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5 talking points after Clermont power to Thomond Park win over Munster

Narrow attack, Clermont’s defence, Fritz Lee’s performance and a Pool 1 uphill battle.

Munster stifled

MUNSTER WERE BEATEN at their own game for much of this encounter, as Clermont’s hugely aggressive line speed forced Anthony Foley’s men into errors in a 16-9 defeat. An uncharacteristic blocked-down Conor Murray kick outside the Munster 22 in the first half was symptomatic.

Clermont Auvergne's Fritz Lee celebrates Clermont celebrate a superb victory in Limerick. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Julien Bonnaire, man of the match Fritz Lee and the rest of the Clermont pack scrapped for every single loose ball, got hands into the rucks to slow Munster’s possession and looked for trouble off the ball too.

We’ve become accustomed to travelling French sides not quite bringing that intensity to Thomond Park, but this international-influenced Clermont team are something altogether different.

Out-mauled

Usually an area of major strength for Anthony Foley’s side, the attacking maul failed to fire at Thomond Park this evening. On four occasions, Munster kicked for touch and attempted to maul from within striking range of the Clermont tryline. Thrice they dropped their transfer, on the final occasion Damien Chouly picked off the throw.

Paul O'Connell talks to the Munster players O'Connell and Munster just couldn't get their maul going. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In contrast, Clermont took their one prime mauling opportunity, the powerful Lee crossing with just a minute gone. The Samoan number eight broke back to the right after his pack had drawn the Munster resistance in, Lee finding little in his way as he dove over.

Opportunism or analysis-driven, it was a clever score. Although Munster drew a first-half penalty at the maul to allow Ian Keatley to kick three point, it was very much a case of being out-mauled in Limerick.

Foley’s side too narrow

The narrow nature of Munster’s attack has been a genuine strength on other occasions this season, notably against Leinster and Saracens. However, at Thomond Park this evening the same attribute turned into a weakness.

Simon Zebo beats Julien Bonnaire Zebo showed glimpses of his attacking quality. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Clermont were more than happy to defend around the fringes, winning collisions time and again in the tight channels and forcing Munster into several unsuccessful offload attempts. Simon Zebo did make a couple of half-breaks in those zones but Foley’s men needed more variety.

It was certainly not a night for expensive rugby in the slippery conditions in Limerick, although Munster might regret not adding a little more width to their attack. Oftentimes, it was too predicatable, allowing Clermont to hammer forward into the tackle.

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Lee dominant

Rarely before has a man of the match decision been so clear-cut. Clermont’s number eight was sublime throughout, even if he was lucky that some of his tussle with Peter O’Mahony was off camera.

Fritz Lee and Noa Nakaitaci Lee [left] and Noa Nakaitaci share a moment after the game. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The Kiwi number eight arrived in France last season on a short-term ‘medical joker’ contract to cover injuries, but has been inspirational for Clermont ever since, earning himself a three-year deal.

This was the clear peak of his time in Europe, however, as he carried dynamically, made telling hits, competed for everything at the breakdown and contributed to the set-piece as much as he could.

Pool 1 test

Munster are left on nine points in Pool 1 after this defeat, with Saracens’ win over Sale having put them on the same total earlier in the day. Now Foley’s men face a trip to France in search of an altogether more cohesive performance.

Paul O'Connell and the Munster players walk off the pitch dejected after the game Paul O'Connell leads his side off at the final whistle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In effect, a win for Clermont at the Stade Marcel Michelin would leave Munster all but out of the mix to advance to the knock-out stages. Saracens will look for a bonus point win over the Sharks at home next weekend.

It’s not over for Munster in Europe just yet, but this defeat leaves them in a tricky situation.

Clermont’s 77-game unbeaten record at their home stadium came to an end last season, and Montpellier beat them there in September. Still, it will take an exceptional performance to pull it off.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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