The referee had too much occasion to blow his whistle. Similar to the previous game the penalty count against Munster was high in the first half including a yellow card for Conor Murray in the 5th minute. Eleven penalties were conceded in total. I’ve heard a draw being described as “like kissing your sister” but it is better than a losing bonus point!
Munster nearly threw it away in the closing minutes of the game. A missed penalty kick and an off-target drop goal were all that saved them from an opening round defeat despite their early lead in the second half. Amongst the good elements were the tries and a particularly exciting line break by Ian Keatley who combined well with Andrew Conway to nearly score the winner for Munster while the defense put in stellar work especially the try saving tackles to deny Castres twice in quick succession around the hour mark.
With Murray in the bin, Castres had a lineout on the 5m line. A few minutes later they had one on the other side of the pitch in a similar position but Munster’s heroic ferocious defense kept them out. Miraculously Tommy O’Donnell came away with the ball and passed to Darren Sweetnam who surged forward before Niall Scannell took it on as Munster counter-attacked and got out of their own 22. Billy Holland was next to carry as Tyler Bleyendaal filled in at scrum half to kick the ball downfield.
Castres gathered the ball and took the opportunity to counterattack. Rory Scannell had to make a key tackle to keep the Munster line intact and a few phases later CJ Stander won a turnover when Kockott failed to release the ball. Munster were back on the attack until a pass was intercepted by Castres centre Robert Ebersohn who raced through to score under the posts from his own 10m line despite a great burst from Earls racing in from his own wing who just failed to get to him in time.
Conor Murray returned to action. Castres attempted a long range penalty to move further ahead but Urdapilleta miskicked it.
A penalty in the 27th minute won by Mark Flanagan on his first start provided Munster with a great attacking position through a lineout about 10m from the line. Peter secured the ball and the maul tried to find a chink this way and that before Murray charged forward. CJ nearly got to the line but the Castres scrumhalf gave away a penalty to prevent him scoring.
Peter secured the lineout again. This time CJ peeled around the corner. Killer charged for the line and nearly got there. Then CJ carried again and Stephen before Conor spun the ball into midfield where Rory and Simon were both available and it was Simon who took the pass and used his momentum to roll through the tackle to ground the ball over the line.
Niall Scannell was being treated for an injury when Castres broke through at the other end of the pitch. While Rory Scannell brought down the lock, the Castres support arrived to get the pass away to their full back Julien Dumora who scored. The successful conversion made in 14-7.
A penalty at 35′ was kicked to touch by Rory using his left boot to find a good position. The maul was repelled but Castres had infringed so another penalty was kicked to touch. Munster were inches from the line when Ebershohn was sent to the sinbin to the whistles and protests of the home support. Awarded a penalty in front of the posts Tyler kicked it to reduce the gap to 14-10.
Early in the second half a neat reverse pass from Tyler put Simon through a gap at pace but he was hauled down short of the line. However Castres had been offside in the subsequent phase and when Munster took a quick penalty they took everyone by surprise as Dave Kilcoyne barged over the line with CJ and Peter in support. I was scratching my head as the scoreboard awarded the points to Castres! The TV screens had been replaying the previous action so missed the live action also but had different angles to show in their replays.
Tyler converted the try and the scoreboard was corrected to 14-17 as Munster were ahead for the first time in the game.
Which team would finish stronger given the heat and the wind? It turned out to be Castres who had a good effort by Taylor Paris pushed into touch at 48 minutes. However the referee had indicated advantage when Murray had tackled a player when the ball was still in the scrum leading up to that break. Castres kicked that penalty to tie the game at 50 minutes.
Munster had a dominant period a few minutes later but lost momentum when Peter O’Mahony ran into his own player as Chris Farrell couldn’t get out of his way in time.
Approaching the hour mark Castres thought they had scored through Kockott but Keith Earls and Conor Murray had done enough to force him into touch. Just 2 minutes later #13 Taumoepeau crossed the line on the other wing but again had been forced into touch this time by Darren Sweetnam after a great break by their #8 Vaipulu.
Ian Keatley replaced Tyler and attempted a long range penalty to put Munster back into the lead at 66′ but his kick drifted wide. A few minutes later he made a great break after dummying a pass before linking up well with Andrew Conway and then taking it on again to bring play back into the Castres 5m line. However the defense held firm.
