Time will tell what the losing bonus point secured in France is worth in the grand scheme of the competition but this game definitely restored pride in the jersey. Providing yet another display of the never say die character of this team we love to support, they came to a true stronghold of French rugby and they held Clermont to just 4 points in the pool table when it looked like they would get 5, while securing a losing bonus point with the last kick of the game. If only they had not conceded a try just before halftime or had had to survive a sinbinning early in the second half it could have been even better…
We arrived at the stadium after 3 and after finding Brian (see tale of 2 tickets below) wandered around to soak up the atmosphere. The band was in full flow and when a Munster man sang “Stand Up and Fight” the drum accompanied him and the yellow army happily clapped along.
People were taking in the photo opportunity by the Yellow Army/Red Army banner, the yellow army vehicle or the Failte sign. There was plenty of colour and everyone was in good spirits. It was a relatively mild day, the recent strong winds had abated. I recognised Ger in the Christmas hat he was presented with last weekend and spotted Audrey in her santa hat which lit up. I had to tease her about her update on the forum about bringing the wrong red lipstick!
Our seats were near the 22m line, up in row 30 towards the back of the upper stand. The view over the opposite stand of the old volcano and the Cathedral was impressive. We could see the full pitch except the sideline nearest us and had a good view of the big screen. A few players were warming up including Pat Howard who had travelled as cover. There was an empty seat between us and a group of Munster folks so when a Frenchman came to take it but was also (we thought) indicating that I was in his usual seat we were happy to move over one. Beside each seat was the folded paper used to raise the noise levels which was multi-functional – show the blue side to welcome the team, turn to the yellow side to indicate that a player should be sent off as we saw when the TMO was reviewing a late tackle by Felix Jones.
I was impressed by the way the team announcer dramatically called out the first name –Mor-gan for example and the supporters would shout out the surname (Parra). Very simple but effective. It was the same when he was announcing who had scored for Clermont. You could see pockets of red throughout the stadium which filled up quickly. Only 1 person on our row went out during each half for refreshment, the rest of us were glued to the action, and there was plenty.
Munster got off to a good start with two early penalties (both converted by Ian Keatley, the first from inside his own half) and made several good turnovers. The silence for his first kick in particular was very impressive (and surprising.) Munster were also kicking/chasing more effectively and making line breaks. The first scrum even won Munster a penalty (credit to John Ryan on his first European start!) and Clermont were the team under pressure.
The Clermont supporters around us were in good spirits although they disagreed with some of Nigel Owens decisions. I had to laugh when Ian sitting beside us took off his glasses and offered them to a Clermont fan behind him to watch the replay and see what had happened! They were calling for a yellow card when Felix Jones stood his ground and their player (14) ran into him, to no avail. A kick through by JJ Hanrahan making his first European Cup start rebounded off a Clermont player but Tommy O’Donnell was there to clean up. Earlier JJ had almost made it to the line to score the opening try. The Clermont analysts would not have had too much footage of his dancing feet to study after he was named in the team on Friday.
Clermont then showed their class with Chouly touching down after great work by Rougerie, Fofana, Cudmore, Kayser, Lee and probably a few more. The conversion was missed so the score was 5-6. A penalty conceded for not rolling away finally gave them the lead 8-6.
Paul O’Connell was the main target for restarts. Every time he was knocked back the Clermont fans gave an extra loud cheer as they know how important he is to Munster. It made a change from his last game against them in Montpellier (May 2012) when his every touch was greeted with boos like the villian in a pantomime!
The game remained finely balanced entering the final minutes of the first half. Parra missed a penalty kick but from the restart Clermont were on the attack. Rougerie again made the initial break and got deep into Munster territory but the defence scrambled and got the ball back, only to kick it away for Clermont to take a quick lineout and attack down the far wing where they found space, Nakaitaci scoring and the conversion made it 15-6 at the break.
It was interesting to see Munster line up along the sideline after half time and do some warm up exercises before the restart, I had never seen that before. It seemed to work too as they won an early penalty which Ian again converted to reduce the gap to 15-9. However a yellow card for Felix Jones on 44′ put them back under pressure. Munster played wisely during that time, slowing down the game, putting Tommy O’Donnell out of the scrum to defend the wing, holding on to the ball and making Clermont play it in their own half with the result (aided by another missed penalty) of only conceding 3 points in that period.
Clermont did get a further 3 points in the 58′ when Munster were penalised for holding on and came so close to scoring their third try almost immediately after but knocked on with the line at their mercy. The huge physicality and pace of the game was taking its toll on both teams. An arm thrown around O’Connell’s neck in the maul earned Munster another penalty and a chance to get out of their own half. However Clermont began to find the scrum a source of penalties. There was series of scrums / resets at the 70′ mark and as the crowd got behind their team, the drumming and synchronised clapping reminded me of the war drums from old cowboy movies. You can hear it on the tv footage but it was so much louder in the stadium than the cameras can convey. An amazing atmosphere!
It was a scrum penalty that delivered the third try when off the resultant lineout Clermont through Fofana pulled Munster across the field before Lopez launched a cross field kick which Chouly gathered to score in the other corner! Again it was not converted but the scoreline of 26-9 looked ominous and Clermont were in sight of a bonus point win. However Munster were not ready to throw in the towel. Stephen Archer replaced BJ Botha but it was his front row colleague Duncan Casey who made the crucial intercept and scored a try dragging Brock James over the line with him! Keatley converted and it was then Munster’s turn to go looking for a bonus point, albeit a losing one!
