Thursday 12 December 2019

Stander's quality helps Munster to restore some pride

Munster 26 Stade Francais 13

CJ Stander acknowledges supporters after victory over Stade Francais. Photo: Diarmuid Greene
CJ Stander acknowledges supporters after victory over Stade Francais. Photo: Diarmuid Greene

Daragh Small

CJ Stander gave another magnificent display for Munster and fittingly dotted down their bonus-point effort in a much-improved performance against Stade Francais at Thomond Park.

Munster were playing for pride in Limerick and having never lost two home games in the pool phase in Europe, they denied Stade even a losing bonus point.

Head coach Anthony Foley was full of praise as his side bounced back from a low point in Paris last week. "The boys played with a lot of pride and character out there," he said. "They took their opportunities when they came. I thought there were a couple of very nice individual tries.

"It was obviously disappointing last week over in Paris not to get anything out of the game and to come back here to Thomond Park and pick up five points today says a lot about the boys.

"Sometimes the manner in which we played wasn't the wisest thing to do, but they were willing to carry and willing to bring the opposition through phases. They keep turning up for one another."

Foley was also delighted with the Munster fans for the level of support they gave to the team, even though the game was, in effect, a dead rubber for the home side. "I thought it was unbelievable support there today given the situation we were in," he said.

"I thought the fans came and took part in the game. They got in behind the boys, both fed off each other nicely today. There was a good European atmosphere out there."

Tries from Stander, Mike Sherry, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo had Munster on their way, with Jonathan Ross's effort only a consolation for the French.

Ronan O'Mahony was binned in the 50th minute for Munster, but they held on during his absence. They were 12-6 up at the break after a first half spent mostly around the middle of the pitch due to the poor conditions.

Munster had a dreadful start when tighthead Mario Sagario, on his first start in Europe, was penalised from the kick-off and Morne Steyn slotted the penalty from directly in front of the posts. But that didn't deter the home side and with Ian Keatley kicking well from hand, they began to find territory and started to play more rugby in the Stade half.

The French were dominating the set-piece, but Sherry's supreme hooking ability ensured Munster still had a platform to work off.

And the home side made the most of their recovery when Billy Holland claimed a lineout ball, Sherry wrapped around, latched on, and dotted down his fourth of the season off the back of a powerful maul.

Keatley missed the conversion, a very kickable one from the left, and Munster led 5-3 after the opening quarter. It was still a huge confidence booster for Munster and despite Stade getting a penalty opportunity in the 24th minute, Steyn leaned off it and missed from outside the Munster 22.

That was a big let-off for Munster, but Steyn made amends in the 37th minute when he slotted from a similar position. Munster trailed 6-5 despite all of their positive play in the opening half, until a moment of magic from wing Earls.

Francis Saili fed him an awkward pass and after a dummy, he raced home all the way from halfway, leaving Sekou Macalou in his wake. It was a tonic score and Keatley's conversion made it 12-6 at the break. And then Munster struck early again on the resumption.

It was a crucial period in the game - Keatley was again involved as Zebo latched on to his intricate chip through and dived home. The Stade heads were down and Munster looked set to coast home until O'Mahony was binned in the 50th minute.

But Munster held firm, with Keith Earls operating as a floating full-back, they filled the gaps and it remained 19-6 when he returned. Again Munster were cruising towards the win, but a sloppy lineout in their own 22 presented Ross with a chance, and he burst through the cover to score with 63 minutes played.

Steyn's conversion reduced the gap to just six and when Munster needed a leader, Stander stood up again.

With 12 minutes left, he crossed for the bonus-point try and Keatley's conversion crowned a very impressive display from the former Connacht outhalf.

Scorers - Munster: M Sherry, K Earls, S Zebo, CJ Stander tries; I Keatley 3 cons. Stade Francais: J Ross try; M Steyn 2 pens, con.

Munster: S Zebo; K Earls, F Saili, R Scannell (L Amorosino 61), R O'Mahony; I Keatley, C Murray (T O'Leary 74); D Kilcoyne (L O'Connor 77), M Sherry (N Scannell 69), M Sagario (J Ryan 50); D Foley, M Chisholm (D Ryan 50); B Holland (R Copeland 69), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander (J O'Donoghue 74).

Stade Francais: H Bonneval; W Vuidarvuwalu, J Danty, P Williams, J Arias; M Steyn (J Plisson 74), J Dupuy (J Tomas 74); Z Taulafo (H van der Merwe 51), L Panis, R Slimani (P Alo Emile 55); P Gabrillagues, P Papé (H Pyle 65); S Macalou (S Nicolas 58), J Ross, S Parisse.

Referee: JP Doyle (RFU)

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