As the final minutes approached it was time for ice in the veins but instead Munster conceded a penalty which fell short of the posts and Munster cleared their lines to our relief. The TMO was called on to look at another potential penalty or yellow card conceded by Robin Copeland but he was adjudged to have knocked on the ball giving Castres the put in to a scrum as the clock went past 80.
For phase after phase the Castres pack took it on, sucking in defenders to set up the drop goal attempt only to watch it finally go wide and bring proceedings to an end.
Castres: J Dumora; T Paris, A Taumoepeau, R Ebersohn, D Smith (F Vialelle, 76); B Urdapilleta, R Kockott; A Tichit (M Lazar, 70), J Jenneker, D Kotze ((D Tussac, 73); L Jacquet (A Jelonch, 55), R Capo Ortega; Y Caballero, S Mafi, M Vaipulu (C Samson, 64).
Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam (A Conway, 66), C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal (I Keatley, 59), C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell (R Marshall, 56), S Archer (J Ryan, 56); M Flanagan (R Copeland ’64), B Holland; P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell (J O’Donoguhue, 70), CJ Stander.
Match stats from ESPN are here
Post match thoughts of Rassie: “In the last two or three minutes we definitely tried really hard to throw it away,” can be read here
The42.ie also has a summary including a paragraph on Rory Scannell who I had picked out as my Munster MOTM – he put in some key tackles during the game.
The train from Toulouse took about 70 minutes to reach Castres stopping often on the way. As we disembarked we met Joe and Dee and were chatting to them as we walked into the town centre. After a few minutes we realised that a band of the Red Army were following behind, trusting that Joe with his phone knew where he was headed which of course he did. We must have looked quite the sight to the locals out and about early on a Sunday morning!
There was a market in the main square, selling mainly antiques and one restaurant was open. I have heard of Irish supporters drinking a bar dry but the Red Army managed to eat that place out if its petit dejeuner or at least the yoghurt element of it!!
We had time to explore some of the sights, the Goya museum and gardens, and to take a photo of the interesting houses along by the banks of the river which featured in the Tripadvisor recommendations as we walked out to the Stade Pierre Fabre.
We arrived before the teams and sat in the sunshine chatting in broken French to Marie Ellen and Patric whose son was part of the guard of honour for the teams entering the pitch.
Denise and Judi met us there as did Miriam. The Castres team bus arrived first and they were greeted with chants of “Allez, ..” to the same tune as Ulster use for “Stand up for the Ulstermen” Their two mascots and the youngsters from the guard of honour welcomed them. The Munster bus arrived shortly afterwards.
As we waited to enter I noticed a stream of ladies in dark dresses walking over to the opposite stand where they could be seen putting out covers on the sears, presumably in the Corporate section. They reminded me of the Robert Palmer videos from the 80s!
When the gates opened security checked bags and tickets. I wonder what they made of the big cheese Judi had brought along for lunch.
The attendance for a first round European game was disappointing with plenty of empty seats but the drummers at either end and the swathes of the red army added colour to the occasion. I was glad to be on the shaded side as two hours in the unrelenting sun would have tested my factor 20 probably beyond it’s limit.
At half time two men in dark suits came out onto the pitch and I wondered if they were to sing to entertain us but instead their role was to escort the referee off the pitch. At full time three of them came out to do the same.
I went down to greet Marc and his Flemish friends who were in the front row below me. They had amused us as they hung their two flags from the railing (and then realised they had blocked their view so retied them this time to hang below the glass. Regular readers may recall reading of my meeting Marc at the Racing game last January and he confirmed that they were booked to return to Thomond for their annual visit when Castres come for the return leg in round 6.
After the game, one of the stewards was looking for a Munster flag so I donated mine for her collection before heading back into town. There were more places open by that hour, locals and supporters sitting outside in the sunshine. Thoughts began to turn to Storm Ophelia, approaching Ireland and the impact on our return logistics. The following afternoon at Toulouse airport some people already knew that their connecting flight was cancelled but mine was the later 7pm departure so there was a possibility it would go ahead. However by the time we landed it had been cancelled also. Other people had to stay on longer in France or had to re-plan connections through Amsterdam or Madrid. It looks like another storm could impact the game next weekend and a big disciplined performance will be required to keep our European aspirations on track!