THE scoreboard told us Munster lost but in a way, this was a victory for the visitors.
As a contest, this final round in the pool stages of the Heineken Champions Cup between Toulouse and Munster was brutal and uncompromising.
From the first shrill of the referee's whistle right up to the last kick of the ball it typified the kind of fitness, strength and bravery levels that the modern game demands. The players will need as serious amount of rehabilitation time on the physio table as they prepare their bodies for the next battering.
For the opening half an hour, it looked as if the French behemoths were going to batter Munster into an early submission as they launched one gigantic ball carrier after the next directly down the throats of Munster’s defensive front line. Clearly, the five-time champions had a very straightforward game plan, but Munster also knew exactly what was coming because their first up tackling was nothing but of the highest calibre.
Eventually, the endeavours of Peter O’Mahony and his fellow players cracked and Juan Cruz Mallia managed to blast his way past Shane Daly and dive over in the corner to extend their lead to eight points after an earlier successful penalty attempt.
Apart from one or two moments of generosity from the hosts Munster were completely deprived of any possession and were it not for their bravery and defensive tactfulness, the game would have been a foregone conclusion.
The professional game is a very ruthless beast and I feel it is imperative to mention Joey Carbery at this time.
He then got selected as fly-half for Munster ahead of the player who replaced him on the Irish squad, Jack Crowley, and missed two bread-and-butter conversions here. Unfortunately, the four points left behind became the difference between the two sides. A tough break.
Carbery was never good enough to be Johnny Sexton's long-term replacement and now that it is more or less confirmed; I really hope that those who employ the man look after him and treat him as a human being rather than just another piece of meat that has outlived his usefulness as a rugby player. The most important thing for Carbery now is that he gets back on the horse immediately, fights for his jersey and starts playing with a smile on his face.
At the tender age of 27, he may find it hard to see beyond the next seven days. However, life is just too short for him to worry about kicking a ball between the posts. I guess this may be easier said than done but all we can do is hope that his mentors are strong enough to look after him.
Amazingly Munster entered the halftime dressing room leading by 11-8 after making the most of a 10-minute purple patch that led to a successful penalty from Carberry and a hard-fought try by John Hodnett who burrowed under a tackle by French international Richie Arnold to score.
The possession stats were a bit more even in the second half, but as soon as Carbery’s replacement Ben Healy was sin-binned, the hill that Munster had to climb became unscalable and their position in their pool was sealed.
Apart from a magnificent never-say-die attitude from this Munster side there were some other meaningful positives to take from this game and none more important than the contribution from Malakai Fekitoa who replaced Mike Haley.
Fekitoa finally seems to have immerged from his shell and made some magnificent line breaks by using his strength and power to smash his way in and over the gain line on numerous occasions.
And so it is, Munster find themselves heading south to South Africa to play against the Cell C Sharks at the start of April in a one-off winner-takes-all game. This will of course be after the Six Nations and only the man above knows what condition the players will be in after that.
Well done Munster. The journey back to the summit seems to be well and truly heading in the correct direction.