A fabulous performance from Munster has ended Perpignan's Heineken Cup campaign on Sunday, with a 37-14 win at the Stade Aime-Giral.
A fabulous performance from Munster has all but ended Perpignan's Heineken Cup campaign on Sunday, with a 37-14 win at the Stade Aime-Giral.
As with last week, the French did most of the running early on, but continually fell a pass or two short of reaping the rewards of their endeavours. David Marty and Robins Tchale Watchou in particular were culpable of letting the ball go – or not, in the second case – in peculiar directions, when a level head and a split second's worth of extra thought might have seen the score.
By contrast, Munster played a fairly typical game, but it was different to last week. Where last week they dominated the possession, this week they showed their resiilent side in defence, thriving off the scraps and taking their chances, wearing the opposition down. French indiscipline hepled them into a scoring position for Denis Fogarty in the first half and Munster's killer try came as a result of some fatal dilly-dallying over a clearance kick by Gavin Hume. Mistakes punished. Munster made barely a single error all match. That's what gets you through in the Heineken Cup.
All of that was epitomised late in the game when Guillem Guirado gave Perpignan a sniff of a chance of a way back into the game. It took Munster pecisely two minutes to retort with a peach of a try by Jean de Villiers, that after they had turned the ball over at the restart. The turnover was the key. The breakdown is a contentious issue in rugby these days, but there was not a whiff of a contest there in the second half. Munster were dominant.
Then came the piece de resistance – resistance now being completely absent from the Catalan effort – in the final minute. O'Gara grubbered, Howlett pounced. A bonus point in Perpignan? The stuff of dreams…
Perpignan began brightly and took the lead in the fifth minute after Fogarty was adjudged by English official Dave Pearson to be offside.
Scrum-half David Mele stepped up in clear blues skies to slot home the penalty with consummate ease.
The hosts continued to pile the early pressure on the two-time European champions with fly-half Gavin Hume bombarding Munster full-back Paul Warwick under the high ball.
Then Hume turned creator as his deft chip found space and centre Maxime Mermoz booted ahead but Keith Earls came to the visitors' rescue.
Ronan O'Gara missed the opportunity to level the scores with a drop goal after 12 minutes but O'Gara made no mistake after Pearson had awarded a penalty for an earlier offence.
But Perpignan came again and neat work from Romanian hooker Marius Tincu found Mele in a gaping hole but British and Irish Lions flanker David Wallace produced an excellent recovery tackle to stem the tide.
Munster skipper Paul O'Connell had been influential in the early exchanges and the Lions captain was held short but he was ably supported by Wallace and Warwick who battered away at the line before finally Fogarty scrambled over for a converted try and O'Gara.
Mele missed a routine penalty on 28 minutes but made amends a minute later and then added his third penalty in the 34th minute when Wallace caught Mermoz with a high tackle to reduce the deficit to just one point at the interval.
Tomas O'Leary put Munster on the front foot after the restart when he darted through the home side's defence, forcing the hosts to concede a penalty in front which O'Gara fired home.
Then Perpignan saw prop Jerome Schuster yellow carded for headbutting Denis Leamy in the 46 minute and O'Gara took full advantage with an ice-cool penalty for a 16-9 lead.
O'Gara was also sent to the sin-bin for a late tackle but Munster continued their momentum as the pressure grew.
Hume saw his kick charged down by scrum-half O'Leary before Munster's old guard up front took the game away from Perpignan.
The outstanding O'Connell and Wallace handed excellent field position and then Warwick fed Hurley who beat Christophe Manas and Mele to touch down in the left corner.
Warwick hammered home a fine conversion from the far touchline and although Guilhem Guirado scored an opportunist try on 66 minutes, replacement de Villiers and then Howlett sealed an emphatic victory.
Pens: Mele 3
Tries: Fogarty, Hurley, De Villiers, Howlett
Cons: O'Gara 3, Warwick
Pens: O'Gara 3
Yellow cards: Schuster (Perpignan, 47, headbutt), O'Gara (Munster, 52, early tackle)
Perpignan: 15 Philip Burger, 14 Farid Sid, 13 David Marty, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Christophe Manas, 10 Gavin Hume, 9 David Mele, 8 Ovidiu Tonita, 7 Bertrand Guiry, 6 Yoann Vivalda, 5 Robins Tchale Watchou, 4 Olivier Olibeau, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Marius Tincu, 1 Jerome Schuster.
Replacements: 16 Guillem Guirado, 17 Perry Freshwater, 18 Kisi Pulu, 19 Rimas Alvarez Kairelis, 20 Nicolas Durand, 21 Jean-Philippe Grandclaude, 22 Jerome Porical, 23 Yannick Parent.
Munster: 15 Paul Warwick, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Darragh Hurley, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Denis Fogarty, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 Darragh Hurley, 18 Tony Buckley, 19 Mick O'Driscoll, 20 Donnacha Ryan, 21 Niall Ronan, 22 Peter Stringer, 23 Jean de Villiers.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant referees: Martin Fox (England), Paul Dix (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)