Munster edge Brive in nine-try thriller
April 9, 2011
Kiwi winger Doug Howlett grabbed two tries for Munster in an entertaining clash against Brive
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Munster booked an Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final date against Harlequins with a 42-37 victory over Brive in a thrilling encounter at the Parc Municipal on Saturday.
Two tries apiece for wingers Doug Howlett and Keith Earls and another from replacement scrum-half Peter Stringer propelled the Irish province to a memorable victory played out in blazing 30 degree heat, with fly-half Ronan O'Gara setting the tempo and contributing 17 points in the process.
Brive played their part in a entertaining clash with lock Retief Uys, centre Fabrice Estebanez, winger Alexis Palisson and replacement Shaun Perry all crossing and fly-half Mathieu Belie kicking three penalties and four conversions as the hosts rallied from 12-0 and 42-23 down to push their Irish rivals all the way.
Munster wasted no time in showing their intent with O'Gara stepping through the Brive defence in the opening minute of the game and Howlett followed his lead moments later by ghosting up the line. Support loomed up in the form of No.8 James Coughlan and centre Sam Tuitupou before Howlett appeared again deep inside the 22, where he weathered a hefty tackle before touching down in the shadow of the posts.
O'Gara added the extras and was soon involved again as the visitors stuck to their expansive gameplan with devastating results. Great hands in midfield put Earls into space and the winger's pace carried him over in the corner for the game's second try with barely five minutes on the clock.
Brive rallied but got little change out of an equally committed Munster defence, although Belie was able to get his side on the board from the kicking tee after the visitors were penalised at the breakdown.
Turnover ball led to the next Brive raid and the pressure forced Mafi into a late and high tackle on Palisson. The resulting penalty was kicked to the corner and the gamble paid off, with quick ball and good hands putting Uys over in the corner. Belie added the extras to bring Brive back to within two points.
But with significant momentum the home side pressed for more and were duly rewarded. The Brive lineout once again provided a solid platform and quick ball found Estebenez, who shrugged off Tuitupou in midfield before side-stepping fullback Felix Jones on his way to the line.
Belie added the conversion once again but Munster hit back with a clinical breakaway try. A turnover and the pace of Earls created the opening and Jones acted as the link man to Howlett, who exploited a huge gap down the touchline to race away for a try before O'Gara's gave his side the lead with the conversion.
Despite the high temperature there was no let-up in the frenetic pace of the game and a great chip and collect from Belie almost put Palisson away as the home side continued to dominate. The Brive forwards disrupted a Munster lineout as the half drew to a close and when the visitors were penalised in their attempt to snuff out the danger Belie was able to notch his second penalty and give his side a narrow one-point advantage. It could have been more had Palisson not missed with a long range effort just before the sides headed for a well-deserved half-time break.
Brive picked up where they left off following the restart with a big scrum from loose-head David Khinchagashvili bringing the home crowd to their feet. Munster were soon forced into a rearguard action with lock Donncha O'Callaghan penalised for a high tackle on Palisson.
Belie slotted his third penalty to extend Brive's lead but Munster conjured an immediate reply. An injection of pace from Howlett carried him through a soft tackle and Earls matched him stride for stride before collecting a pass and coasting in to the corner. O'Gara's conversion cemented Munster's lead and they took a firm grip on the game with an opportunistic score a couple of minutes later. Brive failed to deal with a kick ahead from Tuitupou, with fullback Scott Spedding slipping as he attempted to claim the ball, and Stringer pounced to grab his side's fifth try of the game that was converted by O'Gara.
Munster's ambition took a back seat midway through the half with O'Gara opting to kick a penalty to take his side out to a 13-point lead, but Belie was not so accurate with his next effort. As a result the next was kicked to the corner and a quick tap and go following a Munster infringement at the lineout carried the hosts close. Belie then looked to catch them unawares with a cross-kick but Jones rose highest to claim the ball.
Understandably the pace of the game began to take its toll on both sides and O'Gara shelved his side's ambition with two long range penalties putting Munster ever-nearer the semi-finals. But Brive were not done yet with Palisson latching onto a loose pass from replacement Niall Ronan before racing in for a try, converted by Belie, to offer hope to the home fans.
Jean-Philippe Bonrepaux was the next to expose some tired Munster players and he surged into the 22 before the ball was worked through the hands to Perry, who opted for the grubber when perhaps he should have used his runners out wide.
Perry grabbed a lifeline by forcing his way over in the corner in the final minute and Belie's touchline conversion brought Brive to within five points with just seconds left on the clock. The brave hosts attempted to run from deep and a penalty added to the drama as flanker Gerhard Vosloo and centre Jamie Noon made big gains upfield, but a knock on brought an end to an epic encounter.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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