Munster secure home quarter-final
January 25, 2009
Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary scored his side's first-half try
© Getty Images
Defending champions Munster secured a home quarter-final in the Heineken Cup thanks to a bonus-point victory over Montauban. A brace of tries from Lifeimi Mafi and replacement Barry Murphy added to Tomas O'Leary's opener for an emphatic win.
Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara booted 12 points for Munster in a disciplined and professional display in the south of France. The Pool One tie had been postponed by 24 hours on safety grounds following gale-force winds at the Stade de Sapiac. That decision proved to be wise as Montauban kicked off with clear, blue skies overhead.
Munster had already qualified for the quarter-finals with a convincing win over Sale Sharks last weekend but their remaining goal was to secure a home tie in the last eight. The Irish province knew they would not find things easy after being given a fright in round one against the tournament newcomers at Thomond Park and despite Julien Audy's seventh-minute penalty miss, Munster were on the back foot when the fly-half made amends three minutes later from the touchline.
Audy had found his range as the 24-year-old put Montauban further ahead with his second penalty goal on 17 minutes after Paul O'Connell was penalised. The double European champions hit back four minutes later when O'Leary burst from the back of a scrum to scramble over in the right corner. English referee Dave Pearson opted to consult with television match official David Matthews who gave him the green light to award the try.
O'Gara converted and Munster's increasing dominance was rewarded in the 29th minute when O'Gara capitalised on Ibrahim Diarra's infringement for a 10-6 lead. The visitors applied the pressure and probed for a vital second try before the interval with O'Connell, O'Leary and Mafi going close but Montauban's defence held firm to trail by just four points.
Half-time came at the right time for Tony McGahan's men who put their foot on the accelerator to extend their lead only two minutes into the second half through Mafi's try to the right of the posts.
Montauban threw caution to the wind with their European campaign coming to an end but that decision created space for the livewire O'Leary to assist Mafi for his second score in the 53rd minute and to give Munster clear breathing space. the hosts hit back with a response of their own before the hour mark when Scottish lock Scott Murray sliced through the Munster defence to score under the posts and Petre Mitu's conversion reduced the deficit to 22-13.
O'Gara added another penalty in the 67th minute before Murphy replaced the injured Keith Earls to score a late double. His first came after he pounced on O'Gara's kick-through for the bonus point before adding his second on 76 minutes and Paul Warwick's conversion completed a satisfying afternoon for Munster.
Munster skipper Paul O'Connell took pride in his side's spirit but admitted to several faults in their performance that would need addressing before their home quarter-final.
"We were lucky to get the five tries but it's great to have a home quarter-final," he said. "We started really well in the first five minutes but then we were shaky for the following 10. Montauban put us under a lot of pressure around the ruck area and that's something we'll have to look at.
"But we battened down the hatches and played really well. We were tight but also went wide when we needed to spread the ball. The game-plan worked really well for us. Sometimes, we always think we have to earn our tries but they have been coming through pressure late in the first half and early in the second. It was hard for Montauban to keep plugging the gaps and the holes began to appear."
O'Connell praised his team's determination in scrapping hard against a well structured Montauban defence. "Sometimes you score before half-time and you jog into the dressing room and it's not the best thing for the team," he said. "We were in and around the try-line for long periods before the break and I'm sure it will have sapped their energy and taken away some of their legs because it's hard to defend in situations like that.
"It is important to score when you're on top and we were disappointed that we didn't score. But we managed to do so early in the second through Mafi's try."
Montauban: J Laharrague, A Figueiredo, J Viard, S Paku, V Delasau, R Lespinas, J Audy; B Balan, B Mach, N Adams, M Rolland [capt], S Murray, Y Caballero, I Diarra, M Clarkin.
Replacements: G Shvelidze (for Balan 40), S Florea (for Adams 48), R Frost (for Caballero 65), K Ghezal (for Rolland 45), M Avramovic (for Paku 56).Not used: F Fortassin, P Mitu.
Munster: Warwick; Howlett, Earls, Mafi, Dowling, O'Gara, O'Leary; Horan, Flannery, Hayes; O'Callaghan, O'Connell (capt), Quinlan, Wallace, Leamy.
Replacements: Pucciariello (for Hayes 65), Ryan (for O'Connell 73), Ronan (for Leamy 73), Stringer (for O'Leary 56), Murphy (for Earls 65), Hurley (for O'Gara 73). Not used: Fogarty
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