Munster lose on penalties after thrilling clash with Toulouse

The teams couldn’t be separated after normal and extra-time at the Aviva Stadium

Munster 24 Toulouse 24 (Toulouse won 4-2 on penalty kicks)

Toulouse edged past Munster on penalty kicks in a contest for the ages in front of 40,476 spectators at the Aviva stadium. It is only the second time in 27 years that the kicking lottery determined the outcome of a match in the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup.

It is a heart-breaking way to lose, and the pain will take a while to subside but when it does Munster should take pride in a performance that took the reigning European champions to the threshold of defeat, and they did so playing a cracking brand of rugby for large tranches of this wonderful contest.

Toulouse for their part showed remarkable resilience to chase down a 24-14 deficit to take the match into extra time and ultimately claim a place in the semi-final through the unerring boots of Antoine Dupont (twice), Thomas Ramos and Romain Ntamack, who combined kicked four from four in the place-kicking contest.

Replacement outhalf Ben Healy (twice) and Conor Murray, once could not convert their penalties.

As a spectacle it was stunning, utterly riveting, full of thrills and spills, great individual moments, and brilliant tries. The bonus was that this Heineken Champions Cup required extra-time to divine a winner. There were errors aplenty, but it didn’t detract from the spectacle one iota.

The outstanding Peter O'Mahony won the man of the match award but he was ably supported by his entire team with Alex Kendellen, Jack O'Donoghue and the tireless Damian de Allende deserving of great credit.

Toulouse’s Antoine Dupont could easily have picked up the laurels for his brilliance while Ramos and Ntamack were also prominent but even with the corrosive work of the pack, the scrum dominance and moments of artistry they could not shake off Munster.

Tension

The first half was an enthralling affair, full of endeavour as both sides look to put pace and width on the ball and while there were plenty of mistakes it just ramped up the tension.

Toulouse served a statement of intent with a superb break from Dimitri Delibes, but Munster scrambled well twice to advert the danger in their 22 and the assault was lifted when O’Mahony won an excellent turnover penalty at a ruck.

Munster were rock solid in the first scrum of the match on six minutes but that was to prove a misnomer as Toulouse mullered them for the remainder of the half, the first example 60 seconds later but crucially in this instance Munster were able to get the ball away and when the French side were penalised for going off their feet Joey Carbery kicked the resultant penalty to the corner.

Munster worked O’Donoghue into open space and two rucks later, Kendellen brilliantly fought his way over the line. Referee Luke Pearce, after consulting with the television match official Stuart Terheege awarded the try. Carbery converted to give his side a perfect start.

Toulouse’s response was quick if shrouded in a little controversy. A brilliant break from Pierre Fouyssac split the Munster defence at its core and from the ensuing ruck, Ntamack fumbled Antoine Dupont’s pass but neither Pearce nor subsequently Terheege adjudged that the ball had gone forward and so when the outhalf re-gathered and forced his way over the line, a try was awarded.

It was a breathless first 18 minutes and there was much to admire in Munster’s approach, offloading, tip on passes with a commitment to playing out of the tackle and keeping a high intensity to the game. They made mistakes but they were going to, and crucially they didn’t let it affect that commitment to those patterns.

Toulouse too looked to offload where possible and reminded their opponents that the could create try scoring chances from the most benign starting positions.

On 21 minutes Munster were penalised for illegally sacking a Toulouse lineout maul. Ntamack poked the ball into the corner. The French side asked the question and Munster responded emphatically, by neutralising the maul and winning a scrum turnover. It was a huge moment, or it should have been, but Toulouse promptly pushed their hosts off the ball.

Pearce awarded a penalty and unsurprisingly they opted for the scrum. Once again the scrum edged forward but with another penalty in the offing, Toulouse moved the ball wide, Ntamack’s two touches, the second on a loop around his centres, were pivotal in creating the chance, finished by left wing Mathias Lebel in the corner. Ramos kicked a superb conversion to put the French side 14-7 ahead.

A Munster attack floundered when Haley made a handling error as he snatched at Keith Earls’ pass and the home side compounded the mistake by conceding a penalty but Ntamack let them off the hook, the first with a poorly executed grubber kick in the Munster 22, the second when he went for a long range drop goal.

