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Munster produce their greatest comeback in years to beat Clermont

Munster come from 28-9 down to win 39-31 against Clermont in the Champions Cup.

Murray in action against Clermont tonight.
Murray in action against Clermont tonight.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

ASM Clermont Auvergne 31

Munster 39

WHERE DO YOU start? Is it with the kick-off, a poor attempt by Munster to gather it, a piece of bullying from the Clermont giants, Pecili Yato and Alivereti Raka, the latter scoring a try inside 26 seconds, suggesting this night was going to be an embarrassment for Munster?

No, even that piece of drama wasn’t the decisive moment of this game. Nor was the fourth Clermont try on 24 minutes, scored by hooker, Etienne Fourcade, which handed Clermont a bonus point and also a 19 point lead. 

The bigger impacts came later, initially when Mike Haley finished off a superb move to get Munster back in the game and then when CJ Stander put Munster ahead on 70 minutes with a brave finish following a superb line-out. 

That the French side were rattled by this dramatic turn of events was clear to all. Munster will remember that; that is why tonight will go down in their storied history as one of their great wins, up there with the Miracle Game. The concept of heroic defeat just did not register.

And it is not as if we are saying that Clermont are overrated. They remain a very good side. In 32 previous home matches, they have won 31 times. It looked like they would win this one handily, too, 24 minutes played,  28 points on the board.

Munster, at that stage, had nine.

They remain proud, though. Even when a small battle was lost – JJ Hanrahan missing touch with a penalty just after they had won a scrum penalty on half-way – they just refused to give in.

Every decision they made was wise. Initially, they kept taking shots at goal when they had the opportunity to go to the corner. Remember the Racing defeat a couple of years ago in the Champions Cup semi-final? They chased that game too early.

Here they learned their lesson. They saw Hanrahan kick all nine of his attempts at goal, watched as he continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over, getting a fifth minute penalty to make it 7-3, an 11th minute one after Clermont had scored a penalty try – to keep Munster in touch at 14-6.

When Clermont – via Damian Penaud – got their third try on 15 minutes, the set-piece again their platform – and Munster trailed 21-6, it was Hanrahan who reduced that gap to 21-9.

It was Hanrahan who didn’t miss one of his nine kicks. There we were in the initial stages gasping at the two outrageous breaks that delivered two of Clermont’s four tries, wondering which of their stars we would praise the loudest.

Then it changed. 

There were two turning points. First, Haley’s first-half try, a superbly executed score, which was planned in Limerick, finished off in style in Montferrand, Damien de Allende, Chris Farrell and Peter O’Mahony with the clever handling skills, Haley with the smarter angled run. That score gave Munster belief and a 28-16 scoreline.

Hanrahan’s kicks gave them hope. He converted all three Munster tries. He got three more crucial penalties on 44, 52 and 58 minutes to close the gap to 28-25.

Even when Camille Lopez replied with a penalty of his own shortly after to make it 31-25, Munster were not finished. Their fitness was extraordinary, their spirit just as impressive.

Of the heroes, Peter O’Mahony was the pick: hard work, good carrying, great athleticism, fine leadership. Stander put his hand up and scored the game’s crucial try on 70 minutes – stemming from a line-out where O’Mahony gathered and Jack O’Donoghue slipped a subtle little pass into Stander’s hands. A yard out, the big man wasn’t going to miss. Nor was Kevin O’Byrne who got the clinching third try just before the end.

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Remember Josh Wycherley’s name too. The young loosehead is just 21. He had a great night. And so did Munster. In the toughest of pools, they now sit third in the table and have made a massive step towards a quarter-final spot.

Scorers

Clermont

Tries: Raka, penalty try, Penaud, Fourcade 

Conversions: Lopez 3/3

Penalties: Lopez 1/1

Munster

Tries: Haley, Stander, O’Byrne

Conversions: Hanrahan 3/3

Penalties: Hanrahan 6/6

 

ASM CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Kotaro Matsushima; Damian Penaud, Jean-Pascal Barraque, George Moala, Alivereti Raka; Camille Lopez (capt), Sébastien Bézy (Morgan Parra 71); Peni Ravai (Etienne Falgoux 54), Etienne Fourcade (Adrien Pélissié 71), Rabah Slimani (Sipili Falatea 54); Paul Jedrasiak (E Annandale 78), Peceli Yato; Judicaël Cancoriet (Tavite Veredamu 78), Clement Lanen (Thibaud Lanen 49), Fritz Lee.

Replacements not used:  Tim Nanai-Williams, 

Munster: Mike Haley; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan (Scannell 79′), Conor Murray (Casey 63′); Josh Wycherley (O’Connor 77′), Rhys Marshall (O’Byrne 72′), Stephen Archer (Ryan 52′); Jean Kleyn (Wycherley 55′), Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes (O’Donoghue 63′), Peter O’Mahony (c) (Holland 71′), CJ Stander. 

Referee: M Carley (England)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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