A high tackle on Felix Jones got Munster back into the Clermont half to launch their attack but the ball was knocked on. Andrew Smith was injured and Denis Hurley came on with less than 30s on the clock. From the scrum it was Brock James’s turn to knock on. The scrum which had been Clermont’s strength this time yielded a free kick for Munster who tapped and went.. You can hear someone shout “off his feet ref” and Nigel Owens agreed. So it came down once again to Keatley with the final kick of the game as it had in Sale. Jerry Flannery came on with the kicking tee and tried to flatten down some of the pitch in that area which had been cut up during the game. Ian’s kicking had been impeccable up to that point but there was so much at stake. A few Clermont fans tried to distract him, to the disgust of my neighbour who tut-tutted. It did not matter, he kicked the points and the game was over. Handshakes and kisses were exchanged with our French neighbours.
Munster: F Jones; A Conway, A Smith (D Hurley 80), JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo (J Murphy 75); I Keatley, C Murray; J Ryan, D Casey, BJ Botha (S Archer 75); D Foley, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony (captain), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander (R Copeland 23-30; 61).
Clermont Auvergne: N Abendanon; N Nakaitaci, A Rougerie (B Stanley 59), W Fofana, Z Guildford; C Lopez (B James 75) , M Parra (L Radoslavjevic 64); T Domingo (R Chaume 59), B Kayser (J Ulugia 75), D Zirakashvili (C Ric 69), J Cudmore (J Pierre 75), S Vahaamahina; D Chouly (capt), A Lapandry, F Lee.
Official highlights: http://www.epcrugby.com/matchdaytv/?play=media&id=19832
I was disappointed to miss the parade from the square to the stadium but this gives you a flavour of the colour and atmosphere: http://www.info-mag-annonce.com/journal/blog/blogjournal/du-jaune-du-bleu-et-un-peu-de-rouge/
So it will come down to the January games and especially the away game against Saracens in a fight for second place in the pool. Glasgow losing at home to Toulouse may help our qualification hopes and we may have some more options with players like Keith Earls expected to be available for selection by then. In the meantime it is a difficult turn around for the players having to travel to Glasgow for a key Pro12 game on Saturday.
It was lovely to meet Charlie in the airport departure lounge, who when asked by his friend if he knew of the west terrace view replied how he looks forward to reading it weekly! I also enjoyed a chat with the father and son from Galway originally met after the Saracens game 2 years ago. Aideen is a more recent reader, she discovered the blog after the Sale game and recalled my mention of the smell there which she had also experienced – not the type of detail you find in the mainstream publications! So if you enjoyed the blog please share it as it is only your recommendation that will help me increase readership, thanks.
A tale of 2 tickets
It all started on Wednesday night when I received an email from John. He knew I was travelling to Clermont and wondered if I could bring over 2 tickets as his brother’s friend was unable to travel and John had arranged a buyer with MRSC London for them.
It sounded straight forward, Eamon met me at work on Thursday and handed over the 2 tickets. Jerry was in touch from London and would meet me at the train station in Lyon to collect them on the Saturday as I was not travelling to Clermont till the Sunday. I sent him a text proposing to meet at Starbucks but he did not answer. All became clear when later Saturday morning I got a text from his son John, advising that Jerry had taken ill and was unable to travel. John still needed 1 ticket, so I advertised that I had a ticket available on twitter and got plenty of retweets. Hilary responded that she had met Peter in Clermont looking for a ticket so she gave me his phone number. Peter responded quickly to my text and agreed to meet at the train station after 2pm. However, the next morning he texted to say he had secured a ticket but if I did not find a person for the ticket he had said he would take that he would pay me for it which I thought was very decent of him. Just after we got on the train he sent another text to let me know that he had met Mick who was looking for a ticket and gave me his number.
Mick replied to my text confirming that he was looking for 1 or preferably 2 so it seemed I had a buyer. But Mick subsequently met someone who had 2 tickets for him so he was off the list. Fair play though, within an hour, Mick (who did offer to buy me a cognac to make up) put me in touch with Brian who needed a ticket. I was still on the train and the signal kept dropping but he wanted the ticket. He could not get to the station to meet the train so we agreed to meet near the stadium. The ticket conductor came along and recognising my allegiance from my jersey he said “Munster” and smiled knowingly as he pointed to the ASM pin on his lapel.
As we approached Clermont, John (son of Jerry) texted to let me know he was at the station waiting in a red jersey and beret. It was very easy to find him outside where I handed over the 1st ticket and put in a plug for my blog :-).
After dropping off our bags at the hotel we headed to the stadium wondering how easy it would be to find Brian in a sea of red and yellow jerseys. He called to say he was outside Brasserie Caramel opposite the stadium so I wandered down the road checking out the names of the various establishments, all of which had a good collection of red jerseys outside! As I approached the cross-road I saw that brasserie so I rang Brian who saw me and waved over. It then turned a little surreal as he was in a group with Geraldine who I regularly meet after games in the MRSC bar! When they told me that the ticket was for Gerry not Brian my head was spinning a little – after all the names that had been associated with that ticket over the previous 24 hours it had changed from one Jerry to another! I was impressed by the great camaraderie as people helped each other out securing tickets and sharing contact details. Where would we be without mobile phones!
All I want for Christmas:
We spent 2 nights in Lyon and in my Lyon blog you can see some photos of that beautiful city. Next time (inevitably?) I will spend more time exploring Clermont.