Magnificent Munster seal bonus-point victory
Perpignan 14 Munster 37:Munster showed they are from a beaten docket in European rugby as they recorded one of the finest away victories in Heineken Cup history with a thrilling bonus-point win Perpignan in the white-cauldron of the Stade Aime Giral this afternoon.
The French champions had won 16 successive European ties at their ground, having not been beaten in the south of France since London Wasps tasted success in 2004.
But Munster took full control of Pool One with an excellent display and Tony McGahan’s men were rewarded with maximum points thanks to tries from Denis Fogarty, Denis Hurley, Jean de Villiers and Doug Howlett.
Perpignan began brightly and took the lead in the fifth minute after Fogarty was adjudged by English official Dave Pearson to be offside.
Scrumhalf David Mele stepped up in clear blues skies to slot home the penalty with consummate ease.
The hosts continued to pile the early pressure on the two-time European champions with outhalf Gavin Hume bombarding Munster full back Paul Warwick under the high ball.
Then Hume turned creator as his deft chip found space and centre Maxime Mermoz booted ahead but Keith Earls came to the visitors’ rescue.
Ronan O’Gara missed the opportunity to level the scores with a drop goal after 12 minutes but he made no mistake after Pearson had awarded a penalty for an earlier offence.
But Perpignan came again and neat work from Romanian hooker Marius Tincu found Mele in a gaping hole only for David Wallace to produce an excellent recovery tackle to stem the tide.
Munster skipper Paul O’Connell had been influential in the early exchanges and the Lions captain was held short but he was ably supported by Wallace and Warwick who battered away at the line before finally Fogarty scrambled over for a converted try and O’Gara.
Mele missed a routine penalty on 28 minutes but made amends a minute later and then added his third penalty in the 34th minute when Wallace caught Mermoz with a high tackle to reduce the deficit to just one point at the interval.
Tomás O’Leary put Munster on the front foot after the restart when he darted through the home side’s defence, forcing the hosts to concede a penalty in front which O’Gara fired home.
Then Perpignan saw prop Jerome Schuster yellow-carded for headbutting Denis Leamy in the 46 minute and O’Gara took full advantage with an ice-cool penalty for a 16-9 lead.
O’Gara was also sent to the sin-bin for a late tackle but Munster continued their momentum as the pressure grew.
Hume saw his kick charged down by scrumhalf O’Leary before Munster’s old guard up front took the game away from Perpignan.
The outstanding O’Connell and Wallace handed excellent field position and then Warwick fed Hurley who beat Christophe Manas and Mele to touch down in the left corner.
Warwick hammered home a fine conversion from the far touchline and although Guilhem Guirado scored an opportunist try on 66 minutes, replacement De Villiers and then Howlett sealed an emphatic victory.