Tuesday 21 November 2017

Reds invoke spirit of old to land key blow

O'Gara underlines Munster's ability to fight to the death

Munster's Paul
O'Connell is
tackled by Max
Evans of Castres
during their win on
Munster's Paul O'Connell is tackled by Max Evans of Castres during their win on Saturday

Lest we forget, and it is worth emphasising the point, this is not the Heineken Cup-winning Munster outfit.

That set-up passed into history a while back. Judging the current team against those famous winning sides is both ludicrous and unfair.

Right now, most of the faces are not the same and the performances are definitely different. That is the reality; an evolutionary process is under way requiring time and patience.

Therefore, getting carried away by this result is inappropriate.

It is true, for the second week running, Ronan O'Gara won the game with the last kick. But that is nothing new.

Munster have always kept going right down to the final whistle and O'Gara, a model of calm amid hysteria and emotion, has a well-honed art for delivering the dramatic conclusion.

One other quality remains from the halcyon days -- a voracious appetite to get the job finished whatever the odds and circumstances.


A single moment in the second half epitomised this deeply entrenched hunger. Castres made another mess of a restart (they hardly won one all game, which proved a significant factor in the outcome) and the ball went loose.

Standing beside Paul O'Connell, hardly the most nimble or speedy of men, were a Castres flanker and their scrum-half.

Yet who reacted quickest, scrambled first and dived to secure possession? O'Connell, in an act that beautifully illustrated Munster's never-ending determination to prevail.

Elements like that always hallmarked the old Munster from this great tournament's inception.

So too, the joy of their legions of supporters. This time, on the bus home beside Toulouse's Canal du Midi, they launched into a singing competition with their French rivals.

Sweet harmony prevailed, as it always does on the edges of this tournament. Thank God for rugby.

But if nothing changes off the field, it clearly does on it. This was no earth-shattering performance by Munster, no commanding, convincing kind of display.

Too many moments of indecision, of the wrong option being taken, and lack of composure at critical moments, made sure that was the case.

There was a lack of precision in execution and simple errors frustrated everyone in their camp.

O'Connell readily conceded the point, saying "Certainly there is a lot to work on, an awful lot. It was disappointing to concede points like we did and we can't be doing that. The good teams just don't do that in the Heineken Cup.

"We can be pleased at the outcome and scoring three tries. But we have to learn the lessons from this game.

"We won twice by not very much and giving lots of points to our opponents. That isn't the standard we are aiming for."

Munster won chiefly because they possess an inherent knowledge of how to squeeze out close wins in this competition. Their experience in that regard was beyond the scope of their opponents, who should at least have secured a draw.

Their lack of European pedigree was the difference compared to Munster's.

But not even O'Gara's continuing heroics could mask the fact that Munster were several notches below their best.

When they turned an 18-10 second-half deficit into a 24-21 lead with 13 minutes left, they had the chance to shut Castres decisively out of the game.

That didn't happen because Munster were always a curious mixture of good and bad. The manner in which they allowed O'Connell, isolated in his own 22, to try and take the ball up into heavy traffic was a case in point.

O'Connell had the ball ripped off him and Pierre Lakafia finished up scoring in the corner. That act alone cost Munster seven points.

They not only turned over possession too often for their own good, but dropped passes, ran some unrealistic lines and got themselves into difficulties through their own efforts rather than Castres' excellence.

The four penalty goals they offered siege-gun kicker Pierre Bernard revealed their lack of tactical precision, concentration and discipline at times.


That was the bad news. But there was plenty of good news too. Every one of the younger players Tony McGahan has introduced into this side will have learned a huge amount from this experience. Young players always do in the cauldron of rugby in the south of France.

They will understand that wrong options at critical moments can kill a side's chances.

But they will have seen too how, even at the height of their team's difficulties, the experienced men, the likes of O'Connell, O'Gara and Doug Howlett, stood up to be counted.

You can't buy that kind of experience. Munster's youngsters are fortunate indeed to be learning alongside such luminaries.

Castres' roaring start, an 11-0 lead after just 11 minutes, was so impressive, O'Gara admitted.

"You had to sort of wait for it to blow itself out. They were that good early on."

It was Castres' first half but by sheer dogged determination, Munster clawed out success by the end. O'Gara, who kicked beautifully throughout, was asked if he'd been worried at taking on the last gasp drop after an earlier miss. He looked bewildered.

"No, that's what I'm paid for. I enjoyed it out there. With that strong wind behind us, it was an easier kick than last week's."

Castres -- F Denos (R Tales 64); M Evans, P Bonnefond, P-M Garcia, M Andreu (P-G Lakafia 5); P Bernard, T Lacrampe (R Teulet 70); A Peikrishvili (M Coetzee 57), B Mach (M Bonello 13), K Wihongi (L Ducalcon 46), I Tekori, S Murray (M Rolland 74), J Bornman, Y Caballero (R Capo Ortega 62), C Masoe.

Munster -- J Murphy; D Howlett, D Barnes (W Chambers 44), L Mafi, D Hurley; R O'Gara, C Murray (T O'Leary 57); W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha, D Ryan (D O'Callaghan 50), P O'Connell, P O'Mahony (D Fogarty 70), N Ronan, J Coughlan (D Leamy 65).

REF -- W Barnes (England)

Irish Independent

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