WHAT has been an extremely eventful week for Munster ended with a workmanlike Heineken Champions Cup victory over a physical and awkward Castres outfit at Thomond Park on Saturday evening.
Fresh from last week’s monumental win over Wasps in Round 1, Munster were looking to stamp their authority on Pool B, but a rugged Castres side proved tough opposition in front of a packed Thomond Park crowd, as they turned the tie into the proverbial arm wrestle.
Ben Healy opened the scoring in the 8th minute with a huge penalty from 47m after Castres tight head Wilfrid Hounkpatin had been blown for killing Munster ball at a ruck.
A number of Munster players were making their first appearance in quite some time given the recent Covid quarantining issues down in South Africa, and therefore it was no surprise that the opening quarter was an extremely stop-start affair.
There was little in the way of quality attacking play early on but Tadhg Beirne won a trademark penalty on the deck in the 27th minute, which Healy duly converted to double Munster’s led.
A wonderful 50-22 kick from young full back Patrick Campbell gave Munster an attacking platform inside the Castres 22 and after considerable pressure they worked an overlap out wide, and centre Damien de Allende crashed over in the 34th minute, only to be deemed to have harshly lost control in the act of grounding. Munster may have been denied the try they were looking for, but they did still leave with three points from another Healy penalty.
Munster were looking to test Castres’ interest in the tie by putting points on the board, but the visitors got back within a score of their hosts when their outhalf Ben Urdapilleta slotted a simple 39th minute penalty to leave the score at 9-3 at the break.
Castres full back Thomas Larregain missed a long distance penalty attempt just after half time and in the 47th minute Munster had a big let off when winger Bastien Guillemin knocked on when it looked like he was about to intercept and score, after Ben Healy had let a looping Keith Earls pass bounce dangerously.
Healy then dragged a penalty wide from the half way line in the 50th minute, as fifty whole minutes into the game and it had not really got going yet.
On the hour mark citadel Thomond finally burst into life as number eight Jack O’Donoghue brilliantly barged over in the right corner despite the attention of three defenders, and Munster finally had their first try. Healy kicked over a wonderful conversion from the touchline for good measure.
Urdapilleta slotted another left footed penalty in the 63rd minute to make the score 16-6 as Munster were being continuously frustrated with the manner in which they kept conceding turnover penalties on the deck, as numerous Munster players found themselves getting isolated with no support incoming.
Healy kicked another penalty in the 69th minute, in what was his final kick of the game, as Bandon’s Jack Crowley made his Champions Cup debut in the outhalf position, and he immediately gave a demonstration of his footwork with some Phil Bennett type stepping deep in his own 22.
South African import Jason Jenkins had made his debut off the bench earlier in the half and another young Corkonian also made his bow in the 72nd minute, as he came on at openside for fellow Corkman John Hodnett.
Castres ensured the last few minutes would be nervous ones when big number eight Kevin Kornath barrelled over from close range in the 77th minute and Urdapilleta’s protracted conversion left the gap at a mere six points but Munster hung on to secure the crucial victory.
Scorers for Munster: Healy (4 pens, 1 con), O’Donoghue (1 try) Scorers for Castres: Urdapilleta (2 pens, 1 con), Kornath (1 try) Munster: Campbell; Conway, Farrell, de Allende, Earls; Healy, Murray; Kilcoyne, Scannell, Ryan; Kleyn, Beirne; O’Mahony (capt.), Hodnett, O’Donoghue.
Subs: Wycherley, Barron and Knox for Kilcoyne, Scannell and Ryan (51), Jenkins for Kleyn (63), O’Sullivan, Casey and Crowley for O’Donoghue, Murray and Healy (68), Kendellen for Hodnett (72) Castres: Larregain; Guillemin, Combezou, Aguillon, Nakosi; Urdapilleta, Arata; De Benedittis, Ngauamo, Hounkpatin; Jacquet (capt.), Hannoyer; Champion De Crespigny, Meka, Kornath.
Subs: Humbert and Nostadt for Ngauamo and De Benedittis (40), Whetton and Kockott for Hannover and Arata (51), Zeghdar and Kafatolu for Nakosi and Champion De Crespigny (66), Le Brun for Guillemin (70) Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)