Munster into Champions Cup semi after late flourish ends stubborn Toulouse

There were injuries to Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and CJ Stander, however.

Munster 41

Toulouse 16

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park 

TOULOUSE PROVED MORE stubborn than looked like being the case in the opening minutes, but Munster secured a Champions Cup semi-final in comprehensive fashion in the end, scoring four tries in a 41-16 victory at a packed Thomond Park.

Darren Sweetnam scores a try Darren Sweetnam scores a second-half try for Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Rassie Erasmus’ men will take on the winner of tomorrow’s clash between Saracens and Glasgow in the last four. If the English side are victorious, Munster will host them in the Aviva Stadium but success for Glasgow would mean a trip to Murrayfield for the southern province.

There was grit in their performance once again this evening in Limerick, although the inaccuracies that intermittently caused concern will need to be ironed out before the semi-final stage.

Man of the match John Ryan got Munster off to the perfect start with a third-minute try, but Erasmus’ side struggled to truly put the visitors away until the final 10 minutes, when tries from wings Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway saw them open up a big lead.

CJ Stander was the other try-scorer for Munster, while Tyler Bleyendaal was excellent off the tee once again.

There are injury concerns for Munster now, however, as outstanding captain Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and the barnstorming Stander all left the pitch in discomfort.

With the semi-final weekend not until 22/23 April, there is time to recover, though Erasmus will have worries between now and then.

But a first European semi-final since 2014 is huge for the province, who continue to make forward strides under director of rugby Erasmus.

For them to deal with the late loss of scrum-half Conor Murray, who failed a fitness test on his shoulder, was another positive, with Duncan Williams performing admirably in the nine shirt.

Another test came in the incomprehensible decision by referee JP Doyle to award Toulouse’s Paul Perez a try in the second half, despite a clear and obvious forward pass by Yoann Maestri. The mind boggled, but Munster managed to steel themselves.

Toulouse did also suffer a late change to their team, with Scotland lock Richie Gray ruled out and Joe Tekori taking his place to deliver a poor and indisciplined performance.

Munster fans celebrate John Ryan scoring a try Munster celebrate Ryan's early try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Out-half Jean-Marc Doussain’s kicking kept Toulouse in the game in the first half, despite a Munster start that had promised dominance.

A braindead late hit on Williams, with the elbow leading, saw François Cros deservedly in the sin bin as early as the second minute, with Munster soon scoring the first try of the game when Ryan barged through Florian Fritz, Doussain and Thierry Dusautoir, a score confirmed by the TMO.

Bleyendaal converted and it looked like Munster might be heading into some enjoyable plain sailing. Their maul earned a penalty for Bleyendaal to make it 10-0 with just 10 minutes played, but Toulouse clung in and frustrated Munster.

Fritz missed with a long-range shot at goal, but Doussain converted his first attempt when O’Mahony failed to roll away following a sharp break by Yoann Huget off Doussain’s inside pass.

A high tackle by Tekori on Dave Kilcoyne allowed Bleyendaal to move Munster 13-3 in front, but Doussain drew Toulouse back with his second penalty after JP Doyle pinged Jaco Taute for not releasing post-tackle under the Munster posts.

Erasmus’ men briefly thought they had their second try just three minutes before the break, when a Donnacha Ryan basketball-style pass saw Jaco Taute scuttle up the left touchline, freeing Rory Scannell inside. The Munster 12 offloaded, before Cros’ hand batted the ball backwards, where Bleyendaal scooped and drove over for an apparent try.

However, the lengthy TMO review showed that Tommy O’Donnell had just knocked-on before Bleyendaal gathered the ball and the possible try was chalked off.

Williams nearly scored immediately after, blocking down Sébastien Bézy’s exit attempt, but the rebounding ball just beat him over the touchline in the in-goal area before the scrum-half could dot down.

Having survived, Toulouse ended the half with a third Doussain penalty from over 40 metres out, meaning they trailed by just four.

