Home European Champions Cup Munster late surge secure semi-final

Munster late surge secure semi-final

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Andrew Conway’s outstanding late try proved to be the difference as Munster reached the Champions Cup semi-finals following a remarkable 20-19 triumph over Toulon at Thomond Park.

The Irish province initially struggled with the Top 14 outfit’s sheer physicality and found themselves 6-0 in arrears through a pair of Anthony Belleau three-pointers.

They responded excellently, though, and were ahead by the break thanks to Conor Murray’s score and Ian Keatley’s penalty.

Keatley and Francois Trinh-Duc traded efforts off the tee in the third quarter before Chris Ashton’s try took the away team in front once again.

Trinh-Duc extended their buffer with another penalty, but Conway weaved his way to the line – Keatley converting – to win a dramatic encounter for Munster.

Johann van Graan was without several players going into this encounter due to injury, but he was boosted by the returning Ireland Grand Slam winners.

Murray, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony all started but they were put under significant pressure early on. The visitors, fresh from a comfortable victory over last year’s defeated Champions Cup finalists Clermont Auvergne, began excellently and dominated proceedings.

Fabien Galthie’s side were dangerous in the opening 10 minutes and the hosts struggled to hold them out with Ashton twice going close.

To Munster’s credit, they were resilient and their cover defence was exceptional, preventing the Frenchmen from getting the try their play perhaps deserved.

Galthie’s men did score first, however, when Belleau slotted a penalty before the fly-half added another three points following a drop-goal.

Despite ending the first quarter 6-0 in arrears, the Irish province began to increase the intensity and mistakes duly crept into Toulon’s game.

One such error from France’s Guilhem Guirado proved to be catastrophic after the hooker was adjudged to have knocked on. With the ruck deemed to be complete, Murray produced a brilliant piece of opportunism to sweep around the side and touch down from close range.

Keatley added the extras as Munster took the lead for the first time and then kicked a penalty soon after for a four-point buffer at the interval.

The Irishmen took that momentum into the second period and dominated possession and territory. With the visitors struggling in the lineout – O’Mahony once again showing his aerial skills – the home side had their opponents under constant duress.

Although they were initially unable to take advantage, a superb scrum earned a penalty which Keatley converted for a 13-6 lead.

Toulon could have folded but Galthie’s side are filled with individual quality and almost opened their try-scoring account when Semi Radradra powered down the left.

The wing should have passed to Mathieu Bastareaud inside but, with the line beckoning and to the annoyance of his captain, Radradra decided to go alone and knocked on.

They did eventually get on the board via the boot of Francois Trinh-Duc before the fly-half produced another significant moment in the match when he off-loaded to Bastareaud. The centre was clear and Ashton’s typically superb support line saw the full-back cross the whitewash unopposed.

Trinh-Duc made it a six-point game going into the final 10 minutes following a second successful penalty, but the hosts had one last sting in the tail.

Toulon’s replacement pivot, who had made a positive impression since coming on, missed touch and Conway brilliantly weaved his way to the line to snatch a remarkable victory and book their place in the last four.

The scorers:

For Munster:
Tries: Murray, Conway
Cons: Keatley 2
Pens: Keatley 2

For Toulon:
Tries: Ashton
Con: Trinh-Duc
Pens: Belleau, Trinh-Duc 2
Drop-goal: Belleau

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