Following an 18-13 victory for Toulouse over Munster in their Champions Cup fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the match at Thomond Park on Sunday.
The top line
In thick fog and bitter cold, Toulouse’s dominance over Munster continued as they emerged winners in a tough and physical affair at Thomond Park.
Tries from Matthis Lebel (24′) and Lucas Tauzin (43′) were enough to answer a 10th minute score from Joey Carberry as goalkicking was rendered hopeless and ineffective by the blanket of mist on the ground.
It was, needless to say, a physical and scrappy affair, a monstrous battle on the gain line and one where the superior legality of Toulouse in the penalty count just about saw them home. Munster always knew this was one of their tougher matches and a losing bonus-point was well deserved as their defence and commitment held fast throughout the match.
This was a match of fine margins where the smallest of things tended to go the way of Toulouse. Even their pre-match bench selection of a 6-2 split paid dividends in the end, as Alexandre Roumat left the field with an HIA in the 17th minute, needing the depth of the visitors’ replacements to be tested.
On the gain line, little knock-ons here and there tended always to go the way of Toulouse due to the pressure their forwards placed, with outstanding displays from the seasoned craftsmanship of Julien Marchand and the sheer power of Anthony Jelonch.
In conditions like this, defence was always going to be the order of the day when it came to closing the match off and, coupled with a nudge on the gain line and scrum superiority, Toulouse just about deserved their win.
Half-backs and full-backs
Given the conditions, the contributions of both pairs of half-backs and the opposing full-backs were absolutely outstanding. Antoine Dupont was rightly named player of the match for a display that saw him run 145 metres, including a couple of devastating breaks that got right into the heart of the Munster defence. Dupont’s ability to break around the sides of rucks or to run onto passes at speed were so far ahead of anyone else you would be forgiven for thinking he was relying on his white Toulouse shirt as camouflage out of the fog.
For Irish fans looking forward to building a depth of squad come next year, Carbery looked as sharp as a tack in the face of some massive defence from the visitors. His duel with Romain Ntamack saw the two 10s emerge with honours even, which highlights just how well the Munster pivot is playing.
Munster will be furious to lose this match but resigned to the fact they were beaten up a bit up front. The good news is their backs look fast and intelligent and with a little more of a platform, this match might well have had a different outcome.
Tough to overstate how singular Antoine Dupont is as a scrumhalf.
Strong enough to clean up any sort of dirty ruck ball by himself.
Can shrug off the tackles of the biggest forwards.
Can kick DEEP off both feet.
And I’ve barely mentioned his attacking skills.
— Thala Msutu (@ThalaMsutu77) December 11, 2022
It takes some player to change an entire team structure, but when Jack Willis strode on for an outstanding 20-minute display we saw a French side adopt the traditional openside/blindside formation of back-row play over and above their national tradition of left flank and right flank for the first time in a very long time.
It was amusing to see Willis tapping Thibaud Flament on the shoulder and reminding him to swap over at scrum time, and it’ll be very interesting to see if this continues for Toulouse when the injured Francois Cros returns and forms a starting back-row alongside Jelonch and Willis.
Nevertheless, the former Wasp hasn’t lost his buzz and his impact in the last quarter was telling as he hit nine massive tackles and one turnover in his time on the pitch.
England need ‘Jack the Jackal’ to get much needed game time under his belt and it was wonderful to see the young tyro shining in white, despite the mist obscuring some of his best work.
Officials and screens
Spare a thought for Christophe Ridley and his team of match officials. This was a match they just needed to get through and one they delivered with professionalism and intelligence in some of the most extreme circumstances of their careers.
At one point, Ridley admitted he couldn’t see the TMO replays and requested guidance from Rowan Kitt. It happened again towards the end of the match when Dupont deliberately knocked on right at the death, only for Kitt to advise his referee of a potential overlap that was cloaked by the thick mist.
With the referee advising the players that he could only just see all four corners of the ground it was a taxing day for the man in the middle and despite the whole of Thomond trying to assist his thinking throughout the second half, Ridley put in an assured performance in incredibly difficult conditions.