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Munster battle out a draw after ferocious contest in Castres

Simon Zebo and Dave KIlcoyne touched down for the southern, but it was their defence which deserves the plaudits.

Castres Olympique 17

Munster 17

Sean Farrell reports from Stade Pierre-Fabre

MUNSTER GRITTED THEIR teeth as they held on to take a draw from their Champions Cup opener away to Castres.

A contest that was ferocious throughout was ultimately decided by some terrific Munster defence, with Darren Sweetnam and Conor Murray hitting try-saving tackles, before Benjamin Urdapilleta missed the target with a late penalty and an even later drop-goal.

Peter O'Mahony claims a line out ahead of Loic Jacquet Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It was a Castres side showing seven changes from Top14 duty when they narrowly lost away to Brive, but the seven changes included a recall for Rory Kockott and Rodrigo Capo Ortega. Europe may not be their priority, but the hosts didn’t hold back their meanest men for the job.

The home side started in very mean form indeed, crashing into rucks and sweeping forward off the slick passing of Rory Kockott and Urdapilleta. It took a magnificently dogged defensive display to hold them out in that early period. Murray’s fourth minute yellow card denied Yannick Caballero a certain try as he chased a grubber and Simon Zebo took man and ball to deny Julien Dumora completing an overlap in the right corner.

Just as Munster thought they had fought their way out of trouble with a Farrell intercept and a superb CJ Stander steal on the ground, the centre unwittingly returned the favour to the hosts, floating a 13th minute pass at Mark Flanagan which was picked off by centre Robert Ebersohn.

Simon Zebo celebrates his try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Murray’s return steadied the ship and his team determinedly attacked the fringes to get their foothold in the game. Penalties began to come from the breakdown, but with a swirling wind to temper the sunny conditions, Tyler Bleyendaal opted to set up an attacking maul rather than take aim from 45 metres. Wise choice, because from that base Munster’s pack and Murray chiselled their way through yards of work until Murray fired a rapid pass to Zebo, who crashed through contact to touch down.

All square, just not for long. Castres re-took the lead just two minutes later thanks to an offload from man of the match Maama Vaipulu which paved the way for Dumora to break through and touch down.

Julien Dumora scores a try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

To Munster’s credit, despite a high error count under pressure, they never looked overawed by the task and they finished the half in the ascendancy, forcing a penalty and a yellow card as Ebersohn killed the ball under his own posts.

Just a 14 – 10 deficit to begin the second half then and it was wiped out within seven minutes as the visitors mounted their attack on 14 men to a chorus of whistles and boos from a crowd who could see the breakdown going against their side. With a penalty advantage coming on the five metre line, Castres briefly switched off as a pass looped out of play. But in a flash of going back to the spot of the penalty, a Murray quick-tap allowed Dave Kilcoyne to trundle over.

A brilliant Bleyendaal conversion and an Urdapilleta penalty left the match poised on a knife edge at 17 apiece approaching the hour and the men in red once again had to dig deep and scramble to thwart their hosts.

Billy Holland, Tommy O'Donnell, Robin Copeland, CJ Stander and Conor Murray celebrate a penalty Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

First Murray dragged Kockott into touch when the majority in Stade Pierre-Fabre were celebrating a try. And two minutes after the hour Sweetnam denied Afusipa Taumoepeau on the other side of the field.

Ian Keatley entered the fray to good effect, but his 49 metre penalty drifted narrowly wide of the posts and that was as close as either side came to the win until a frantic final few minutes in which Kilcoyne feared his dangerous ruck entry would cost his team a point.

Mercifully, Urdapilleta didn’t find the clean strike and Munster’s deep dig earned two extremely hard-won points.

Scorers

Castres Olympique

Tries: R Ebersohn, J Dumora

Conversions: B Urdapilleta (2/2)

Penalties: B Urdapilleta (1/3)

Munster

Tries: S Zebo, D Kilcoyne

Conversions: T Bleyendaal (2/2)

Penalties T Bleyendaal (1/1), I Keatley (0/1)

Castres: J Dumora; T Paris, A Taumoepeau, R Ebersohn, D Smith (F Vialelle, 76); B Urdapilleta, R Kockott; A Tichit (M Lazar, 70), J Jenneker, D Kotze ((D Tussac, 73); L Jacquet (A Jelonch, 55), R Capo Ortega; Y Caballero, S Mafi, M Vaipulu (C Samson, 64).

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, 56); M Flanagan (R Copeland ’64), B Holland; P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell (J O’Donoguhue, 70), CJ Stander.

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Sean Farrell

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