Munster bounced right back onto the Heineken Cup horse on Saturday as they disposed of Toulon in a 45-18 win at Thomond Park.
Munster bounced right back onto the Heineken Cup horse on Saturday as they disposed of Toulon in a six-try 45-18 lesson at Thomond Park.
In a game that crackled with intensity and high octane rugby, the Irish province recovered from leaking a try after just 56 seconds to hit back with six converted scores of their own.
Stand-in captain Denis Leamy, Tony Buckley, Doug Howlett (2), man-of-the-match Mick O'Driscoll and James Coughlan all crossed the whitewash for the two-time champions, with Ronan O'Gara kicking 15 points.
Toulon were far from overawed, but tries from Jean-Philippe Genevois and skipper Joe van Niekerk and a long-range drop goal from Jonny Wilkinson were their only high points as they were put to the sword.
Questions were being asked of Munster after their 23-17 loss to London Irish, and big-spending Toulon travelled with confidence following an opening Pool Three win over the Ospreys.
The French side got off to a dream start in sunny Limerick. Felipe Contepomi's short pass unlocked the home defence, van Niekerk drew the cover and Genevois was up in support to thunder over from the 22.
Contepomi's successful conversion was followed by an immediate barrage from the Munster forwards who showed their strength in contact – a feature throughout the 80 minutes.
With Toulon pinned back on their line amid a series of penalties, flanker George Smith was sin-binned for hands in the ruck after a previous warning from referee Wayne Barnes.
From a subsequent five-metre scrum, Peter Stringer picked from the base and darted to the right before passing back inside for Leamy to muscle his way over for a try. O'Gara converted to bring his side level.
Contepomi pulled a 45-metre penalty away to the left, and Munster showed their renewed sense of adventure, countering through Paul Warwick. Released down the right, Howlett blasted forward to set Johne Murphy up for a dash to the corner, but a last-ditch tackle from Contepomi forced the centre into touch.
Television match official Graham Hughes also ruled out a Buckley effort, but the giant prop made the breakthrough in the 19th minute, lunging his way over the top of a ruck from a couple of metres out.
O'Gara again added the extras and Toulon remained on the defensive for much of the second quarter, with flanker Joe El Abd reaching double figures in terms of tackles. Fotu Auelua stood out too, the powerful centre proving difficult to stop when the visitors attacked through the middle.
Contepomi closed the gap by stroking over a penalty from the right, but Munster went in at half-time with a 21-10 lead. Howlett having burrowed over from a close-range ruck for the third try, with O'Gara landing the conversion.
O'Gara kicked the second of two penalty attempts early in the second half to keep the scoreboard ticking for the hosts.
Toulon boss Philippe Saint-Andre changed his half-backs, bringing Wilkinson and youngster Laurent Magnaval into the fray. Wilkinson linked well with Contepomi, who moved to inside centre, and Munster had to be on their toes as last season's Amlin Challenge Cup runners-up began to throw the ball around.
An almost effortless 42-metre drop goal from Wilkinson, off his weaker right foot, reduced the arrears to 11 points, but despite their stranglehold of possession at times, Saint-Andre's side lacked the necessary penetration.
The red defensive wall would not give way and a yellow card for Contepomi, coming up to the hour mark, left Toulon under huge pressure. The Argentinian was spotting holding Howlett back as Keith Earls launched a kick chase, and Munster then went for the jugular.
They killed off the game and annexed the all-important bonus point with two tries in four minutes. Wilkinson was powerless to prevent second row O'Driscoll from barging over on the right, and a superbly weighted cross-field kick from O'Gara was gobbled up by Howlett for try number five.
Toulon showed their eagerness to fight for a bonus point, but a try from van Niekerk, who had earlier knocked on over the whitewash, was all they could muster.
The new Pool Three leaders had the final say, Leamy being held up short before replacement Coughlan scrambled over between the posts.
Tries: Leamy, Buckley, Howlett 2, O'Driscoll, Ronan
Con: O'Gara 6
Tries: Genevois, Van Niekerk
Munster: 15 Paul Warwick, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Johne Murphy, 11 Denis Hurley, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Mick O'Driscoll, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez
Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 John Hayes, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 James Coughlan, 21 Niall Ronan, 22 Duncan Williams, 23 Scott Deasy.
Toulon: 15 Clement Marienval, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Mafi Kefu, 12 Fotu Auelua, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Felipe Contepomi, 9 Pierre Mignoni, 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Joe El Abd, 6 George Smith, 5 Kris Chesney, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Jean-Philippe Genevois, 1 Laurent Emmanuelli.
Replacements:16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 Davit Kubriashvili, 19 Olivier Missoup, 20 Gabi Lovobalavu, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Laurent Magnaval, 23 Dean Schofield.
Referee: Wayne Barnes