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Neil Francis: Clermont made to look mortal

And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there. Oh say! Does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

LA Marseillaise boomed out across Stade de la Mosson for most of the 80 minutes of this pulsating game, yet I thought that four-line stanza from The Star Spangled Banner was more apt.

Clermont, in every phase of play, all across the pitch, were the better team. That, as we know, does not guarantee that you win on every occasion. As we entered the final quarter, Munster's bloody-minded functionality, resilience, dogged perseverance had them in a position to win this game.

I talked about it last week, about Clermont's fragility. There is a reason why they only won one Bouclier in 100 years. There is a reason why, up until now, they had never advanced past a Heineken Cup semi-final. We saw their foibles and weakness of character ruthlessly exploited by Munster as the game grew older.

It is a matter of regret Munster did not have the skill-set and, I suppose, the luck to overtake their rivals. Once again the Clermont side were wracked by self-doubt and creeping indecision. You could see the collective face blanch as their confidence drained. Once again they froze, as a team prepared to die with their boots on went at them physically, inflicting their brand of rugby upon them.

Clermont try to bully their way past opponents and they have an ability to ramp up the pace of the game without their skills breaking down. They normally finish off opponents in the second half, who are unable to live with the physical onslaught of their pack and their speed of their outside backs. So, in the heat of this molten hot encounter, Clermont looked at the scoreboard, found that Munster were still standing, growing into the game.

When Hurley scored from O'Gara's delicious chip it seemed like there was a scene from Macbeth on the way. Maybe the reason Rob Penney has being trying to bring a new dimension to Munster's play was because they are unable to take advantage of quality ball that comes their way.

They get into position through their pack but cannot finish off. Skill, without imagination, is craftsmanship and Munster could not trouble Clermont as they got into the game in the second half with more possession and field position.

What killed Munster was the number of turnovers they gave away all over the park. Eighteen turnovers in a game will kill you. Still and all, they had enough chances, in the last 20, to fall over the line ahead of their opponents.

From unorthodox passing movements, Casey Laulala threaded through on the left-hand side. The ball bounced awkwardly and Nalaga misjudged the last bounce. Jones probably took his eye off the ball, which he presumed the Fijian had caught. If he had looked up, the ball would have sat into his lap and he would have scored. The ball came loose, still in play as Laulala tried to make contact with it. If he had slid in, and took the ball into his body, he would have scored. He tried to pick and knocked it on in the melee. The chance was gone.

Late on, Munster had a chance to go from 30 metres, from a lineout, but as Ryan went up in the middle of the lineout, with only one arm in the air, you knew there was too much loft in Varley's throw. The ball was turned.

In the last minute, Paul O'Connell was called for a forward pass by Nigel Owens. Maybe there was something metaphysical about that moment. There was no way the pass was forward. But I don't think it would have made any difference. It was highly improbable that Munster would have scored from that deep in their half.

Munster produced a performance. Clermont froze when they couldn't put them away after 60. Only pure dumb luck separated them at the end.

Irish Independent