Castres 24-27 Munster
19th November @ Stade Ernst Wallon
Ronan O’Gara repeated last week’s heroics with a match-winning drop goal in the last play of the game to ensure two wins from two for Munster in Pool 1. From a similar position to the drop goal against Northampton, O’Gara once again showed serious nerve to land the three pointer. In doing so, he earned Munster a valuable four points in a game that looked like it had slipped away from them at one stage.
Castres set the early pace at the Stade Ernst Wallon, with outhalf Pierre Bernard opening the scoring with a long-range penalty out on the left after only 3 minutes. Several minutes later he added another booming penalty, this time from inside his own half. With Munster struggling to get into the game at this early stage, Castres built on their encouraging start with the first try of the game after 11 minutes.
Following strong carries from Jannie Bornman and then Chris Masoe, Bernard spread the ball wide to the right and good hands from the outside backs manufactured a two-on-one, allowing hooker Brice Mach to go over for the score. Bernard’s conversion came back off the upright, but Castres had now built a strong 11-0 lead.
Munster manufactured a replying score within ten minutes. Wian du Preez put his team on the front foot and Paul O’Connell drove on inside the 22. Conor Murray cleverly put du Preez through a gap and then moved the ball to Coughlan who released Doug Howlett to dive over for the try. O’Gara added the conversion. This passage exemplified Munster at their best. Simple, strong carries from forwards coming onto the ball, then releasing the finishers off front foot ball.
A feature of the first half was Munster’s inability to come away from promising field positions with scores on the board. Just before the Howlett try, O’Gara had scuffed a drop goal attempt after good build up-play in the Castres 22. Soon after the try, he uncharacteristically missed a straightforward penalty attempt when Masoe was penalised for not releasing the tackled player. Then, when Munster returned to the Castres 22, Coughlan was penalised for side entry at the ruck following promising phases. When Castres came back downfield and were offered an opportunity in Munster’s 22, they made no mistake.
Castres kicked in behind Munster and after Murray had cleaned up, O’Connell carried from his own five metre line. Tekori stripped the ball from the Munster captain in contact and Castres swiftly moved the ball through the hands to Lakafia, a replacement for the injured Marc Andreu, wide on the left. He stepped inside a helpless Howlett to touch down. Bernard hit a lovely conversion to put Castres into an 18-7 lead.
On the stroke of half-time, Munster won a scrum battle underneath Castres’ posts to allow O’Gara to narrow that lead. Referee Wayne Barnes had reset the scrum five times before Wihongi was singled out for his binding. O’Connell smartly opted to get the points on the board rather than go for the scrum again. Tony McGahan must have stressed the importance of making territory count at half-time, because Munster began the second half with a well-worked try.
Murray ripped the ball from Masoe in contact and Will Chambers, on for Danny Barnes,used his strong fend to break through the Castres’ defence. Murray then looped off O’Connell and popped to Niall Ronan whose quick hands allowed Peter O’Mahony to gallop to the line as Castres fullback Florian Denos and Lakafia fluffed their defensive lines. O’Mahony fully deserved his try, following up last week’s Man of the Match performance against Northampton with another high-powered effort here. O’Gara added the conversion to O’Mahony’s score.
Bernard gave Castres a four-point lead when Wayne Barnes penalised Munster for dragging down a maul. O’Gara then missed with another drop goal attempt following a counter attack involving Johne Murphy, Howlett and Ronan. Perhaps the outhalf’s drop kicking boots had been left behind in Thomond Park? With Castres holding onto the ball in the Munster half, Ronan made a crucial turnover allowing O’Gara to boot downfield, eventually resulting in Munster taking the lead for the first time.
O’Gara blocked down an attempted relieving kick from Castres’ Remi Talles and Denis Leamy, on for James Coughlan, pounced on the rebounding ball. He offloaded to Chambers who crossed the whitewash untouched. O’Gara swung his conversion through the uprights and Munster led 24-21 with ten minutes remaining. The lead didn’t last long though, as BJ Botha was punished for losing his feet at a scrum and Bernard drew Castres level with the penalty, 24-24.
Munster nearly broke through for a try with time running out when Chambers made a scything break through the middle, fending off several tacklers and showing great pace. Mafi took the offload from Chambers but Howlett was then driven into touch as the move broke down. However, the feeling remained that Munster could manufacture one more opportunity, especially with the last-gasp win over Northampton so fresh in mind.
Munster didn’t need 41 phases to construct the position for O’Gara this time. O’Leary hit his outhalf with a pinpoint long pass and, with the last act of the game, O’Gara struck another beauty from the ten-metre line. A legend, a hero, who else would you rather have in that position?
View all the tries and O’Gara’s drop goal here.
Photo courtesy: MD+D