IT was ugly, wet, miserably cold and messy, but any win on French soil is a bloody great one!
I don’t think anyone expected brilliance from this Munster side but they showed that the never-say-die spirt is still burning strong within their ranks. At this point in Munster’s history, all-out effort is all we can ask for.
For long periods of this game, I thought we were watching a game of modified tennis with a rugby ball because of the amount of kicking both sides were reverting to in order to gain territorial advantage. Credit where credit is due, and it looks like the message that everyone has been screaming at Johann van Graan is starting to get through.
It is a message that he has realised four years too late, but if he can leave a solid foundation behind when he departs for Bath, at least he will have paved the way for the incoming gaffer.
As this game clearly revealed, in order to win matches in European competition, you must be able to score tries. Kicking penalties and keeping the scoreboard ticking over is always important, but unless you are capable of finding ways to cross the opposition try-line you will always be teetering on the edge between failure and success.
I don’t think I can recall a game this or last season where we saw a Munster backline shift the ball from one side of the pitch to the other in anything less than four passes but here, Munster managed to achieve this on at least three occasions and it proved that if allowed, the Reds can play an expansive and exciting brand.
Late on when inspiration was needed, it took the bravery of substitution John Hodnett to explode out of Munster’s 22 and give his fellow players a favourable footing in order to win this at the death.
Commanded by a young, cool, and collected Jack Crowley it looked as if the Munster backline were operating from a completely new blueprint and that they do have the skill set to seek holes and offload the ball before, during or after the contact zone. We even saw the forwards looking to make risky passes in order to keep the ball alive and while there were loads of unforced errors, at least the intent was there.
Castres were short a lot of key players os may not bode well for the knockout stages that Munster just managed to beat an amalgamation of Castre’s substitutions and backups but French clubs always have dept.
Considering their current very good run in their Top 14 league, we might have expected that the French would look to rest their top players and give their second string a bite of the cherry, but until the team was announced you just could not be sure.
On Monday morning Munster will sit in their video analysis room and go through each and every minute of this game. They will realise that if they were more clinical in their opponent's 22, they possibly could have stolen a four-try bonus point victory, but credit must also go to the French and how they snatched possession from Munster’s line-out on three crucial occasions allowed them to remain a constant scourge.
Having won all three of their games thus far in their group B pool, Munster are assured of their birth in the knockout stages of the competition, but with Covid having the ability to throw everything into disarray, van Graan and his coaching ticket must not rest on their laurels and look to keep on improving in every game they play.
Next Sunday, in Thomond Park, Munster face a Wasps side that mathematically have no hope of qualifying and I will be disgusted if the team that is selected isn’t riddled with members of the next generation.
When asked to stand front and centre every single player under the age of 24 has more than successfully worn the Munster jersey with distinction and must now be rewarded for their efforts.
Last week it was Alex Kendellen (20) who scored the winning try against Ulster, this week it was Gavin Coombes (24) who dotted down after Hodnett (23) made his break. This all happened when Craig Casey (22) replaced Conor Murray on the 60th minute.
Just like last week’s victory against Ulster, this was a game that Munster could have easily lost, but they somehow found a way and when you are deprived of a worthy game plan for four years, you can only put this down to the resilience of the players.
We live in hope!