“The scoreline is flattering but we’re delighted to be in the semi-finals again,” Munster’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is nothing if not under-stated. For the first time in eleven years he has led a Munster team back to the the penultimate stage in search of European rugby’s holy grail.
European Champions Cup Quarter Final
Munster 41 Toulouse 16
Twice winners of this prestigious trophy, Munster have now qualified for their 12th tournament semi-final and will take on the might of Saracens on Saturday 22nd April in the Aviva Stadium. Having been inspired by Anthony Foley in life and death, this team have shown they have the skills and the determination to go all the way.
No doubt Tyler Bleyendaal will be looking forward to a showdown with Owen Farrell to emerge as top scorer in this year’s Champions Cup. Farrell is presetly on 97 points while the Kiwi has 94 to his credit, 21 of these earned in a tough contest at home to one of the giants of French and European rugby.
Inspirational scrum half Conor Murray was ruled out of the side just before kick-off. Murray was the picture of calm as he strolled around the park during the warm-up. He had nothing to worry about of course as his replacement, Duncan Williams, went on to have one of his best ever games in the famous red jersey.
Thomond Park was filled to capacity with 26,200 in attendance, many had queued up long before the turnstiles opened at 2.30 for the 5.45pm kick-off. While there were welcome pockets of Toulouse supporters dotted around the ground, the Red Army were in full voice, playing a full part as 16th man to urge their team to victory. T
he game was less than two minutes old when François Cros caught Williams high with an elbow causing English referee JP Doyle to reach for a yellow card. The resultant penalty took Munster deep into their opponent’s half for a 5m lineout. Following several phases and solid work by Dave Kilcoyne, eventually John Ryan got his hands on the ball and dived past Toulouse captain Thierry Dusatoir on the line for the game’s first try. Tyler Bleyendaal easily converted to give Munster a 7-0 lead.
Munster were awarded a penalty when they mauled through the Toulouse defence, Bleyendaal took full advantage to make it 10-0. Soon after the visitors had their first scoring chance from a penalty but Florian Fritz was wide of the mark. Another penalty followed, this time Jean-Marc Doussain made no mistake to reduce the deficit 10-3. A high tackle by Joe Tekori on Dave Kilcoyne gave Bleyendaal the chance to make it 13-3 with26 minutes gone.
After half an hour Jaco Taute was penalised and Doussain narrowed the gap to 13-6. Just before the break Tyler Bleyendaal made it across the whitewash but his effort was disallowed for an earlier knock-on. Munster piled on the pressure and when the ball was played back to Sebastien Bezy from the scrum, Duncan Williams launched himself at it and was unlucky not to make the touchdown before it went out of play. Toulouse added another penalty before the break leaving just 4pts between the sides on 13-9.
An early second half penalty by Bleyendaal from inside his own half restored Munster’s seven point advantage. Five minutes later CJ Stander dived across the line and Tyler’s conversion stretched the lead to 21-9. Munster captain Peter O’Mahony was called ashore with two dead legs and replaced by Dave O’Callaghan before Munster added another penalty in the 52nd minute. Two minutes later Paul Perez received what everyone, barring the match officials, thought was a forward pass to score in the corner. Doussain converted and it looked like Toulouse were back in the game, however it turned out to be their final score.
Bleyendaal’s 74th minute penalty eased frayed nerves before Jaco Taute turned over the ball with a great tackle, Darren Sweetnam kicked it before touching down his first European try. Bleyendaal converted. Munster’s last try came from a scrum with Rory Scannell carrying towards the 5m line. Francis Saili picked up and found Bleyendaal with a sweet pass and he in turn offloaded to Andrew Conway to score in the corner.
After the game Rassie Erasmus commented, “They were a threat for the entire game, little chips behind and hard yards up front. But credit to the lads who made the hits. It was a brilliant defensive effort.”