Sport Rugby

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Munster hit Toulon for six to get the Red Machine up and running

Doug Howlett scores his second try of the game against Toulon despite the tackle of Clement Marienval and Gabi Lovobalavu. Photo: Matt Browne
Doug Howlett scores his second try of the game against Toulon despite the tackle of Clement Marienval and Gabi Lovobalavu. Photo: Matt Browne

In a pool as tight as this, the term 'bonus points' doesn't do justice to the value of winning with something extra.

On an unusually bright and calm day in Limerick, Munster sorted themselves nicely with six tries and a performance that they badly needed to take them top of the pool. It was high-tempo stuff, the way they want to play and they way they are hardest to defend against.

If they looked ordinary against Leinster two weeks ago and rusty against London Irish last weekend, they were neither yesterday. The downside was the removal of Jerry Flannery and Paul Warwick in the last quarter. While Warwick seemingly had no more than cramp, for Flannery to have hobbled off a few minutes after he came on for his first run of the season was a personal disaster, such has been his ongoing saga on the injury front.

It had been a big call by Tony McGahan to leave Warwick out last week, and the player had made his point here with a good game going forward, if less so going backwards.

Damien Varley had another big carrying game, as did Tony Buckley. Not long ago Irish fans wondered if there would be life in the front row after John Hayes. He has taken his time but at last Buckley is looking a model for the job.

And so is Johne Murphy, making himself very useful with a World Cup down the track. From wing to full-back -- his favourite position -- and now to inside centre, Murphy is cheerfully doing every job asked of him.

It was a decent game while the contest lasted, especially the first half, despite being extended by fully 10 minutes because of referrals upstairs. Three times TMO Graham Hughes was asked by referee Wayne Barnes to sort out whether the ball had been grounded or not, and all of them involved Munster attacks.

Munster enjoyed a 21-10 lead at half-time. By then Toulon had lost Paul Sackey to injury, and when they came out for the second half it was without Pierre Mignoni as well.

The arrival of Jonny Wilkinson changed their shape completely, albeit briefly. Along with Felipe Contepomi they then had two quality playmakers. Not for too long, though. Contepomi was binned on the hour mark for obstructing Keith Earls, who was chasing his own grubber into the Toulon 22. A minute later, Munster had secured the bonus point with Mick O'Driscoll touching down. By the time Contepomi came back on the field, Toulon were trailing 38-13.

Very few teams coming to Thomond Park in the Heineken Cup get off to the flyer effected by Toulon. From a dodgy-looking pass by Mignoni off the first lineout in the game, Joe van Niekerk timed his run perfectly in midfield to put hooker Jean Phillipe Genevois over from 25 metres. One minute gone and five points to Toulon, which became seven with the conversion from Contepomi.

Denis Leamy exposed some naïve defending to level the game on nine minutes, and Buckley gave them the lead on 26 minutes. Doug Howlett scored a cracking counter-attacking try just before the break and it was comfy enough for Munster in the second half.

The only discomfort was those injuries, which, combined with suspensions, will put them under pressure to deliver in the short term, in the Magners League. For the medium term, this win puts them where they want to be in Europe.

Scorers -- Munster: Howlett 2 tries; Leamy, O'Driscoll, Ronan, Buckley try each; O'Gara 6 cons, pen. Toulon: Genevois, Van Niekerk try each; Contepomi con, pen; Wilkinson d-g

Munster: P Warwick (S Deasy 66); D Howlett, K Earls, J Murphy, D Hurley; R O'Gara, P Stringer (D Williams 74); W du Preez (M Horan 62), D Varley (J Flannery 55, Varley 78), T Buckley (J Hayes 68); D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll (D Ryan 70); A Quinlan (J Coughlan 55), D Leamy (capt), D Wallace

Toulon: C Marienval; P Sackey (G Lovobalovu 35), M Kefu (J Wilkinson 46), F Auelua (O Missoup 56), R Wulf; F Contepomi, P Mignoni (L Magnaval h-t); L Emmanuelli (S Taumoepeau 52), JP Genevois (M Ivaldi 52), C Hayman; J Suta, K Chesney; G Smith, J van Niekerk, J El Abd

Referee: W Barnes (England)

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