a richly entertaining game.

Although the Toulouse threequarter line was hard hit by injuries, their strength in depth up front especially was a key factor, with Ugo Mola and his coaching staff maximising their pre-laid plans to have a 6-2 split on the bench by replenishing their pack with the introduction of all six of them in the third quarter.

There will be a huge sense of disappointment at the way their season has come crashing to earth in the last week but, without their 16th man, Munster need feel no shame in this defeat.

The Top 14 leaders and champions produced one of the finest performances in even their storied history in this competition, as evidenced by their wild celebrations at the end. Toulouse enjoyed their day in the sun immensely.

Scoring sequence: 4 mins Ntamack pen 0-3; 15 mins Carbery pen 3-3; 17 mins Ntamack pen 3-6; 25 mins Earls try, 8-6; 28 mins Earls try 13-6; 29 mins Ntamack pen 13-9; 40 (+1) mins Carbery 16-9; (half-time 16-9); 44 mins Lebel try, Ntamack con 16-16; 51 mins Coombes try, Carbery con 23-16; 55 mins Marchand try, Ntamack con 23-23; 66 mins Hanrahan pen 26-23; 68 mins Dupont try, Ntamack con 26-30; 70 mins Ntamack pen 26-33; 78 mins Dupont try, Ntamack con 26-40; 81 mins Coombes try, Casey con 33-40.

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Jack O'Donoghue, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: Kevin O'Byrne for N Scannell (35-41 and 75 mins), Billy Holland for Beirne (37 mins), James Cronin for Kilcoyne, John Ryan for Archer (both 60 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Carbery (62 mins), Fineen Wycherley for Kleyn (67 mins), Chris Cloete for O'Dohoghue (70 mins), Craig Casey for Murray (75 mins). Sinbinned - Farrell (4-14 mins).

Toulouse: Maxime Médard; Cheslin Kolbe, Zack Holmes, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand (capt), Charlie Faumuina; Rory Arnold, Richie Arnold; Francois Cros, Selevasio Tolofua, Jerome Kaino. Replacements: Clément Castets for Baille, Dorian Aldegheri for Faumuina (both 49 mins), Joe Tekori for Richie Arnold (50 mins), Alban Placines for Tolofua (54 mins), Thibaud Flament for Rory Arnold (55 mins), Peato Mauvaka for Marchand (56 mins), Dimitri Delibes for Medard (64 mins), Baptiste Germain for Dupont (78 mins).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times