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'In other years, we could have struggled to get back into the game then'

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony was happy with his side’s resolve in the closing minutes in Castres.

O'Mahony after Munster's 16-13 win in Castres.
O'Mahony after Munster's 16-13 win in Castres.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WITH 70 MINUTES on the clock and Munster trailing 13-9, they get a penalty in front of the posts around 25 metres out.

It’s a gimme shot at goal for Jack Crowley but the left corner is beckoning tantalisingly. Captain Peter O’Mahony thinks long and hard about his decision, consulting Crowley and Tadhg Beirne before pointing to the corner.

With 71:02 on the clock, Castres lock Ryno Pieterse rises to pilfer Diarmuid Barron’s lineout throw and Beirne compounds the turnover by giving up a penalty to let Castres out of their 22.

It feels like Munster might have missed their chance but we should know better. 

With 75:10 on the clock, Beirne produces a trademark breakdown turnover penalty just in front of Munster’s 22. A chance. Crowley kicks up the left and Munster’s maul wins another penalty. They nearly score on the penalty advantage as Crowley chips ahead for Chris Farrell but Craig Casey can’t hold the inside pass.

Back to the maul penalty and this time there’s no decision to be made. A real chance. Crowley kicks into the left corner with 76:45 on the clock. Munster fans’ hopes rise and journalists frantically re-write their match reports.

Munster’s maul makes progress from 10 metres out before John Hodnett picks and carries forward another few inches. Castres give up another penalty advantage and the ball squirts out the back of the ruck, where Gavin Coombes stoops to collect it five metres out, surges forward into a double tackle and stretches his left arm out to dot down the winning score with 77:55 on the clock.

“That was the pleasing thing,” said O’Mahony after Munster’s 16-13 win over Castres. “We have worked a lot on our composure and when you go behind, not to panic. We still had lots of time.

gavin-coombes-scores-a-late-try Gavin Coombes scores for Munster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We decided to go for the corner when we were four points down, they turned the lineout over and I think in other years, we could have struggled to get back into the game then, but we didn’t panic.

“The next couple of minutes is a blur but Tadhger [Beirne] obviously gets the penalty, we stay composed and go down the pitch. That’s the pleasing thing.”

It will be pointed out in some quarters that the fact Munster needed a late winning score means this should count as an underperformance. Castres had made 14 changes to their starting XV after three consecutive wins in the Top 14 and Munster were the firm favourites after naming an experienced team.

But O’Mahony and Munster felt it was always going to be tight.

“I don’t know what people were expecting, they obviously haven’t watched us play against Castres for the last 15 years,” said the Cork man.

“It’s incredibly difficult every time we come over here or they come to Thomond Park. It always seems to be an incredibly close, physical encounter.

“A real battle up front, a real battle of who breaks first and a battle of the nerves really. It was a real kick contest and it was difficult conditions to play in. Our message during the week was that it was going to be a proper 80-minute performance and we had to stick to what we’d been working on.

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“That was really pleasing, we stayed in the fight until the end. Their other games did finish like that recently, La Rochelle and stuff, it goes to the wire. We were happy that we stuck to our process and stayed in the fight.”

john-hodnett-celebrates-after-the-game-with-fans John Hodnett celebrates Munster's win. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Munster were superb in their lineout and maul defence last night, with O’Mahony stressing that it came from diligent hard work in that area during their preparation for the game, borne out of “respect for the Castres set-piece and particularly their maul.”

Munster have now qualified for the Champions Cup round-of-16 and they’ll be planning to make it four wins from four in the pool stages by beating Wasps at Thomond Park next Sunday.

Doing so would see Munster advance into the knock-outs as one of the highest-ranked clubs which would mean home advantage in the quarter-finals and home country advantage for the semi-finals if they go on a European run.

“Look, it sets it up well, but I mean, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter unless we go and perform next week,” said O’Mahony.

“It’s always about the next one. I suppose the hard thing about this is that you can’t dwell on it, you’ve got to have an eye to Wasps and what they’re going to bring to Thomond Park.

“It’s going to take another big performance.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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