Castres 13 Munster 16
SKIBBEREEN'S Gavin Coombes scored a 79th minute try to give Munster a famous away win in the Heineken Champions Cup at the daunting Stade Pierre Fabre in Castres on Friday night.
Champions Cup debutant Jack Crowley got off to a solid start in this competition when he slotted an 11th-minute penalty from 40m after Castres had gone off their feet after a carry up the middle from the young out-half.
Munster then lost hooker Niall Scannell to a shoulder injury in the 18th minute, meaning young Tipperary native Diarmuid Barron was called upon earlier than expected, but the elder members of the pack were leading by example at this stage, with captain Peter O’Mahony busy stealing lineouts and disrupting mauls in the opening quarter.
Castres did eventually get territory deep in the Munster 22 and they took full advantage as, after a number of phases near the Munster line, a wonderful chip through by Ben Botica sat up invitingly in the Munster in-goal area and full-back Thomas Larregain won the race against Keith Earls to touch down in the 27th minute for the opening try of the game.
Munster had the better of the possession and territory stats for the remainder of the half but they were unable to make it count on the scoreboard, with the hosts running into the dressing room with their chests out and the home crowd in full voice, as they led 3-7 at the half time break.
Munster came out in the second half showing real intent, as half-backs Conor Murray and Crowley were combining well to put real pace on the Munster ball, and they duly won a penalty straight in front of the Castres posts in the 47th minute which Crowley slotted to make it a one-point game.
Munster marched straight back up the pitch thanks mainly to an excellent carry from Chris Farrell out wide on the right, and with Crowley heavily involved in dictating play and the Bandon No. 10 got a chance to nail an almost identical kick to the one he had just landed, and he made no mistake, as Munster took a 7-9 lead in the 50th minute.
A Crowley handling error gave Castres territory and possession soon after, and they milked a penalty from the resultant scrum, and Botica just managed to squeeze inside the right-hand post to immediately restore Castres’ lead.
Poor discipline from Mike Haley then gifted Castres another kicking opportunity, as he swung home scrum-half Rory Kockott to the turf after a Castres scrum had been awarded and Botica took the gift to stretch the lead to 13-9 in the 63rd minute.
The game had become a giant game of kick tennis at this point with chances few and far between. Replacement back-row John Hodnett made a superb break in the 69th minute to give Munster a superb field position, but they turned down the chance of three points to go down the line but were not able to win the subsequent lineout and Castres were able to clear their lines.
Munster can be commended for the way in which they approached the game, but ultimately they were undone by a series of individual errors that stifled their attacking ambitions.
In the 77th minute, a wonderful dink from Crowley was gathered brilliantly by Farrell, but his offload to Craig Casey went to the deck.
It did not matter, however, as Munster’s magnificent number eight Gavin Coombes latched onto a loose ball at the back of a Munster maul deep in the Castres 22 in the 79th minute and the Castres defence had no chance of stopping him from dotting down for the winning try.