Munster produced another little bit of magic with a dramatic late finish to end this season’s ambitions for three-times champions Toulon.
European Champions Cup Quarter Final
Munster 20 Toulon R.C. 19
Despite being under the cosh for lengthy periods Munster’s sheer grit and determination saw them through to victory courtesy of a sensational try by Andrew Conway.
A full house of 26,256 supporters in Thomond Park got behind their team to make it 71 out of 76 home wins in this prestigious tournament.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony attacks the Toulon lines.
Nerves were frayed as the Red Army awaited the return of a Toulon side that just the previous week had torn apart their rivals Clermont Auvergne by 49-0 in the French Top 14.
After the final whistle had blown Munster supporters were desperately scrambling to find flights and accommodation for an exciting semi-final contest against Racing 92 to be held in Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas on Sunday 22nd April at 3.15pm.
Munster put their bodies on the line throughout with some immense tackling, no more so than in the opening 20 minutes when they withstood an intense period of pressure.
The visitors were denied a score after just 40 seconds when Simon Zebo palmed the ball backwards from Chris Ashton when the English winger looked certain to score. The TMO was called into action for the first time and Zebo’s intervention was given the all-clear.
Despite Toulon’s early dominance, the French side had little to show for their efforts apart from Anthony Belleau’s penalty and drop-goal to give them a 6-0 lead by the 19th minute.
The home team suffered a blow when the injured Zebo was replaced by Darren Sweetnam in the 25th minute. The player couldn’t disguise his disappointment at having to leave early despite the rousing cheers from the home support.
Munster raced upfield forcing Toulon to defend the ball on their own line. Guihem Guirado looked to be in control at the base of the ruck until, somehow, he managed to knock the ball on.
Conor Murray with one of the most audacious tries you will ever see
Conor Murray spotted the error and began gesticulating towards the referee while at the same time stepping forward to dot the ball down for one of the most audacious tries you will ever see.
If the first half took 56 minutes to complete, it was mainly because the TMO took so long agonising over the legality of Murray’s cheeky score. Finally, the decision came through and Ian Keatley added the conversion, Munster led by 7-6.
The home side extended their lead when Sweetnam was tackled late by Semi Radradra and Keatley made no mistake with his penalty to give Munster a half-time lead of 10-6.
Munster returned after the break with a spring in their step. They extended their lead to 13-6 after 55 minutes when the replacement front row of Niall Scannell, James Cronin and John Ryan won a scrum penalty which was celebrated with aplomb.
Jack O’Donoghue makes a great carry through the middle of the field as he steps away from Ma’a Nonu’s challenge.
Jack O’Donoghue was replaced by Robin Copeland in the 58th minute after a terrific game, his brilliant run through the centre, skipping over Ma’a Nonu’s tackle, almost brought the roof down on the stadium.
By this sta,ge Toulon had replaced their only scorer Anthony Belleau with Francois Trinh-Duc at fly-half while Nonu had also given way to his fellow All Black Malakai Fekitoa.
Trinh-Duc soon made his mark with a penalty to cut the deficit to four. Four minutes later Munster were hit with a sucker-punch when the outhalf passed to Bastereaud who sent Ashton clear to sprint for the line.
Referee Owens did not summon the TMO on this occasion even though there were suspicions of a forward pass which set the crowd booing loudly.
Trinh-Duc’s conversion gave the visitors a 16-13 lead and he added a penalty after a Munster infringement. The atmosphere suddenly chilled as Munster needed to retrieve the 6-point deficit.
Andrew Conway tackles Toulon’s All-Black midfielder Malakai Fekitoa.
To their credit, Munster regrouped and went in search of a winning score with just 12 minutes remaining.
Toulon were in possession deep in their own half when Trinh-Duc kicked for touch. Somehow Andrew Conway performed a feat of acrobatics to keep the ball in play before setting off on a mazy run through the defence to find touch under the posts and send the Red Army into a frenzy.
Keatley’s conversion put Munster in front by the minimum, 20-19, with five minutes remaining but they defended stoutly to claim another famous victory.
After the game, Munster head coach Johan van Graan commented, “It’s a fantastic honour to coach a group of players like that.”
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo; 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Sam Arnold, 12. Rory Scannell, 11. Alex Wootton; 10. Ian Keatley, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Rhys Marshall, 3. Stephen Archer, 4. Jean Kleyn, 5. Billy Holland, 6. Peter O’Mahony, 7. Jack O’Donoghue, 8. CJ Stander. Replacements: 16. Niall Scannell, 17. James Cronin, 18. John Ryan, 19. Gerbrandt Grobler, 20. Robin Copeland, 21. James Hart, 22. JJ Hanrahan, 23. Darren Sweetnam￼
RC Toulon: 15. Chris Ashton; 14. Josua Tuisova, 13. Mathieu Bastareaud, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 11. Semi Radradra; 10. Anthony Belleau, 9. Eric Escande; 1. Florian Fresia, 2. Guilhem Guirado, 3. Marcel Van Der Merwe, 4. Juandre Kruger, 5. Dave Attwood, 6. Raphael Lakafia, 7. Facundo Isa, 8. Duane Vermeulen. Replacements: 16. Anthony Etrillard, 17. Xavier Chiocci, 18. Emerick Setiano, 19. Romain Taofifenua, 20. Francois Trinh-Duc, 21. Malakai Fekitoa, 22. Alby Mathewson, 23. Samu Manoa
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).