THIS will go down in the Munster annals. What a way to win in one of Europe’s most difficult away venues.
Down and out with two minutes to go, JJ Hanrahan scored the most unlikely of tries to claim a famous, if a little fortunate, win.
The Kerryman popped up at the end of a magical piece of play by Denis Hurley whose offload released Tommy O’Donnell up the right. The replacement flanker managed to stay in field and find Hanrahan who still had Joffrey Michel to beat, but stood the full-back up and went in in the corner.
The performance was far from vintage, but Munster didn’t care. They had just had the win ripped out of their hands by a controversial Tommaso Benvenuti score that appeared to have kept Perpignan’s Heineken Cup hopes alive.
Instead, it is Munster who remain top of Pool Six ahead of a crucial trip to Gloucester next month.
It wasn’t vintage stuff, but away wins at this venue do not come easy. Munster started with intent and, in a repeat of last weekend, Sean Dougall went over for a try in the opening five minutes but referee JP Doyle went to the television match official who ruled that James Downey had run a blocking line on Luke Narraway for the flanker.
That momentum was lost as Perpignan struck with the first points as Italian fly-half Tommy Allan sent a 48m penalty over after Downey was penalised by referee JP Doyle for not rolling away.
The Dubliner, who referees out of England, was to become a central character in the 14th minute when a bad-tempered affair erupted with rows in separate areas of the pitch. He sin-binned Munster captain Peter O’Mahony and Perpignan hooker Romain Terrain, but opted to warn Leo despite an apparent stamp on a prone man in red.
The fights saw the intensity ramped up on and off the field and Ian Keatley drew his side level after the hosts had interfered with a Munster maul.
Parity wouldn’t last, however, as Doyle harshly penalised Felix Jones for a late tackle on Allan after the South African born out-half had broken from his own half and he dusted himself off and extended the lead.
Keith Earls was lucky not to join the two lads on the sideline when he went in high on Nicolas Durand but Doyle kept his card in his pocket as Allan sent over the penalty.
Keatley missed two kickable penalties before the break, Allan also sent one wide, as the 9-3 score held until half-time.
Munster again came out of the blocks with intent and, although Johne Murphy was turned over 8m out by Leo with Doyle awarding a scrum. It was the first of eight in succession that started with Munster marching the Catalans back on their own ball and forcing a 5m scrum and ended with Doyle under the posts and Keatley converting a penalty try.
It was a huge statement of intent from the visiting front-row and it panicked Perpignan, but the referee harshly penalised Coughlan and allowed the pressure to lift. A Munster infringement at the maul gave Allan a chance to put his side back in front, but he shanked his kick.
Coughlan then handed the impetus to the hosts by kicking loosely to the brilliant Sofiane Guitone who countered and set up Watsioni Votu for what looked a certain try until Cathal Sheridan pulled off a miraculous tackle and Narraway knocked on several phases later and Munster’s scrum once again forced the penalty and Keatley could relieve the pressure.
Damien Varley’s throw was picked off, however, and Perpignan attacked again with replacement Dave Kilcoyne giving away a penalty that Allan managed to send over and restore his side’s lead.
The momentum swung once again minutes later as Perpignan got sloppy at a maul and Keatley made amends for his earlier misses by nailing the penalty.
With 10 minutes remaining, the home team’s campaign lay in the balance and it looked like they handed the initiative to Munster when Sebastien Taofifenua knocked on, but Perpignan got the decision in the scrum and kicked for touch rather than try for three from 50m.
The throw went Jean Pierre Perez and the maul marched towards the line before collapsing thanks, according to Doyle, to Tommy O’Donnell. Allan was handed the opportunity, but again kicked wide.
Then came the dramatic end game, Earls got caught in possession and Doyle awarded a scrum. Perpignan went wide and, despite an apparent forward pass from David Marty, Benvenuti exposed a gap left by Hurley to score.
Earls was injured in defence and was helped off the field.
On came JJ Hanrahan and he did the rest.
PERPIGNAN – J Michel; S Guitone, L Mafi (D Marty 68), W Votu, R Haughton (T Benvenuti 19); T Allan, N Durand; S Taofifenua, R Terrain, P Ion; S Vahaamahina, G Vilaceca; D Leo (G Guirado 23-27) (JP Perez 54), A Strokosch, L Narraway (capt) (J Puril 68).
MUNSTER -- F Jones (D Hurley 71); K Earls (JJ Hanrahan 78), C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, C Sheridan; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 62), D Varley, BJ Botha (S Archer 73); D Ryan (D O’Callaghan 53), P O’Connell; P O’Mahony (capt), S Dougall (T O’Donnell 62), J Coughlan.
Referee: JP Doyle (RFU)