Munster come away with vital bonus point

 

Clermont 25-19 Munster: Munster slipped to their first defeat in Europe since lifting the Heineken Cup but a bonus point in Clermont-Auvergne kept their qualification hopes alive.

Brock James scored all of Clermont's points, including six penalties and a second-half try, to keep his team in the tournament with a repeat of last season's victory over the European champions.

But Ronan O'Gara's 73rd-minute penalty ensured Munster left France with a potentially crucial losing bonus point that keeps them in touch with leaders Sale Sharks with two of their next three pool games at home.

They looked set to take all four points when Marcus Horan scored a tremendous try on 25 minutes to open a 13-6 lead.

O'Gara and James had traded two penalties each when Ireland international Horan received the ball out wide following Alan Quinlan's break and David Wallace's pass.

He still had two defenders to beat yet managed to swat both aside with a ferocious hand-off to touch down in the corner.

O'Gara converted and added a third penalty to open up a 16-9 lead, but Munster were made to pay a heavy price for a series of penalties which allowed Clermont to remain in touch through the pinpoint accuracy of James.

Penalties either side of half-time cut the lead to a point and the tide had turned in Clermont's favour.

France number eight Elvis Vermeulen came off the bench as the home side stepped up a gear and, within a minute, James beat two tackles for a crucial score.

Julian Bonnaire marshalled a powerful lineout drive and Mario Ledesma tore headlong into the Irish midfield before James stepped inside O'Gara and out of the grasp of Paul O'Connell to give Clermont the lead on 47 minutes.

Ledesma took a scrum against the head as Munster creaked under the pressure, but the visitors were grateful to only concede a sixth James penalty.

Munster threw on giant prop Tony Buckley to help steady the ship, Lifeimi Mafi stood tall in midfield and Tomas O'Leary sniped around the fringes to get Munster back on track.

But it was a moment of French petulance that earned the bonus point.

Pierre Mignoni conceded a penalty and referee Wayne Barnes marched Clermont back an extra 10 yards after comments made by the home players.

That brought O'Gara within range and the tournament's top points scorer obliged with the kick that keeps Munster well placed to progress to the quarter-finals.