Late call-up JJ Hanrahan produces for Munster in forgettable win over Castres
Munster 30 Castres 5
JJ Hanrahan was propelled from the bench to lead Munster to a comfortable win over a stubborn, but limited Castres side at Thomond Park.
The Reds can take full control of Pool 2 next Saturday if they can back up this victory over the Top 14 champions in France, although they’ll expect more from their opponents away from home.
The Kerryman stepped in after Joey Carbery was ruled out at the 11th hour with a training ground injury and that backline loss was compounded when the home side lost Chris Farrell in the warm-up, meaning Sam Arnold stepped in at No 13.
In an untidy game, Hanrahan led well and scored 20 of his side’s 30 points in a dominant performance that earned him the Man of the Match award.
Castres set out to frustrate, but they forgot to bring any semblance of an attack and only scored in second-half inury time to prevent a return of nul points.
Having dominated possession and territory to such an extent, Johann van Graan’s side will be disappointed not to have collected a bonus point but they’ll take solace from their position as pool leaders, three points clear of Gloucester.
They will regret not taking advantage of some early opportunities in particular.
After a down-pour just before kick-off, both teams played for territory early on and after coughing up to lineouts Castres blinked first when Scott Spedding kicked dead from the edge of his own ’22.
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Munster worked through the phases to the 5m line and, when Kevin Gimeno was penalised for not rolling away, Hanrahan kicked his team in front.
The home side got another opportunity to attack when No 8 Alex Tulou came through on Conor Murray at a ruck and an excellent long lineout throw from Niall Scannell to his brother Rory opened things up.
Again, Castres’ discipline cost them and this time when their opponents strayed offside Peter O’Mahony instructed Hanrahan to go to the corner.
However, Scannell’s next attempt went over the top by mistake and the visitors could clear their lines.
Chris Cloete turnover created another opportunity and a neat move at the back of the lineout saw Murray put Andrew Conway into space, but Castres scrambled and a poor Murray pass was knocked on by Tadhg Beirne which allowed the visitors off the hook again.
The same combination were guilty of another mix-up, but Dave Kilcoyne won a penalty at the scrum and Hanrahan doubled his side’s lead.
The Irish province’s set-piece dominance continued at the scrum with another penalty allowing Rory Scannell kick for position on the edge of the ’22 but his brother’s throw strayed offline and another chance passed.
Having struggled for any momentum in the opening half an hour, a cracking Thomas Combezou tackle forced Rory Scannell into a knock-in his own half and suddenly Castres had the platform to attack but Murray snuffed it out by rushing up on Ludovic Radosavljevic and forcing the knock-on.
The scrum-half almost broke the game open with an intercept from Tulou, but he couldn’t quite hold on with open space beckoning in front of him.
An error-strewn first-half concluded with Rory Scannell kicking one final penalty dead when he was going for the corner as Munster had to settle for a six point lead at the break.
Although an early second-half lineout came to nothing, Munster got another chance to finally score a try from a scrum deep in the Castres’ ’22 and they managed to get over then Murray peeled right and held off Thibault Lassalle’s tackle just long enough to pop the ball to Rory Scannell who stepped through Loic Jacquet’s poor attempt to stop him to score.
Despite two excellent Tadhg Beirne ruck poaches, Castres got their first chance to get off the mark when Peter O’Mahony threw a forward pass and a replacement front-row turned the screw at scrum-time to earn a penalty and hand Benjamin Urdapilleta his first kick at goal.
The usually unerring kicker missed, but Murray knocked the ball on in the in-goal area which meant Munster had to defend a scrum on their 5m line.
They repelled the initial advance and then O’Mahony made up for his earlier effort by stripping Combezou of possession.
A Chris Cloete poach-penalty allowed Hanrahan find touch in the Castres ’22, but again the visiting defence stood tall for a period before coughing up their 12th penalty.
More Murray magic produced try number two for his side as they finally put the result to bed with their second try. The scrum-half delayed his pass just long enough to put CJ Stander in behind and he steamrolled Spedding to score.
Hanrahan capped a fine afternoon’s work with a try of his own, the best of the day as Rory Scannell and Arnold linked well to release Alby Mathewson and the replacement scrum-half found his out-half on his shoulder.
The Kerryman converted, but Castres had a belated final say as they punished Andrew Conway’s yellow card for an early tackle on Rory Kockott and prevented themselves being nilled when Spedding superbly helped on Urdapilleta’s pass to Martin Laveau who scored in the corner.
MUNSTER – M Haley (T Bleyendaal 77); A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray (A Mathewson 69); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 73), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 45), J Ryan (C Parker ); T Beirne, B Holland (F Wycherley 69); P O’Mahony (capt), C Cloete (A Botha 65), CJ Stander.
CASTRES – S Spedding; A Batlle (M Laveau 59), T Combezou, F Vialelle, T Paris; B Urdapilleta, L Radosavljevic (R Kockott 77); A Tichit (P Fa’anunu 45), J Jenneker (K Firmin 45), D Kotze (M Clerc 45); L Jacquet (C Samson 63), T Lassalle; M Babillot (capt), K Gimeno (Y Caballero h-t), A Tulou (J Caminati 72).
Ref – JP Doyle (England)