Amazing Munster obliterate Toulouse to cruise into last four
Published 05/04/2014 | 15:39
If Munster were looking for inner belief in their quest to regain a trophy they last won in 2008, no better place to find it and against no better opponents.
On this form, they are unstoppable, even if the French flagged late on, they were made to by an irrepressible, irresistible display from the men in red.
"It was one of those days when everything came off for us," chirped Paul O'Connell, who lifted the trophy after beating these opponents six years ago.
He may get his hands on the trophy soon enough.
Munster retained their unbeaten Thomond Park record against French sides, dismantling four-time champions Toulouse with a stunning four-try display.
Despite a couple of wobbles, Munster were always in control, dominating the scrums and finishing the game well on top as their incredible fitness levels told against their fellow aristocrats of European rugby.
Few gave Rob Penney's side a chance of winning the competition before today; few will now want to confidently bet against them winning their first title since 2008 if they can again replicate this intensity against either Toulon or Leinster.
Munster were nearly dealt an early blow when Peter O'Mahony suffered an early stinger after stealing an early lineout; when Toulouse tossed their second throw away, they found themselves beneath their posts.
A rousing, 20 phase rumbling, menacing attack against brutish defence eventually procured a penalty advantage but Munster wanted more.
By the 21st phase, Simon Zebo was in open field as Toulouse were stranded on the open-side, his pass finding his fellow wing Keith Earls who dived gleefully for the corner.
Ian Keatley converted from out wide and in the fifth minute, Munster were in dream land; Tommy O'Donnell's error at the restart though, landed them back on terra firma with a jolt.
Luke McAlister, a late inclusion in the team after shrugging off injury in a morning fitness test, slotted the three-pointer and it was 7-3 after only seven breathless minutes.
Despite being backed by a sturdy breeze, Munster dominated the territory and, when Joe Tekori dismantled a maul illegally, Keatley secured the seven-point lead with a confident 16th minute effort.
O'Mahony was forced to succumb; Munster refused to. From a driving maul, Conor Murray almost snuck over but was held up.
Yohan Montes was pinged for a second time for binding on Dave Kilcoyne's arm in the scrum - and received a warning. Keatley doled out further punishment; 13-3 after 27 minutes.
Toulouse were weaving some pretty patterns; mostly ineffective ones on their own 10-metre line and Munster's red wave of defence coped adequately.
When their next score came, it was from Munster's 10-metre line; McAlister booming a 50-metre effort after replacement CJ Stander was guilty of losing his feet at a breakdown.
Munster then gifted Toulouse a three-pointer; all from Dave Kilcoyne's sloppy pass in his own territory; BJ Botha conceded a scrum penalty and suddenly it was just 13-9 with the half-time sanctuary looming and O'Mahony's absence was now proving integral.
Munster needed another whirlwind start; they got it. From another rolling maul, an unstoppable 20-metre drive, Murray was held up again.
But Kilcoyne wasn't; he leaped ten feet in the air to celebrate the score. Keatley converted and within two minutes of the restart, they had regained control, 20-9.
Yann Huget then fluffed a chance when he passed instead of sliding in; Munster then counter-attacked. This was a thrill a minute.
Munster profited from the counter; Earls' kick forcing a deep Toulouse throw, from where Munster mauled again, Damian Varley bursting from its core.
Again, Murrray pounced; again, he fell short. This time, Stander gleefully picked up the pieces on his birthday, again Keatley converted. At 27-9, only the Foinavon fence could undo them now.
Nigel Owens lost patience at scrum-time, binning Kilcoyne and his opponent; Munster eked out a penalty in the wash but Keatley missed.
By this stage, Guy Noves withdrew McAlister; clearly conceding the game here was up and qualification for next year's version via the top 14 was now the priority.
As if repulsed by their coach's craven response, they produced a moment of magic as Hosea Gear sauntered home after some typically flamboyant midfield play. Surely they couldn't?
The greater fitness levels told though as Toulouse couldn't keep up the pace sparked by enigmatic replacement Clement Poitrenaud.
Munster's next visit to the 22 from more scrum problems for the French; at 30-16, at least, Munster had a two-score buffer against a side now throwing everything at the contest in desperation.
An appalling attempt at a cheeky 22 drop-out was a metaphorical tossing in of the towel; Munster cleaned up the mess and Casey Laulala settled Thomond Park nerves for 35-16 with just 15 minutes left.
Tekori scored a consolation but Munster weren't going to let the visitors have the final word. Simon Zebo added a fifth, Paul O'Connell a sixth as the crowd celebrated in the glorious sunshine.
They may have a bit more celebrating to do before this season is over.
Munster: F Jones; K Earls (G van der Heever 68), C Laulala, J Downey (JJ Hanrahan 67), S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams 75); D Kilcoyne, D Varley (D Casey 57), BJ Botha (D Ryan 75), D Foley (D O'Callaghan 60), P O'Connell, P O'Mahony (CJ Stander 19), T O'Donnell (J Ryan 50-60), J Coughlan.
Toulouse: M Medard (C Poitrenaud 50); Y Huget, F Fritz (JM Doussain 61), G Fickou, H Gear; L McAlister, J Vermaak; G Steenkamp, C Tolofua (J Bregvadze 49), Y Montes, Y Maestri, P Albacete capt, Y Camara, J Tekori (C Baille 50-60), L Picamoles (G Galan 59).
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)