Clermont Auvergne 31 Munster 39
MUNSTER produced one of their greatest ever away performances in their long and illustrious history in the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday evening.
The Reds had to come from 19 points down against Clermont Auvergne to secure their first victory at the intimidating Stade Marcel Michelin.
Clermont scored a try after just 26 seconds when destructive second row Peceli Yato handed off both Gavin Coombes and Keith Earls, who had both been involved with a knock-on at kick-off, and he offloaded to winger Aliverti Raka to run in the score.
There was a good response from Johann van Graan’s side as they struck back with a fifth-minute penalty from JJ Hanrahan from 40m, but another failure to gather the subsequent restart led to Munster defending desperately deep in their own 22. Shane Daly was forced into a deliberate knock-on in the sixth minute, with the result being a penalty try and a sin bin for the Munster winger.
Munster were seriously struggling at this point, but Hanrahan landed another penalty from range, off the top of the crossbar in the ninth minute, to leave Munster trailing 14-3 after a blistering start.
Clermont thought they were in for try number three in the 11th minute when scrum-half Sebastian Bezy fed the brilliant Yato, but somehow CJ Stander and Tadhg Beirne combined to hold him up over the line.
The reprieve did not last long, however, as the home side took advantage of their numerical advantage to run the ball to Munster’s vacant left wing with Raka putting Damian Penaud away in the corner.
Munster were sucking for oxygen at this point but almost scored when Jean Kleyn knocked on when reaching for the whitewash and a couple of minutes later, in the 20th minute, Hanrahan kicked another wonderful penalty to get the score to 21-9.
Munster looked like they had brought a knife to a gunfight though, as Clermont scored again in the 24th minute, this time from a driving maul, with hooker Etienne Fourcade crashing over.
The French side were simply phenomenal in that opening 25 minutes, but Munster kept plugging away against a side that had shipped 38 points last weekend against Bristol, and Munster got over for a badly needed try in the 29th minute when Peter O’Mahony put full-back Mike Haley in for a quality score.
At this stage, Munster were starting to get a foothold in the tie as the Clermont intensity levels finally began to drop from their ridiculous early levels, and Munster will have been happy enough to only trail 28-16 at the break.
It was of vital importance that Munster registered the first score of the second half and that is exactly what happened when Hanrahan slotted a penalty in the 44th minute to reduce Munster’s deficit to nine, and he repeated the trick in the 53rd minute to get Munster within six points of their hosts.
Clermont blindside Judicaël Cancioret was yellow-carded in the 57th minute for a no-arms tackle on Rhys Marshall, which allowed Hanrahan to reduce the deficit to three.
To their credit Clermont weren’t going to roll over and captain Camille Lopez steadied the ship with a penalty in the 60th minute.
However, Munster were controlling the tie at this juncture and Marshall was just in touch in the 69th minute when attempting to ground the ball at the back of a maul, but moments later Thibaud Lanen was binned for taking out Tadhg Beirne in the air at a lineout.
From the resultant penalty Munster worked a maul, with CJ Stander crashing over for the try, and Hanrahan crucially added the conversion to give Munster a lead that looked so unlikely an hour previously.
And it got even better when Kevin O’Byrne made sure of the victory with a 78th-minute try, which gives Munster a great opportunity now to emerge from Pool 2.
Lopez (4 cons, 1 pen), Raka, Penaud, Fourcade (1 try each), penalty try.
Hanrahan (6 pens, 3 cons) Haley, Stander, O’Byrne (1 try each).
Matsushima, Penaud, Barraque, Moala, Raka; Lopez (c), Bezy; Ravai, Fourcade, Slimani; Jedrasiak, Yato; Cancioret, C. Lanen, Lee.
T. Lanen for C. Lanen (51), Falgoux and Falatea for Ravai and Slimani (55), Pelissie and Parra for Fourcade and Bezy (73), Annandale and Veredamu for Jedrasiak and Cancioret (79).
Haley; Earls, Farrell, de Allende, Daly; Hanrahan, Murray; J. Wycherley, Marshall, Archer; Kleyn, Beirne; Coombes, O'Mahony (c), Stander.
F. Wycherley for Kleyn (56), Ryan for Archer (59), O’Donoghue and Casey for Coombes and Murray (64), O’Byrne and Holland for Marshall and O’Mahony (73), O’Connor for J. Wycherley (77), Scannell for Hanrahan (80).
Matthew Carley (Eng)