A NEW dawn? Or just a one-off display of indignant stubbornness?
Just 26 seconds later... Clermont 7 Munster 0.
5.36pm, penalty try: Clermont 14 Munster 3.
5.45pm, try number three: Clermont 21 Munster 6.
5.53pm, try number four, and the bonus point! Clermont 28 Munster 9.
Game over. Or so you would have thought.
Final whistle Clermont 31 Munster 39. How was this possible?
If you ever wanted an example of French rugby at its most erratic and Munster’s dogged pliability to never give up, you need look no further than this game.
During the opening quarter, it appeared as if Clermont were taking part in an unopposed training session as they swept aside a Munster team that looked as if they had fallen under the influence of some kind of mysterious spell.
With a combination of failing to deal with some run-of-the-mill restarts, falling off tackles and a very unusual exhibition of carelessness, Peter O’Mahony and his players found themselves steering down the barrel of a shotgun that would have all but ended their European campaign.
Miraculously what transpired over the next 55 minutes will go down in history as yet another performance of biblical magnitude that will be forever etched deep into Munster’s archives.
Long before the game even started Munster’s chance of winning this tie would have been slim.
Any player who ever played against any French side on their home turf will tell you that if you don’t front up both physically and mentally, you will be in for one long and arduous day in the office.
French rugby is fabricated around a mixture of flamboyant brilliance when it comes to playing an expansive game and bullying their way around the pitch up front. So, if your philosophy is to stand off them and allow them the space and time to deploy their preferred off-loading game, you will make them look like rugby's Harlem Globetrotters.
Rarely would you associate Munster rugby with multiple lapses of concentration but we found ourselves shaking our heads in disbelief.
When Johann van Graan presses play on the video analyses machine on Monday morning their will be players sinking into their chairs, during 25 minutes of footage to be endured. The good news is that the next 55 is something they will enjoy watching over and over again and long into their retirement.
A portion of this incredible result must be placed on the shoulders of Clermont’s inexcusable implosion, a 19-point lead thrown away. I can only assume that their coach Franck Azéma will have lifted the roof of the dressing room in his post-match lecturing of his players.
Many of Clermont’s players would be earning a salary of half a million euros a year!
It is always nice to have a very large bank balance to build a squad from, but as we all know money doesn’t always guarantee success.
On the flip side of this result, the Munster coaching ticket will be able to sit back, pat each other on the back and take massive satisfaction in how their players never bowed their heads and stuck to the game plan that has aided them on their nine-match undefeated run.
Before the game, they would have taken the handoff you if you had offered them this result but the greatest amount of satisfaction that I would take from what transpired was the accomplishments of the younger members of this team.
I stated in my pre-match article that in order for Munster to have any chance of leaving France with something tangible it was vital that players like the Wycherley brothers, Craig Casey and Gavin Coombes must emerge from this game as senior players and that’s exactly what they did.
Even though CJ Stander was awarded Man of the Match, and deservingly so, I just couldn’t believe the shift offered up by the 21-year-old Josh Wycherley.
To think that a front row forward playing in his first European escapade could last 77 minutes in a game of this nature and leave the field having won his personnel battles against two seasoned opponents is just incredible.
The other astonishing performance game from Craig Casey and whilst he only played the closing seventeen minutes, he did so with immense maturity and control. It was also a very brave call by van Grann to replace Conor Murray with Casey and one he must be applauded for.
Going forward Munster must now use this game as a barometer to work off and build on.
This win was a magnificent display of courage and shrewdness but need I remind everyone that Munster’s trophy cabinet hasn’t had its hinges flexed in over a decade. It is imperative that they enjoy the victory, learn from the opening passages of play and move on to the next task.
Next week Munster travel to Leinster for their annual battle in the Guinness Pro14 where there are some very deep and festering wounds that need addressing.