Tyler Bleyendaal scores a try that is later disallowed Bleyendaal had a first-half try chalked off. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The advantage of the wind was very clear within three minutes of the second half getting underway, as Bleyendaal opted for a shot at goal with a penalty on the halfway line.

The Kiwi out-half’s effort just crept over the crossbar, nicking it on the way, for a 16-9 Munster lead. The southern province’s kicking from hand was accurate too, as they looked to control territory through Bleyendaal and Rory Scannell.

Another Toulouse penalty in the French side’s 22 offered a possible three points, but Munster went to the right corner this time and hammered at the tryline until some clever rucking by O’Mahony cleared the way for Stander to smash over, the Ireland international following up with an impassioned celebration.

Bleyendaal missed the conversion but popped over a 53rd-minute penalty for 24-9 and again it looked like Munster were cruising.

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But they lost O’Mahony to his leg injury following that Stander try and then Toulouse scored a breakaway try that should never have been allowed. Maestri strode up the touchline and found wing Perez on the left, but the pass was clearly forward.

Perez finished in the corner and though there was an extensive TMO review, Doyle somehow awarded the try in a farcical moment. Doussain impressively converted from wide out as the famous Thomond Park silence was not observed and it was game on once again.

Munster had to deal with another injury blow as Earls departed with a back issue to be replaced by Andrew Conway, before Stander hurt his right ankle and played on only with heavy strapping.

Munster walk back after CJ Stander scores a try Munster jog back after Stander's second-half try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The number eight contributed to some heavy fringe defence as Toulouse grasped the momentum heading into the final quarter, but he limped off to be replaced by Jack O’Donoghue in the 67th minute.

With Doyle continuing to incur the wrath of the Thomond Park crowd, there were nervy moments for Munster but Bleyendaal gave the home support breathing room with an important penalty in the 75th minute, punishing replacement wing Arthur Bonneval for failing to release after he was tackled.

And Munster finished wonderfully, as Taute’s big hit on Doussain just outside the Toulouse 22 allowed Sweetnam to thunder onto the ball, nudging it forward skillfully before bending down to gather it and flopping over for the try.

Bleyendaal converted and Erasmus emptied the bench, before Conway darted over in the left corner for a fourth Munster try in the final minute of play, Bleyendaal converting from wide on the left to add to a comprehensive finishing scoreline.

Without Murray, O’Mahony, Earls and Stander on the pitch, it felt like a real achievement for Munster to seal the deal so convincingly.

Munster scorers:

Tries: John Ryan, CJ Stander, Darren Sweetnam, Andrew Conway

Conversions: Tyler Bleyendaal [3 from 4]

Penalties: Tyler Bleyendaal [4 from 4]

Toulouse scorers:

Tries: Paul Perez

Conversions: Jean-Marc Doussain [1 from 1]

Penalties: Jean-Marc Doussain [3 from 3], Florian Fritz [0 from 1]

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute (Francis Saili ’77), Rory Scannell, Keith Earls (Andrew Conway ’56); Tyler Bleyendaal, Duncan Williams (Angus Lloyd ’77); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’59), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’59), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’77); Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Dave O’Callaghan ’50), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (Jack O’Donoghue ’66).

TOULOUSE: Maxime Médard; Yoann Huget (Arthur Bonneval ’69), Gaël Fickou, Florian Fritz (Luke McAlister ’69), Paul Perez; Jean-Marc Doussain, Sébastien Bézy; Cyril Baille (Gurthrö Steenkamp ’59), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Julien Marchand ’50), Census Johnston (Dorian Aldegheri ’50); Joe Tekori (Piula Fa’asalele ’69), Yoann Maestri; Thierry Dusautoir (captain) (Tala Gray ’6 to ’15), Yacouba Camara; François Cros (Tala Gray ’75).

Replacements not used: Samuel Marques.

Referee: JP Doyle [RFU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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