Monday 20 November 2017

Munster exit with a whimper as Stade expose gulf in class

Stade Francais 27 Munster 7

Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne leaves the field following his side’s defeat to Stade Francais yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne leaves the field following his side’s defeat to Stade Francais yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
Simon Zebo, Munster, is tackled by Waisea Vuidarvuwalu. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Munster's Andrew Conway finds himself on the end of a hard tackle from Sergio Parisse. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Conor Murray's late try spared his side the from the indignity of being the first Munster side to fail to score in a European match, but it did little to dispel the notion that the two-time champions have rarely been further away from the Champions Cup top table.

The post-Paul O'Connell era is a scary place for Anthony Foley's side, who exit the competition at the pool stage for the second year in succession. To heap further humiliation on them, they were heavily beaten by a weakened Stade Francais side who played 40 minutes with 14 men after Josaia Raisuqe's red card and still outscored their visitors 17-7 during that period.

Munster's scrum was destroyed, their lineout crumbled, and again Ian Keatley missed crucial kicks when the game remained a contest. Their inaccuracy with ball in hand cost them dear, but in the cold light of the post-match analysis room, the stark reality for Foley and his coaching team is that the team is simply nowhere near the class of the French champions.

Former Munster player Alan Quinlan was heavily critical of the defeated Reds, describing the display as "embarrassing, humiliating and disgraceful" and calling for "the whole organisation to be dissected" on Sky Sports.

"Everyone has an opinion," Foley said in response to the comments. "He's got the right to his opinion, he's worn the jersey, he's won, he's lost. He's had good day and bad days. We'll look at it ourselves and we'll make sure we try to do as good a job as we can within this organisation.

"It was the same problems again, a lack of control, losing the breakdown, inability to score, putting ourselves under a lot of pressure and you end up conceding those sort of scores. It's very disappointing. We're out of the competition now and stats and figures are what they are. We're trying to figure out how we front up next week and how we get a performance in at home that's worthy of the jersey."

Munster were in the game during the first half, even if they were living off scraps and lost BJ Botha, Andrew Conway and Tommy O'Donnell to injury. A stunning pair of off-loads from Rory Scannell and Keith Earls released Keatley down the right, and he chipped over Raisuqe's head but couldn't touch down as the Fijian wing dallied.

It was a rare period of dominance for the Reds, but they couldn't make it pay. Stade hauled down a promising lineout maul, but Keatley missed the kickable penalty. That miss seemed to seep into the team during the period of uncertainty that followed, yet they hung in and had more chances. But Robin Copeland failed to gather Mike Sherry's throw in a good position, while a well-worked attack came to nothing when Ronan O'Mahony stumbled at the pivotal moment.

Having survived on defensive organisation and timely steals, Munster finally blinked on 33 minutes as Stade demonstrated the clinical edge the Irish side are sorely missing.

Waisea Nayacalevu made a break outside Scannell and off-loaded to Sergio Parisse, who found the Fijian again from the deck. A big carry from prop Paul Alo-Emile set up the next phase and Paul Williams scythed through a gap between Dave Foley and Dave Kilcoyne to score. Morne Steyn converted, before the Springbok stretched the lead to 10-0 after the Stade scrum destroyed Munster's eight.

It looked bleak, but the Reds caught a break as Nigel Owens awarded them a penalty in first-half injury time, before consulting TMO Derek Bevan on an off-the-ball incident involving Raisuqe and CJ Stander. Between them, the Welsh officials decided that the winger had put his fingers dangerously close to the Munster captain's eyes and opted to issue a red card.

It was a big call to make on a limited number of replays, but as the home fans erupted in a cacophony of whistles and boos, Keatley another penalty wide.

Munster couldn't make their man-advantage count, too often forcing the play as Stade tightened things up, knowing their forward dominance and vastly superior bench could get them through.

The excellent Jonathan Danty set-up the next scoring attack by brilliantly sending Williams through a gap and, while Steyn couldn't exploit the overlap, he made up for it when Owens penalised Copeland and stretched the gap to 13.

Keatley kicked the restart out on the full and the Stade pack punished him by obliterating Munster's scrum; from half-way, Steyn couldn't oblige and the Reds got away with it.

Foley withdrew tighthead John Ryan in the hope Mario Sagario could fare better and the Uruguayan won a penalty from his first scrum, allowing Munster get into the Parisians' half for the first time in the second period. They appeared to take their opportunity too, but Owens spotted Saili's forward pass to Scannell and the Stade scrum restored normal order to allow them escape the danger-zone.

The nail was finally delivered to Munster's coffin in style by the excellent blindside Sekou Macalou, who swept past Stander and Keatley, handed off Jack O'Donoghue and rounded Earls to score a sensational individual try. Steyn converted, but the visitors' indignity didn't end there as Hugo Bonneval brushed Zebo's attempt at a tackle aside to score. Murray pulled back a dubious try and Scannell delivered the touchline conversion with Keatley watching on. It was far too little, far too late.

Scorers - Stade Francais: P Williams, S Macalou, H Bonneval try each; M Steyn 3 con, 2 pens; Munster: C Murray try, R Scannell con.

Stade Francais: H Bonneval (J Plisson 74); J Arias (J Danty 51), W Nayacalevu, J Raisuqe; M Steyn, J Dupuy (J Tomas 71); S Taulafo (H vd Merwe 53), L Sempere (L Panis 48), P Alo-Emile (R Slimani 47); H Pyle, P Gabrillagues; S Macalou, S Nicolas (J Ross 71), S Parisse (capt).

Munster: A Conway (R O'Mahony 9); K Earls, F Saili, R Scannell, S Zebo; I Keatley (D Hurley 69), C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha (J Ryan 11, M Sagario 58); D Foley, M Chisholm (B Holland 75); R Copeland, T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 23-30 HIA, 36), CJ Stander (capt).

Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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