Munster secure crucial bonus point
Clermont 26-19 Munster: Munster are still in with a chance of qualifying from Pool Five of the Heineken Cup after a pulsating bonus point performance against a star-studded Clermont Auvergne side today.
English referee Rob Debney will not be holidaying in the French province any time soon after infuriating fans at San Marcel-Michilen Stadium, even though their side won 26-19 in the Heineken Cup Pool 5 match.
Debney was the centre of attention after dishing out three yellow cards to home players, but failing to see a Jerry Flannery stamp to the head of France back-rower Julien Bonnaire.
Munster's losing bonus point means Clermont cannot top the pool and they now need a remarkable series of results in other pools to go through as one of the two best runners-up.
The home side raced to a 23-6 lead, but were rocked by the sin-binnings and the boot of Ronan O'Gara brought the visitors back into the match.
With one round to go, Wasps sit on 18 points, Munster on 15 and Clermont on 14.
Wasps have to go to Munster's Thomond Park next Saturday, while Clermont will rate their chances against a Llanelli Scarlets team that are not showing well in Europe this season.
Ronan O'Gara admitted today's game was so "crazy", he did not even realise his side had won a bonus point.
Outhalf O'Gara, who kicked 14 points, said: "I have to say I didn't realise the bonus point was still in play at the end - it was all a bit crazy.
"People don't realise how tough Clermont are. They're a fantastic side and that was a really tough game.
"We came here looking for the win, and we're disappointed not to have it, but we got the bonus point and that's enough to take into our next game into Wasps."
Clermont coach Vern Cotter added: "In terms of permutations, we'll look at it after the Llanelli game next week. We knew the importance of the bonus point, which is why we tried the late drop goal to shut Munster out.
"But we're satisfied with the win. We knew that Munster had the quality to come back into the game, and I was impressed with their resolve.
"I was pleased with our guys' performance. The game could have gone either way and we held out. The yellow cards started sneaking into the match and that didn't help our cause, but I've got no complaints about any of the cards."
The first quarter belonged to Clermont as the Munster players consistently failed to clear their line.
The Irish province made one David Wallace-inspired visit to Clermont territory, with O'Gara opening the scoring with a penalty goal, but the home side hit straight back with a try to scrum-half Pierre Mignoni.
Fly-half Brock James converted Mignoni's effort, and added two penalty goals as the Munster pack began retreating at a great rate of knots.
James had barely thrown the kicking tee off the field when he was called on to convert a try to hooker Mario Ledesma, and the Munster players were staring at a 20-3 scoreline.
Clermont lock Loic Jacquet was binned for a professional foul, and the home side were rocked in the opening minute of the second half when impressive winger Julien Malzieu was yellow-carded for a professional foul.
Such was Clermont's dominance at that stage of the game, Munster could not even score against 13 men.
Malzieu returned to the field in time to watch James' penalty goal put his side 17 points clear, but a break inspired by Munster's replacement prop Tony Buckley gave centre Lifeimi Mafi a clear run to the posts and visiting fans a glimmer of hope.
Back-rower Alexandre Audebert became the third man to see referee Debney's yellow card, and O'Gara's penalty from in front of the posts moved the visitors into the all important bonus point territory.
O'Gara and James swapped late penalty goals but the Clermont players looked the more unhappy as they trudged off the field.