Progress was slow on the final approaches to Castres yesterday afternoon. From lunchtime the protestors, clad in their yellow bibs, had mobilised and taken up positions on roundabouts leading into town.
Trop C'est Trop read one of their banners as they sought to soften the cough of any commercial vehicle going about its business. Given the apparent absence of anything bigger than a family people carrier the message had got through: enough was enough.
Castres Tonga prop Paea Fa'anunu runs with the ball. Photo: Getty
We wondered if that would apply to the town's rugby team at the end of a miserably wet night in this part of world. It did. They played like men possessed. Munster arrived as pool leaders and knew that whatever happened they would still be in pole position by the end of it - but the margin would be everything. And it wasn't what they wanted.
A bonus-point defeat gives them a three-point lead heading for the last two rounds but this was a game they should have won against a team who were motivated, aggressive but woefully indisciplined.
Unfortunately for Munster, they were well short on that front themselves. Joey Carbery was called ashore with seven minutes left having been four from seven off the tee, compounded by a long-range miss from Conor Murray. Other elements of the outhalf's game let him down too on what was a wretched night for looking controlled. You would have backed him still to nail the winning kick if the chance came but it didn't, even for JJ Hanrahan.
To sum up Munster's dilemma, with the game heading for 80 minutes they threw on young Jeremy Loughman and Fineen Wycherley, just in time to scrum down in a unit that suddenly - having been dominating that phase - flew backwards.
Munster's flanker Peter O'Mahony grabs the ball in a line-out. Photo: Getty
Still there was time. Hanrahan got good yardage on a penalty out of his 22, leaving the Reds with a 50-metre drive to the line, or to eke a penalty. They lost the lineout. And Castres, to the delight of their supporters, shut the game down for good.
There will be afters. Munster will examine how they let an inferior team with a streak of madness running through it get the better of them. In rugby, that was reminiscent of the old days in its passion and edge, it was also a throwback at times to the days before Munster learned never to panic.
There will be a follow up too on complaints about clear hand contact to the face of Chris Cloete in the build-up the game's only try, credited to loosehead Paea Fa'anuna, when Castres were battering Munster's line in the second quarter. That, with Benjamin Urdupilleta's conversion, put the home side 10-6 in front after Carbery had kicked two penalties in the opening quarter.
Then at the end of the half, with Munster playing a penalty advantage and trying to take advantage of a yellow card on the wild Rory Kockott, Sammy Arnold became highly animated with referee Wayne Barnes over what he reckoned was the mounting number of cheap shots.
"All I can say is the values of rugby are pretty important and we got spoken to during the week about the values of rugby and I thought we stayed within the values of the rugby tonight," coach Johann van Graan said, fairly pointedly, afterwards. "I just hope that due processes will be followed."
That will be a bit late for his team though.
Twice they had two yellow cards to their advantage - they lost Niall Scannell themselves for dropping a maul - and still they couldn't get the job done.
Not even the excellent Andrew Conway could save them. He had a try correctly disallowed for knocking on as he slithered over the line in the second half from a lovely chip and chase. Still they got a penalty from the build-up to it, for a late tackle by Marc-Antoine Rallier on Peter O'Mahony, but Carbery pushed it wide.
Throughout this tempestuous contest the breakdown was wild. "Look, you've got to adapt to the referee on the day and there was certainly a lot going on at the breakdown," Van Graan added. "Some decisions went our way and some didn't. Regardless of the breakdown we had enough opportunities to get some more points on the board and we didn't. Well done to Castres for winning by one point in a really intense game of rugby."
In Munster's disappointment then the fine performances of Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Beirne will be lost up front. This was about a team with ambition getting a hard job done away from home. And they came up short.