Sunday 18 February 2018

Munster reach final four but casualty list a worry

Munster 41 Toulouse 16

CJ Stander celebrates with Dave Kilcoyne after scoring a try. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander celebrates with Dave Kilcoyne after scoring a try. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The prospect of an all-Irish final in the Champions Cup remains alive, but the toll this victory took on Munster will be dominating Rassie Erasmus' thoughts this morning.

With three weeks to go until they face either Saracens in Dublin or Glasgow Warriors in Edinburgh, their medical staff will be working overtime as most of the province's leadership group turn up in the treatment room tomorrow.

Peter O'Mahony came off with a hip problem, CJ Stander had an ankle issue and Keith Earls was forced off early. Add to that the fact Conor Murray was unsurprisingly ruled out with the shoulder problem he picked up against Wales three weeks ago.

It wasn't luck, because they earned this draw, but they could be thankful that it was this disorganised, ill-disciplined Toulouse side, who were in this game for long periods before falling away in the last 10 minutes as Munster rammed home their superiority.

They fronted up and coped with most of what the French side threw at them, taking their chances where they came, and they will back themselves if they can get the right bodies on the pitch.

This was Connacht's fifth home defeat of the season. Photo: Getty Images/Stock photo
This was Connacht's fifth home defeat of the season. Photo: Getty Images/Stock photo

The visitors lost Richie Gray in the warm-up as man-mountain Joe Tekori came into the side, and it cost them at lineout time. Losing No 8 Francois Cros to a yellow card after two minutes didn't help their cause. He hit Duncan Williams late, high and with his elbow, and was lucky to escape with 10 minutes from referee JP Doyle.

Munster made hay in his absence, going to the corner where their first attempt was halted illegally, they went back to their maul and then asked the forwards to take the ball on until John Ryan forced his way through Thierry Dusautoir's tackle to score.

Tyler Bleyendaal converted and added a penalty after Leonardo Ghiraldini pulled down another forward-marching maul.

He followed it up with a poor error, however, badly skewing a kick into touch from his own '22, which invited Toulouse to attack, but they took the ball through 19 phases without ever truly troubling their hosts before Sebastien Bezy knocked on Cyrille Baille's attempted offload.

Florian Fritz missed a long-range effort to get his side off the mark, but after a tough opening spell, they finally enjoyed some ball and with their back three and back-row looking dangerous, a high John Ryan tackle as Yoann Huget threatened to break away led to Jean-Marc Doussain pulling a penalty back.

A sloppy high tackle from Tekori on Dave Kilcoyne allowed Bleyendaal to cancel that score out.

A silly penalty concession from Tommy O'Donnell invited Toulouse to attack and after their maul was brought down illegally, Simon Zebo just prevented Gael Fickou from scoring from a neat Fritz chip.

Back they came and again they went to the corner, and the pressure resulted in another penalty, as Jaco Taute was penalised for going off his feet at the ruck and Doussain made it 13-6.

Another brainless penalty concession from Tekori led to Bleyendaal touching down, but the Kiwi's score was ruled out for an O'Donnell knock-on.

Toulouse did their best to mess up their escape, but they got there in the end after Bezy was charged down by Williams.

Doussain narrowed the half-time margin to four points, with the last action of the half, after Donnacha Ryan tapped Rory Scannell's slightly charged-down kick and Williams played it offside, allowing the outhalf to nail the penalty from just inside halfway.

The half-time change gave Munster the advantage of the wind and when Williams made a nice half-break and Yoann Maestri came in from the side, Bleyendaal nailed a 48-metre penalty to make it a seven-point game.

The home side were using the wind to pin Toulouse back and their maul again kicked into gear, first earning a penalty before they barrelled their way forward and again the forwards began to rumble and Stander forced his way over from close range.

Bleyendaal missed the conversion, but nailed a subsequent penalty to nudge his side further into the comfort zone.

They weren't there for too long, as Paul Perez was controversially awarded a try when he touched down in the corner after a brilliantly-worked move that ended with Maestri passing the ball to the winger.

It looked like a forward pass, but Doyle wasn't convinced.

Doussain held his nerve, as Thomond Park howled its derision.

The home faithful were growing increasingly restless, as a ruck penalty in Toulouse's favour was followed by a scrum concession, but they were back on their feet again after their team saw out a long series of phases before a combination of Billy Holland and O'Donnell forced a turnover.

Stander was forced off with an ankle injury, joining O'Mahony, Earls and Murray in the stand, as the Munster leadership group shrunk further.

Williams thought he was in from a charge-down, but the referee said he was offside and again the men in white attacked, but it all came to nothing when Doussain knocked on.

It was settled when Arthur Bonneval was harshly adjudged to have gotten up when held in the tackle, and Bleyendaal made no mistake.

Darren Sweetnam added a third try, when collecting his own kick ahead as Dousssain threw a loose pass in his own '22, before Andrew Conway finished the job after good work from Rory Scannell, as Munster returned to the final four for the first time since 2014.

Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, J Taute (F Saili 78), R Scannell, K Earls (A Conway 57); T Bleyendaal, D Williams (A Lloyd 78); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 59), N Scannell (R Marshall 59), J Ryan; D Ryan, B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt) (D O'Callaghan 50), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander (J O'Donoghue 68).

Toulouse: M Médard, Y Huget (A Bonneval 70), F Fritz (L McAlister 70), G Fickou, P Perez; JM Doussain, S Bézy; C Baille (G Steenkamp 59), L Ghiraldini (J Marchand 50), C Johnston (D Aldegheri 50); J Tekori (P Faasalele 70), Y Maestri; T Dusautoir (capt) (T Gray 6-14, 75), Y Camara, F Cros.

Referee: JP Doyle (England)

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