Two minutes before the interval Munster were level, the origin a lineout, the crowning glory Carbery’s cut-out pass to the unmarked Earls who ambled over in the corner. Carbery’s conversion was a beauty.

Vigorous

Munster should have taken the lead 90 seconds after the re-start, Kendellen scragging Dupont and a vigorous counter-ruck saw Toulouse concede a penalty, but Carbery missed for a second time in the match. It hardly seemed to matter because the Irish province grabbed a third try soon after, Chris Farrell’s outside break, finished by fullback Mike Haley. Carbery converted to push Munster into a 21-14 lead.

The champions responded by bringing on fresh legs and managed to negotiate their way to the Munster 22 only for Josh Wycherley to win another huge penalty turnover. On 50-minutes the momentum of the game took a significant shift towards Munster when Rory Arnold received a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Simon Zebo.

Toulouse were rattled, Dupont was collared for a scrum turnover, Maxime Medard dropped a straightforward high ball. Munster needed to capitalise and they did when Carbery kicked a penalty after Fouyssac took out Farrell with an early tackle: the Irish province finally had two-score separation at 24-14.

Toulouse kept coming, pounding their way around the fringes but despite invariably making it to the Munster 22, they could not get the try that their play probably merited. The excellent O’Mahony forced another penalty turnover in his last act, Jason Jenkins stripped the ball clean in his first.

Then on 66-minutes Toulouse demonstrated that champion quality, a training ground move from a lineout, beautifully finished by Lebel coming late off the blindside wing. Ramos converted and at 24-21 it was game on again. Ntamack stripped Loughman in a tackle, De Allende intercepted a pass as Toulouse swept forward; it was breathless end-to-end fare.

Despite wholesale changes to the backline that saw Dupont move to outhalf and Ntamack to centre, it didn’t compromise the French side’s attacking quality, but it was a more mundane method that allowed them to draw level; they won a penalty on a Munster put-in and Ramos tagged on the three points to leave the sides level at 24-24.

Who’d blink first? The answer Toulouse. A knock-on and then the concession of a penalty set the stage for Healy on for Haley with 20 seconds remaining: from six metres inside his half, he had the distance but not the accuracy.

Two periods of 10-minutes would determine the winner. Healy scuffed a drop goal attempt, Ramos did likewise and then with the final act of extra time the Munster outhalf was handed one final opportunity but the drop goal drifted narrowly wide. It was still decided by the boot.

Scoring sequence - 9 mins: Kendellen try, Carbery conversion, 7-0; 11 mins: Ntamack try, Ramos conversion, 7-7; 26 mins: Lebel try, Ramos conversion, 7-14; 38 mins: Earls try, Carbery conversion, 14-14. Half-time: 14-14. 43 mins: Haley try, Carbery conversion, 21-14; 56 mins: Carbery penalty, 24-14; 66 mins: Lebel try, Ramos conversion, 24-21; 75 mins: Ramos penalty 24-24.

MUNSTER: M Haley; K Earls, C Farrell, D de Allende, S Zebo; J Carbery, C Murray; J Wycherley, N Scannell, S Archer; J Kleyn, F Wycherley; P O'Mahony (capt), A Kendellen, J O'Donoghue.

Replacements: J Ryan for Archer 50 mins; J Loughman for J Wycherley 54 mins; D Barron for Scannell 54 mins; J Jenkins for Kleyn 59 mins; C Casey for Murray 59 mins; J Daly for O’Mahony 63 mins; T Ahern for F Wycherley 71 mins; B Healy for Haley 71 mins; Murray for Zebo (HIA) 96 mins.

TOULOUSE: T Ramos; D Delibes, P Fouyssac, P Ahki, M Lebel; R Ntamack, A Dupont; R Neti, J Marchand (capt), D Aldegheri; R Arnold, E Meafou; R Elstadt, T Flament, F Cros.

Replacements: M Medard for Delibes half-time; P Mauvaka for Marchand 46 mins; C Baille for Neti 46 mins; A Jelonch for Elstadt 46 mins; D Ainu’u for Aldegheri 50 mins; J Tekori for Meafou 63 mins; S Tolofua for Flament 63 mins; B Germain for Fouyssac 63 mins; P Fouyssac for Medard (HIA) 71 mins.

Yellow card: R Arnold (Toulouse) 50 minutes.

Referee: L Pearce (England)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer

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