Munster revived their Heineken Cup hopes with a clinical 36-13 victory over a curiously disjointed Clermont side at Thomond Park on Sunday, with the bonus-point win moving the Irish past the French and into second place of Pool Five.
If you thought from the score that this was an easy win for a superior team, you were right. Munster were much, much better than Clermont Auvergne and deserved their big win.
And if the French visitors elected not to chose their best side to come to Limerick it is entirely their embarrassing fault. They created little that added to the value of the match.
Thomond Park may be a big building site but it still managed to pack in the usual eager, courteous, cheerful crowd and they had good reason to be cheerful. It may have rained in the morning to make the field greasy, but some of Munster's passing belied any problem with soggy ball or feet. The mist may have come creeping low over Limerick, but it did nothing to dampen the feelings of Munster and all those who support her.
Gone was the disappointment of the squeaky defeat by Wasps last week. The former Heineken Cup champions are back in town.
And Clermont? Their line-outs with the Springbok captain John Smit starting his first match for the side were an expensive mess, whether because they are non good at line-outs or because Smit had communication problems or simply had a problem without Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha. One messy line-out yielded a score for Munster. The Auvergnats sort of managed to hold on at the scrums but two beaten scrums yielded two tries for Munster.
Thirdly, Clermont could not match Munster's handling skills or the clever placement of kicks which Ronan O'Gara found possible. Seremaia Bai's kicks were transfers of possession. And Clermont was sore in need of possession.
Muster dominated territory and possession. They did so when playing into the wind in the first half and did so even more when playing with the wind in the cold second half.
Clermont started yielding penalties - three in the first nine minutes, all against the tackler. The third near their line also produced a yellow card for Vilimoni Delasau and led to a try.
After the referee had sorted out the yellow card, O'Gara took the ball in a kickable position. He came to the mark, suddenly tapped and kicked a long kick across the field to where fullback Shaun Payne was standing. Payne had plenty of time to gather the ball and score the try. If Payne had not done so, Brian Carney would have had plenty of time to gather the ball and score the try. O'Gara converted. 7-0 after nine minutes.
Donncha O'Callaghan was off-side at a knock-on and Bai kicked the penalty goal. 7-3 after 11 minutes.
The goal-kicking of both fly-halves on the windy day was exceptional.
Munster attacked in frantic fashion and Clermont Auvergne defended bravely, probably the noblest feature of their play. Munster had three successive five-metre scrums. Jerry Flannery and Lifeimi Mafi were close. Mafi was in fact over the line but held up, according to the TMO, Derek Bevan. At the first five-metre scrum Clermont Auvergne were penalised for going up and Munster opted to scrum again. At the third, after Mafi had been held up, John Hayes was penalised for going down and Clermont Auvergne survived.
Clermont Auvergne then attacked first with phases as Bai varied the attack and then with pick-and-drive. It was there turn to enjoy a five-metre scrum but there scrum was nothing like as secure as Munster's and eventually Smit lost the ball to Hayes in a tackle and O'Gara cleared.
There were two quick scores just before half-time - a penalty by O'Gara when, after another line-out loss, Christophe Samson infringed at a tackle and then a penalty by Bai when Flannery obstructed at the subsequent kick off. That made it 10-6, but the half was not over.
Munster put pressure on Bai and then Quinlan charged his rushed kick down and gathered. He was plunging to score when Bai got back to dislodge the ball from the Munstermen's grasp. In doing so Bai conceded a five-metre scrum. Munster shoved. Denis Leamy clamped the ball between his feet as they nudged towards the Clermont Auvergne line. Then Leamy picked up but little Arnaud Pic cut thumped into him. But as Leamy was tackled Rua Tipoki - who knows what he was doing there - took the ball from his grasp, ducked under Emmanuel Etien and dived over for a try far out. From far out, O'Gara converted. 17-6 and it was half-time. 17-6 with Munster playing into the wind.
Munster started the second-half running and passing and Clermont Auvergne simply could not emerge from the glue that kept them in their own territory.
A try had to happen and it was a delicious one when it happened. Munster had a scrum on the left. The ball wen to O'Gara going right. Behind his centres Payne came sweeping round to take a long pass and send a long looped left-handed pass over the head of Julien Malzieu to unmarked Carney who had an easy run-in for a try far out. Far out on the right or not, O'Gara converted. 24-6 after 52 minutes.
Munster were going to win. The main interest in the competition now was whether or not they would get a bonus point.
Clermont Auvergne attacked but after many phases Fabien Alexandre knocked on. This gave Munster a defensive scrum. Peter Stringer gave back to Tipoki who was under pressure and kicked left-footed. Marius Joubert charged it down, kept himself in check as he gathered the ball and, with Stringer hanging on him, score a try far out. Bai converted from his right. 24-13 with 15 minutes to play.
Were Clermont Auvergne about to claw their way back? The answer was a raucous 'no'. At no stage after this did they look like scoring. Instead Munster got their bonus point.
Clermont Auvergne got the ball back from a defensive scrum. Stringer got a right foot to the ball and Pic rolled back a bit of a pass. Malzieu, needing to fall on the ball, took a wild fly-hack at it - and missed. Instead Quinlan got the ball and went over for a try - a decision aided by the TMO. O'Gara converted. 31-13 after 77 minutes.
Delasau whose infringement had helped to start the Munster scoring had a gross error of judgement that helped to end the Munster scoring. He stopped a long kick from going into touch by knocking it a long way back into his territory from where he tried to urn but was tackled into touch, giving Munster a line-out from which they attacked, first through an aggressive maul and then by bashing at the line till Stringer threw a long pass to Leamy on his right and Leamy, with his left hand, threw a longer pass to Marcus Horan on the touch-line and the prop plunged over in the corner. 36-13 after 79 minutes.
Clermont Auvergne attacked but turned over the ball in the Munster 22 and the next thing replacement Paul Warwick was racing down the left touch-line but Delasau sped across from the right wing and eventually saved the situation.
Man of the Match: Marius Joubert was good for Clermont Auvergne but several Munstermen made the win - Shaun Payne at full-back, Donncha O'Callaghan at lock, Peter Stringer at scrum-half, Jerry Flannery at hooker and our man of the match, Ronan O'Gara, whose catching, passing, kicking and judgement were immaculate.
Tries: Payne, Tipoki, Carney, Quinlan, Horan
Cons: O'Gara 4
Pens: Bai 2
Munster: 15 Shaun Payne, 14 Brian Carney, 13 Rua Tipoki, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Ian Dowling, 10 Ronan O'Gara (c), 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Mick O'Driscoll, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Frankie Sheahan, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Anthony Foley, 19 Jake Paringati, 20 Gerry Hurley, 21 Paul Warwick, 22 Kieran Lewis.
Clermont: 15 Julien Malzieu, 14 Grant Estheruizen, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Raphaël Chanal, 11 Vilimoni Delasau, 10 Seramaia Baï, 9 Arnaud Pic, 8 Sam Broomhall (c), 7 Emmanuel Etien, 6 Fabien Alexandre, 5 Pierre Vigouroux, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 John Smit, 1 Goderdzi Shvelidze.
Replacements: 16 Mirko Lozupone, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Thibaut Privat, 19 Alexandre Audebert, 20 Alex King, 21 Pierre-Emmanuel Garcia, 22 Aurélien Rougerie.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch judges: Hugh Watkins (Wales), Jonathan Mason (Wales)
Television match official: Derek Bevan (Wales)