Thursday 14 December 2017

Munster follow Leinster into the Champions Cup last four with crushing win over Toulouse

CJ Stander of Munster celebrates after scoring his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-Final match between Munster and Toulouse at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
CJ Stander of Munster celebrates after scoring his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-Final match between Munster and Toulouse at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

John Brennan

Let the word go around European rugby, the Irish provinces are BACK.

A few hours after Leinster did a number on England’s finest, the men of Munster did what their song says at Thomond Park tonight.

They stood up and fought against a massive Toulouse team and sent them back to the south of France with their tails dangling between their legs.

This was a thumping win that was only in doubt for a few minutes of the second half when Munster seemed stunned by a Toulouse try that looked dodgy on account of a forward pass.

For the other 75 minutes, Munster were supreme. Peter O’Mahony, John Ryan, Niall Scannell and Donnacha Ryan were awesome in the pack and Simon Zebo and Jaco Taute were magnificent among the backs.

It was a stunning show that lit up a spring evening by the Shannon.

Munster were always on the front foot, shrugging off injuries and a couple of bits of bad luck to make a statement.

What odds on a Leinster-Munster final in Edinburgh in May?

They’d be very good if Leinster didn’t have to go to France for their semi-final.

Munster will be in Dublin, but their faithful will be happy to swap the Shannon for the Liffey.

Toulouse were a shadow of the once-great power of European rugby – or at least they were made to look like that.

Munster lost Conor Murray a couple of hours before the game as the injury that kept him out of Ireland’s win over England went against the scrum-half.

But the Red hordes in Thomond were not going to let anything come between them and a European Cup semi-final.

And they bagged the perfect start with prop John Ryan going over for a fifth-minute try.

His task was eased by Toulouse having only 14 men on the pitch after Christian Clos was yellow-carded for an elbow on Murray’s replacement, Duncan Williams.

It was a daft charge from Cros who let his team down.

Tyler Bleylendaal converted and then kicked a penalty as Munster zoomed clear on the scoreboard.

Munster skipper Peter O’Mahony sent two messages to Lions coach Warren Gatland with a couple of early line-out steals to add to his brilliant performance for Ireland against England.

But the home team couldn’t keep the excellent start going when playing into the wind.

Restored to 15, Toulouse kicked a penalty but Bleylendaal replied in kind before Toulouse kicked another three-pointer.

Yet Munster were happy with that as Toulouse’s time with the wind drifted away.

Jean-Marc Doussain kicked a third penalty for the French club as the half ended, but Munster were in a good place, facing 40 minutes of play with a serious breeze at their backs.

And they soon added eight points to their lead on the back of powering down into the Toulouse 22.

First Bleylendaal kicked a penalty and then CJ Stander pounced over the try-line at the end of a sustained Munster drive.

Just when it seemed set for a Munster victory march, the four-times winners Toulouse got back into the game with a try from Paul Perez converted by Doussain.

Now the victory march would have a few stutter steps about it.

And it would have to be completed without the immense O’Mahony who had limped out of the contest with a knock on the ankle .

Stander followed him off soon afterwards and now Munster would have to have to see out the match without three Irish internationals.

But Toulouse didn’t have the composure or the nous to make the most of a weakened home team.

For example, having won a Munster line-out they then gave away a stupid offside allowing Bleylendaal to ease Munster 11 points clear.

Now Toulouse had a mountain the height of the Pyrenees to climb.

They never got beyond base camp!

Toulouse sprayed the ball around at the base of a scrum as they pressed to get out of the their own territory and it fell invitingly for Darren Sweetnam to romp over for the settling score.

There was time for one more try for Andrew Conway against a dispirited bunch who had long since given up. But, in this special season, Munster have not.

It’s on to the Aviva Stadium now for the semi-final in front of 52,000 of Munster’s rabid supporters.

Glasgow Warriors and Saracens will play today for the honour of being the visiting team.

They will need to be seriously good to win that match against these driven men in Red.

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