Erratic Reds ride their luck to snatch draw
Castres 17 Munster 17
A snapshot of Munster in picture-postcard France.
As their head coach continues to have one foot in the door and one foot out of it - work-permit complications may or may not delay the institution of his successor - Munster's players treated this game the same.
Sometimes they were in it to win it. Ultimately, they nearly threw away a draw that they arguably deserved for intent and effort, if not skill and thorough application.
They were neither one thing, nor the other; stubbornly and consistently inconsistent. They will respond to their ability to emerge with some profit with a degree of mild satisfaction, at most.
That is because it could have been ultimately catastrophic were Castres capable of seizing the final moments as forcefully as they had grasped the opening.
Were it not for the howling gust that thwarted Benjamin Urdapilleta's 79th-minute penalty effort, Munster would have left with nothing to show for a predominantly scratchy opening-day Champions Cup experience.
Few of the locals would have argued the toss; quite a few of the red-clad pockets of supporters may have agreed with them over a 'demi'.
True, Ian Keatley had a long-range effort from inside his own half that may have edged his side in front 13 minutes from time but creeping indiscipline threatened to undo all their previous marginal gains.
International Rugby Newsletter
Even then, referee Matthew Carley decreed, with two seconds left, that Robin Copeland had disrupted Rory Kockott by slapping his hand, and not the ball; it was a dubious call as Castres got a scrum for the knock-on. But how else could the ball have been disrupted?.
Eramsus conceded this as another lucky break.
As it was, Castres set up a dropped goal attempt from the final play but into the strong breeze, it always had the sense of a Hail Mary about it and Munster effected their getaway with the shared, two match points.
An escape, of sorts, but hardly a great one.
At times yesterday, Munster looked as if they were indeed a side already struggling with transition; not to mention the fact that all are still trying to negotiate the fraught emotional land inhabited by the feelings of loss one year on from the death of Anthony Foley.
Munster missed 22 tackles and conceded nine penalties, most in a fraught final quarter, although the binning of Conor Murray in just the fifth minute for preventing a near certain try placed them on the back foot from the opening peep of the whistle.
They rarely engaged the home side in any sense of concerted pressure, save for a spell at the start of the third quarter, when the introduction of Ian Keatley belatedly seemed to provide his side with some semblance of structure in their attack.
"When you play away from home and in these conditions, it was really gusty out there and it was hard to handle the ball and kick the ball and all those kind of things, it wasn't probably the most prettiest of games to watch," conceded the South African.
"But then again I would rather take that and getting zero points and playing scrappy like that than playing a wonderful beautiful game.
"Like last week against Leinster we scored three tries and got one point out of the game and normally when you lose a game you lose a little bit of confidence. I think the only good record we have had in the last 15 months is that we have never lost two games in a row!
"This game came pretty close especially at the end we really tried hard to lose that game but before that I thought we really got stuck in there.
"The conditions were tough, we're not used to playing in sun like that. The guys, I saw them at half-time and they were really tired.
"It's not an excuse but it's hard enough to keep that intensity especially in the first half playing 40 minutes against that wind and trying to keep them out. The second half maybe if we used the wind better we had some more rest but we were pretty tired in the second half to be honest."
It was a curious game which, though it may have had all the ferocity of Champions Cup football, possessed hardly any of the finesse.
Were it not for Murray's razor-sharp delivery and quick thinking it may have been difficult to see how Munster might have crossed the whitewash at all.
He helped set up tries for Simon Zebo and Dave Kilcoyne either side of half-time to atone for his early indiscretion, eventually punished when Robert Ebethson intercepted a Chris Farrell pass in midfield to give his side a 7-0 lead.
Zebo levelled matters in the 31st minute before Munster's constant struggles to exit, compounded by poor defence, allowed full-back Julien Dumura to respond almost immediately.
Tyler Bleyendaal's penalty before the break made it 14-10 but Munster did have the impressive wind at their back as they swapped sides; the Kiwi's poor kick dead as the second act resumed summed up the afternoon.
"Tyler's long kick just after half time was the right idea but just too long so I guess that's an execution thing. I guess when you hammer on their line and go seven breakdowns and lose it in the eighth, it's a technique thing.
"I really think the intent was there but there was a chance for us at one stage to go for a drop goal there but then we went wide and they got the steal so we may have been a bit naive at times but we will learn from that."
Munster did lead in the third quarter but out-half Urdapilleta's levelling penalty in the 51st minute ended the scoring, though not the drama.
Castres Olympique: J Dumora (A Batlle 63); T Paris, A Taumoepeau, R Ebersohn, D Smith (F Vialelle 75); B Urdapilleta, R Kockott; A Tichit (M Lazar 70), J Jenneker, D Kotze (D Tussac 73), L Jacquet (A Jelonch 55), R Capo Ortega (c), Y Caballero, S Mafi, M Vaipulu ( C Samson 63).
Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam (A Conway 66), C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal (I Keatley 59), C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell (R Marshall 56), S Archer (J Ryan 55), M Flanagan (R Copeland 64), B Holland, P O'Mahony (c), T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 71), CJ Stander.
Referee: M Carley (England).