Thomond roar returns as CJ Stander inspires Munster to bonus point revenge over Stade
Munster 26 Stade Francais 13
Time will tell if this four-try win will be the catalyst for a Munster revival, but hammering the French champions certainly lifted morale around Thomond Park after a most difficult week.
The bonus point isn’t worth anything to Anthony Foley after twin-defeats to Leicester Tigers and last weeks loss in Paris. Still, the performance will at least offer hope that this team can mix it with good teams when they get the pitch right and play with full intensity.
The head coach will wonder why they couldn’t bring these levels of precision when it mattered. However, as he considers whether to take up the option of another year at the helm, the former captain will at least have seen what his team can do when they deliver on their potential.
Just over 14,000 of the 18,884 who bought tickets came to Thomond Park to see a response from the men in black and it helped that Stade looked nothing like the side who ran in three tries in Paris last weekend.
Munster’s defence was far more aggressive, their attack more accurate. Stade dominated the scrum again, but the home side made light of their difficulties in the set-piece with their excellent work elsewhere.
“We said we had nothing to win except pride. The crowd came out, you can hear them and that’s the spirit of Munster. It took a lot of hurt from last week, but guys stood up and it’s unbelievable,” captain CJ Stander said.
“The fans stepped up and it was unbelievable to hear them. It’s a cold day, but they came out. We said it was about actions. The boys stepped up, did what they needed to do.
"It's good to get goosebumps again at Thomond Park."
After such doom and gloom during the week, Munster didn’t need a difficult start but they gave their visitors a head-start.
The loss of BJ Botha for the season meant that Foley was relying on unproven Uruguayan tighthead Mario Sagario to deliver a performance, but he got off on the wrong foot as he blocked Stade’s Sekou Macalou from chasing the opening kick-off and handed Morne Steyn a handy kick to open the scoring.
That was followed by the visiting scrum winning a penalty by driving the hosts off the ball, but the Reds managed to hold up the resultant maul and turn it over.
Despite their strong start, Stade spent much of the first-half without the ball and backed their defence to deal with what Munster threw at them.
The home side were expending a lot of energy trying to break the men in pink down and were being let down by their handling in difficult conditions.
Conor Murray knocked on in a good position after Stander came under pressure at the base of the scrum, but Steyn’s forward pass on his own 5m line handed Munster an opportunity. Ian Keatley kicked to touch and the men in black blitzed the Stade maul, with Mike Sherry touching down.
The out-half’s kicking woes continued and he couldn’t convert and that was punished by Springbok Steyn who missed one effort from wide left before fixing his radar to slot over from similar range after Dave Foley took Paul Gabrillagues out in the air.
That left Munster behind despite expending plenty of effort with ball in hand. When Rory Scannell missed a chance to put Simon Zebo through a big gap after Sergio Parisse spilled the ball, it appeared their frustrations were due to continue, but with the clock ticking past 40 minutes Keith Earls produced a moment of individual brilliance, bewildering Pascal Pape to race over from half-way, allowing momentum to carry him over despite Macalou’s despairing tackle.
Keatley converted from under the sticks and Munster raced down the tunnel with the sound of happy voices in their ears.
That score appeared to infuse them with belief and, within two minutes of the restart, the Thomond Park faithful were on their feet again as Sherry went on the rampage from the base of a maul and, as Stade reorganised, Keatley deftly chipped the ball over the defensive line for Zebo to collect and score.
The out-half converted and suddenly Stade found their way 19-6 down.
The men in pink needed the points far more than Munster and went searching for the try to get back into the game. But Stander forced a penalty to destroy their momentum, before a Ronan O’Mahony knock-on wasn’t punished as Julien Dupuy delayed his put-in to the scrum.
Stade got a chance to get back into it seconds later, however, as O’Mahony careered into the airborne Hugo Bonneval and, having had a look on the big screen, referee JP Doyle showed him a yellow card.
Still, Munster’s resistance was strong and Paul Williams played the ball on the deck to allow Keatley find touch but the maul became disorganised and they let the chance slip.
Stade didn’t seem to realise they had the extra back, choosing tight lines and leaving Steyn on despite the presence of the more creative Jules Plisson on the bench which played into Munster’s hands.
They managed to get through the 10 minutes without conceding, with Scannell brilliantly tackling Parisse to cut out danger when the Italian had raced on to a clever Steyn kick just before O’Mahony returned.
Over the course of their difficult losing run, Munster have never looked so comfortable, but when Lucas Amorosino forced Paul Williams into touch there was an easy exit; yet Sherry overthrew the lineout, Laurent Panis cleverly helped the loose ball on to Jonathan Ross and the South African raced over.
Steyn converted and Stade were back within six points courtesy of some uncharacteristic hospitality, but Munster just weren’t going to lose for the seventh time in eight games as Earls made good yardage up the right. Doyle penalised Stade at the ruck, Conor Murray tapped and went and Stander crashed over from close range.
That effectively won them the match, but Stade went in search of the bonus point that they need in the race for quarter-final qualification as one of the three runners-up, but Munster resisted and did Ulster a favour. With their next two games coming against Italian teams, they now have a chance to build some momentum.
This didn’t cure all that ails them, but it was a start.
MUNSTER -- Simon Zebo; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Ronan O'Mahony (L Amorosino 61); Ian Keatley, Conor Murray (T O’Leary 74); Dave Kilcoyne (L O’Connor 77), Mike Sherry (N Scannell 70), Mario Sagario (J Ryan 49), Dave Foley, Mark Chisholm (D Ryan 49); Billy Holland (R Copeland 70), Tommy O'Donnell, CJ Stander (capt) (J O’Donoghue 74).
STADE FRANÇAIS -- Hugo Bonneval; Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, Jonathan Danty, Paul Williams, Julien Arias; Morné Steyn (J Plisson 74), Julien Dupuy (J Tomas 74); Zak Taulafo (H van der Merwe 61), Laurent Panis, Rabah Slimani (P Alo Emile 61); Paul Gabrillagues, Pascal Papé (H Pyle 66), Sekou Macalou (S Nicolas 59), Jonathan Ross, Sergio Parisse (capt).
Referee: JP Doyle