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'We were taking the mick out of him inside that it was a very handy one'

Peter O’Mahony was impressed with the performance from Munster’s backline against Toulon.

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

WHILE ANDREW CONWAY’S score was all about brave skill to keep the ball in play and then scintillating athletic ability to finish in stunning style, Conor Murray’s score in the first half of Munster’s 20-19 win over Toulon was very different.

Contentious, sure, but whether one thinks Guilhem Guirado knocked the ball forward at the back of a Toulon ruck just in front of their tryline or not, everyone can surely agree that Murray’s reaction was sharp.

Conor Murray celebrates after the game Murray scored a very clever first-half try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Munster scrum-half – thinking faster than everyone else – stooped in at the back of what at first appeared to still be a ruck, scooped up the ball and rather unfussily planted it down beyond the tryline.

It took what must have been close to five minutes for the try to be confirmed following referee Nigel Owens’ extensive review with television match official Jon Mason, but Murray’s classy score stood and went a long way towards helping Munster into the Champions Cup semi-finals.

“It’s a very intelligent try,” said Munster captain Peter O’Mahony afterwards. “We were taking the mick out of him inside that it was a very handy one, but you’ve got to be switched on for something like that and that’s the kind of player he is.

“He’s very bright, very diligent. A lot of guys wouldn’t have even had the balls to go and do it because there’s the potential for you to get pinged for offside as well. You’ve got a team under the pump on their tryline and it’s the last thing you want to do.

“But it was a very bright and intelligent try.”

Conway and Murray were part of a brilliant backline performance from Munster, in which centres Rory Scannell and Sammy Arnold were superb.

24-year-old Scannell was capped three times by Ireland on last summer’s tour of the US and Japan, while he was one of Joe Schmidt’s extra bodies for warm-ups before two of this year’s Grand Slam games, and he must be eager for another shot in Australia in June.

His defensive excellence was matched by several calm and composed moments in possession, though his performance was little surprise to Munster fans.

Ma'a Nonu tackled by Jack O'Donoghue and Rory Scannell Rory Scannell and Sammy Arnold managed the Toulon midfield. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Alongside him, the 21-year-old Sammy Arnold was similarly impressive. With Chris Farrell and Jaco Taute both missing through injury, there were some murmurs of concern in the build-up, but Arnold was never a fear for Munster.

He is a superb physical specimen and seemed to delight in the contest against the rather large Ma’a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud – as well as Malakai Fekitoa later on.

Arnold trained with Ireland extensively before and during this year’s Six Nations, and he too must be hopeful of a chance in Australia.

“I thought the backs were superb today, I thought their defence was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from a Munster backline,” said O’Mahony.

“They were up against guys who were momentum-givers, world-class athletes, world-class players who have played in a lot of big rugby games.

“It was Sammy Arnold’s first knockout game in Europe, Rory Scans, I thought our back three were quality. Last-ditch tackles against bigger men than them, and I thought they took a lot of momentum away from them.

“We spoke about it. We knew that their big momentum-givers were, obviously Duane Vermeulen at eight, but Nonu and Bastareaud give them their go-forward ball and I don’t think they did today.

“I thought they were stopped by the lads. That went a good way to putting us on the front foot.”

Even in praising forwards like Jack O’Donoghue and Stephen Archer, O’Mahony caught himself and underlined that it was the backs who had led the way for Munster.

Peter O'Mahony celebrates after the game O'Mahony celebrates with Munster's fans. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I thought Jack was outstanding, I thought his carrying when we needed him to carry was superb,” said O’Mahony. “His decision-making around our defence was superb, breakdown-wise.

“I thought Archer was superb in the latter part of the tackle, I thought he put the breakdown under a lot of pressure.

“It was a good performance from the forwards as well, but I must say I thought the backs were exceptional.”

Of chief concern to the Munster backline moving forward towards their Champions Cup semi-final in France against the winner of tomorrow’s Racing 92 v Clermont quarter-final will be the health of Simon Zebo.

Having returned from a hamstring injury for the clash with Toulon, he sustained a new injury early on and eventually limped off after 25 painful minutes, clearly emotional in what was his last European appearance for Munster at Thomond Park.

Zebo was limping post-match too but Munster say he – and the rest of the matchday 23 from today – will be part of the squad that heads for South Africa on a 13-day Guinness Pro14 trip on Monday.

“I think he was upset because he really wanted to put in a great performance,” said head coach Johann van Graan of Zebo.

“To be honest, it’s like a war zone in the changing room. That was the physicality from both sides. We’ve got a lot of bumps and bruises. We will re-assess tomorrow morning.

“Luckily, we’ve only got to fly to South Africa on Monday and do a two-week tour and then fly back for a European semi-final so we will re-assess tomorrow morning in terms of all the knocks.”

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Murray Kinsella

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