Not for the first time Munster produced a famous victory against all the odds as a last minute try from substitute JJ Hanrahan secured an 18-17 Heineken Cup win in Perpignan on Saturday.
The French side got their noses in front with a Tommaso Benvenuti try in the 77th minute, a score that appeared to inflict a knock-out blow to Munster’s hopes of an away win.
But history suggests the Reds never give up until the final whistle in European competition, and by the time that final whistle blew a spectacular Hanrahan score had secured an unlikely win for the visitors.
He crossed the line in the last move of an intriguing match as the two-time Heineken Cup winners celebrated the win that puts them in command of Pool 6 in Europe.
Captain Peter O’Mahony admitted afterwards, “We knew how hard it was going to be coming away to France. Any game over here is tough, especially in a cauldron like this.
“We knew it would take something special to get a win and as it happened it was a special performance from a team that wasn’t playing particularly well.
“But the sign of a good team and a team that is progressing is to get a win like that out in France. It is certainly going to be up there in many books.
“We wanted to win more than anything. We expected a fight and we got it all right -- it was bruising and there will be plenty of sore bodies tomorrow.
“We spoke about that and we said it would pay off. We said that if we went to a dark place, and we hurt ourselves, we were going to be in a good place. And that’s where we are -- we are in a good place.
“We have two to go but this has put us in a good position. We will enjoy this over Christmas.”
Gloucester and Edinburgh are next up for Munster in January, but the Irish province is in control of its own destiny after another commanding performance from their pack.
O’Mahony added, “We have some great game-breakers and with a team like this you can never give up. We trusted our scrum. We know it is good. We had to show some bottle there and credit to the front row, the front five and the whole pack.”
The result could have been so different if Tommy Allen had converted that late Benvenuti try for the home side.
Munster coach Rob Penney admitted, “They ripped us up down the outside, we made a couple of little defensive errors and there were a few forward passes that didn’t get picked up on and that would have been a disappointing finish for us.
“It was a pretty average performance by us but courageous always courageous, I’m so proud of this young group to come away from a set piece where we got a poor launch from a few dropped balls.
“All of a sudden we got some structure back and it was beautiful to watch, it’s another layer of a special Munster moment which is just wonderful for this group.”
After losing away to Edinburgh in their opening game, Munster are now the pacesetters in Pool 6.
Penney added, “It’s a great place to be, we were criticized after Edinburgh and the boys took a lashing but they have now bounced back with three credible wins and we still have so much left in the tank.”
Leinster Flops in Rematch
LEINSTER were brought crashing back down to earth as Northampton upset the form book and the home fans with a smash and grab 18-9 win in Pool One of the Heineken Cup at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night.
A week after running up 40 points in a big win over the same opposition in England, Matt O’Connor’s team were caught on the hop by the Saints as tries from George North and Jamie Elliott, after a last minute error by Jamie Heaslip, proved decisive.
Desperate to win and keep their own European hopes alive, Northampton led 7-3 at halftime against the misfiring Blues and sealed the deal that leaves Leinster’s hopes of a home quarterfinal draw dependent on their two remaining pool games.
O’Connor admitted afterwards, “We’ve got two really tough games now, one against Castres away and then we’ve got Ospreys at home. You’ve got to win those two games.
“They were games that we would have looked at at the start of the group and would have said we wanted and had to win those. It hasn’t changed dramatically. We just have to make sure we are at the very top end of our game whenever we play.
“Now we just need to win the next two. If you don’t, you’re in the lap of the Gods. We need to make sure we get results against Castres away and Ospreys at home.”
Leinster number 10 Ian Madigan agreed with his coach that all is not lost in terms of progression to the last eight and is adamant his side can still top the pool table.
Madigan said, “We are four points clear of Northampton and five points clear of Castres so we are still in control of the group. It is disappointing that we lost though, especially at home.
“In the Heineken Cup you want to end up as number one seeds and get the eighth team especially as you know that’s the easiest but unfortunately we gave that up. But the target is still a home quarterfinal and that’s attainable.”
Easy Win for Toulouse
CONNACHT’S fairytale Heineken Cup win over Toulouse in France was reversed in Galway on Saturday as the visitors recorded a 37-9 win at the Showgrounds.
The westerners’ dressing room was hit by a flu bug in the lead-up to the game, and coach Pat Lam was adamant his team deserved praise afterwards.
He said, “No doubt Toulouse are a good side, but I am so proud of my team. Their heart was probably more than last weekend after the week they have had.
“We had Kieran Marmion on a drip 48 hours ago in hospital and then Frank Murphy going down, so then we put Paul O’Donoghue back and then he went down too, so we had no half-back.
“We had to see how far Kieran could go. To get 80 minutes from Kieran after that was unbelievable.
Dave McSharry we only saw today and he was unbelievable. Right throughout the team the heart was unbelievable.
“Today we’re disappointed we lost that and we gave away points that left us chasing the game against a pretty massive team.
“I am an extremely proud coach. Even with two minutes to go the crowd kept the boys going and they kept trying, so what I asked was for them to do was front up heart-wise and commitment-wise, and it was even better than last week.”
Meanwhile, Ulster remain in control of their own destiny in Pool 5 of the Heineken Cup after a 35-3 bonus point win over Treviso in Italy.
Director of rugby David Humphreys said after the win, “When we mapped out the season we said we wanted to be top of the table in the Heineken Cup at the end of round four and we are sitting well at the moment.”
RUGBY: London Irish coach Brian Smith has been promised significant funds to strengthen his squad next season after the takeover of the club by a consortium of businessmen in the English capital. Smith has already agreed a deal to sign Ulster prop Tom Court in the summer . . .
CRICKET: Trent Johnson has been appointed coach to the Ireland ladies team just days after retiring from the men’s side following their Intercontinental Cup final win over Afghanistan . . .
RUGBY: Prop Cian Healy is a doubt for Ireland’s Six Nations campaign after surgery on an ankle injury that will keep him out of action for the rest of the Heineken Cup pool games . . .
SWIMMING: Ireland’s Barry Murphy won a bronze medal in the 50 meter breaststroke at the European Short Course championships in Denmark on Saturday . . .
RACING: Willie Mullins broke his own record for the fastest century of winners by a trainer in an Irish jumps season with a treble at Fairyhouse on Saturday . . .
RUGBY: Anthony Foley and Neil Doak will take charge of the Irish Wolfhounds for their Six Nations campaign after Christmas . . .
RUGBY: Young Leinster prop Martin Moore is ready to commit his future to a long term contract with the Irish province . . .
RUGBY: Donnacha Ryan has signed a three-year contract extension with Munster.