Keatley grabs last-gasp losing bonus point in Clermont to keep Munster alive

Anthony Foley’s men were improved from last weekend, but Clermont had too much attacking quality.

Clermont 26

Munster 19

Murray Kinsella reports from Stade Marcel-Michelin

MUNSTER WERE CONSIDERABLY better than they had been a week ago in Limerick, but ultimately some superb try-scoring from Franck Azéma’s impressive Clermont made them deserved winners at a throbbing Stade Marcel-Michelin.

Noa Nakaitaci is congratulated after he scored a try by Thomas Domingo and Morgan Parra Clermont celebrate Nao Nakaitaci's brilliant first-half try. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Crucially, Anthony Foley’s side grabbed a losing bonus point with the final kick of the game from Ian Keatley to keep their hopes of advancing from Pool 1 of the Champions Cup alive.

There was an improved ambition from Munster with ball in hand, as their forwards passed and offloaded rather then simply running directly into tacklers. The introduction of JJ Hanrahan added incision outside out-half Keatley too.

Despite those positive elements, Munster failed to turn attacking progress into points on the scoreboard, particularly in the first half when they enjoyed a greater share of the possession and territory.

Clermont, in contrast, were lethal in their use of the ball, striking repeatedly on the counter attack and from kick reception. Their thrilling backline manufactured linebreaks on a number of occasions, while their pack looked comfortable in passing and exploiting space.

ASM in full flight, as for both their first-half tries, is one of the great sights in European rugby, although Munster’s travelling support of more than 1,000 will not have enjoyed the spectable that the likes of man of the match Camille Lopez, Noa Nakaitaci, Wesley Fofana and Fritz Lee served up.

Concession of a wonderful Nakaitaci try on the stroke of half time was a major blow for Munster, as Nick Abendanon took a quick line-out before Lee shifted to the ball to the Fiji-born wing.

Nakaitaci weaved over from all of 35 metres out, leaving Keatley and Andrew Conway tangled up along the way with his sensational footwork at pace. Lopez’s conversion left Clermont 15-6 to the good at the break, a position of socreboard dominance they never gave up.

Fritz Lee and Camille Lopez tackle JJ Hanrahan JJ Hanrahan added some incisive play in the first half. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Munster had delivered a heartening first-half showing, making that scoreline all the more disillusioning. Foley’s side attacked with greater width and variety than last weekend in Thomond Park, cleverly moving the ball before the point of contact.

Hanrahan contributed an element of unpredictability too, but Munster could only turn their impressive display into six points in that first half. Keatley slammed over a 55-metre penalty after four minutes, then added a second from under the sticks on the 11-minute mark when Thomas Domingo was pinged for scrummaging in on an illegal angle.

That score came soon after a magnificent Aurélien Rougerie ball-and-all tackle on Keatley had denied what looked like a certain try, the veteran centre knocking on in the process.

Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony were busy at the breakdown, while Clermont had some slight issues at their line-out, all adding up to a semblance of dominance for Munster.

But how this Clermont side can create something in the blink of an eye. Their 18th-minute try through Damien Chouly was an illustration of exactly that.

Munster initially survived a big break from out-half Lopez, who chipped over BJ Botha on halfway, gathered and offloaded. Parra basketball passed the pill wide to Benjamin Kayser, but the hooker’s intended pass to Zac Guildfor out wide was picked off by Jones.

Munster's players dejected Munster gather behind their tryline after Nakaitaci's wonder try. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Conor Murray’s clearing kick missed touch and Clermont swept forward again in an instant. Wesley Fofana scythed through on the right, and offloaded to Domingo. Clermont were patient from close-range, eventually scoring as Chouly stretched out a strong right arm to touch down, confirmed by the TMO.

Lopez was off target with the conversion, although he did knock over a penalty from the left when Robin Copeland lost his discipline, failing release after tackling, during a six-minute spell on the pitch as a concussion test replacement for number eight CJ Stander.

Having suffered that late first-half setback through Nakaitaci’s score, Munster started the second period well, Keatley slotting a 35-metre penalty after Owens penalised Kayser for not supporting his bodyweight while jackaling.

Any encouragement from those three points was quickly sapped though, as Jones was justifiably sin binned for sticking out a left leg to stop Lopez chasing his own kick as Clermont countered.

To add to the damage, the Clermont playmaker kicked the subsequent penatly, stretching Clermont out to an 18-9 lead.

With Munster down to seven forwards in the scrum, O’Donnell covering on the right wing, Clermont massacred the visitors at the next set-piece, but Lopez was wide to the left from a kickable position.

Conor Murray offloads Conor Murray releases a pass for Munster at Stade Marcel-Michelin. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Jones re-entered the fray to a chorus of boos soon after, and Munster could argue that they had handled their numerical disadvantage well. However, Foley’s side were beginning to lose the battle at the breakdown area, leading directly to Lopez’s next three points from a 45-metre penalty.

Clermont’s ascendancy continued as numer eight Lee made a huge bust, before offloading to Sébastien Vahaamahina. From 20 metres out, it looked as though the lock might run clear to score, but Zebo and Conway combine to haul him down inches short.

Clermont still had an extensive overlap on the left, but somehow managed to butcher the five-on-two situation, Parra’s uncomposed pass forcing Lee into the knock-on over his head and with the tryline begging.

The Top 14 outfit were unconcered by their missed chances, however, and continued to dominate possession. The final blow came with 73 minutes on the clock, inspirational captain Chouly bashing over in the right-hand corner.

There was what looked like being only a late consolation for Munster in the fashion of a Duncan Casey try, the hooker intercepting a pass from Lee inside the Clermont 22 then stretching his legs. Keatley’s conversion brought Munster back to within 10 points.

Building an attack to find what might be a crucial losing bonus point, Munster forced Clermont tormentor-in-chief Lee to concede the penalty. Keatley held his nerve to grab a match point that looked highly unlikely at many stages.

Clermont scorers:

Tries: Damien Chouly [2], Noa Nakaitaci

Conversions: Camille Lopez [1 from 3]

Penalties: Camille Lopez [3 from 3]

Munster scorers:

Tries: Duncan Casey

Conversions: Ian Keatley [1 from 1]

Penalties: Ian Keatley [3 from 3]

CLERMONT: Nick Abendanon; Noa Nakaitaci, Aurélien Rougerie (Benson Stanley ’59), Wesley Fofana, Zac Guildford; Camille Lopez (Brock James ’74), Morgan Parra (Ludovic Radoslavjevic ’64); Thomas Domingo (Raphael Chaume ’59), Benjamin Kayser (John Ulugia ’74), Davit Zirakashvili (Clément Ric ’69); Jamie Cudmore (Julien Pierre ’74), Sébastien Vahaamahina; Damien Chouly (capt.), Alexandre Lapandry, Fritz Lee.

Replacements not used: Julien Bardy.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones (yellow card – ’44 to ’54), Andrew Conway, Andrew Smith (Denis Hurley ’80, JJ Hanrahan, Simon Zebo (Johne Murphy ’75), Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; John Ryan, Duncan Casey,  BJ Botha (Stephen Archer ’75); Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (capt.), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (Robin Copeland ’24 to ’30, concussion bin. ’61, permanent).

Replacements not used: Kevin O’Byrne, Eusebio Guinazu, Billy Holland, Duncan Williams.

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

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