Munster 20 Toulon 19
They have done it so often in the past where the odds were firmly stacked against them. So we shouldn’t have doubted them, ever! Yet again, Munster produced a performance to beat a fancied French side, the multi-millionaires of Toulon, and qualified for a record 13th Champions Cup semi-final where they will travel to France to play either Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92.
In a game where the visitors dominated field and possession in the opening quarter, and found themselves 6-0 ahead early on, Munster kept fighting despite spending the early stages of the games defending, and defending fiercely.
This quarter-final was going Toulon’s way until a magical 74th minute individual try from Munster’s Andrew Conway. The Dublin-born player, who started the game on the wing but moved to fullback when Simon Zebo left the field through injury, crossed for an outrageously brilliant score.
Munster needed a converted try with only a few minutes on the clock so Conway decided he was going for the line, no matter what. Instead of taking the easier option and going along the touchline, he zig-zagged and jinked through the Toulon players and ensured he touched down to make the conversion attempt which followed easier for Ian Keatley.
The crowd went delirious, and then hushed to show the Munster kicker the respect and quiet he required to send his side one point ahead and into the Champions Cup semi-finals next month.
The French side had opened the scoring through a 9th minute Anthony Belleau penalty kick awarded when Munster failed to roll away. Belleau, a late change on the Toulon side at the beginning of this quarter-final, scored a drop goal in the 18th minute to stretch his side’s lead at a time when they were dominating just about every facet of the game.
The latter stages of the opening 40 minutes swung totally in Munster’s favour, against the run of play it has to be said. The experience and never say die attitude of Conor Murray came to the fore as he pressurised the Toulon half-backs and then touched down for a brilliant opportunist’s try.
Welsh referee Nigel Owens checked the legality of the score with his TMO and following much deliberation between the officials, the Limerick man was adjudged to have been onside and the try was awarded, a score that made up for a first half where Munster had conceded 5 penalties.
With Ian Keatley converting the try, and then adding a penalty for a push a few minutes later, Munster were ahead 10-6 at the half time whistle.
The second period saw an encouraging start from the home side as they dominated possession and territory. A complete front row overhaul by Head Coach Johann van Graan shortly after the 50th minute saw his side cause further problems for Toulon. When John Ryan hammered the French side in the scrum, Nigel Owens had no hesitation in awarding Keatley another penalty opportunity with which he duly obliged in the 55th minute for a 13-6 score line.
The introduction of Francois Trinh-Duc upped the pressure on the hosts. He narrowed the gap between the sides with a 61st minute penalty. The French international delivered a flat pass to Mathieu Basteraud after the hour mark who then sent England’s Chris Ashton in for a try. Trinh-Duc added the extras to push Toulon 16-13 ahead with quarter of an hour to play.
As the French pressure mounted, Munster conceded another penalty two minutes later and the Toulon number 10 took the penalty to leave van Graan’s team needing a converted try.
Up stepped Andrew Conway, who from nothing, and totally on his own, manufactured the try that put Munster just a point behind with a standard conversion kick to come for Keatley. When the Munster fly-half converted Conway’s try, the home side had to soak up a few minutes of Toulon pressure, and ensure they did not concede a penalty within range.
As the clock headed into red, Toulon maintained possession of the ball and made their way inch-by-inch into the Munster half of the field. They were soon within kicking distance for Trinh-Duc, but concentration and defending from the Peter O’Mahony-led side ensure the southern province held out by the slenderest of margins to book a trip to France for a semi-final in late April.
Final score: Munster 20 Toulon 19
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) 1 Aibreán 2018