Munster brush Toulouse aside
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: Munster advanced to the European Champions Cup semifinals after they beat Toulouse 41-16 at Thomond Park on Saturday.
The Irish club seemed to have the last four place in the bag at the break, but Toulouse refused to lie down and a rash of Munster injuries left it in the balance until late, late tries from Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway eased home nerves and put a gloss on the final score.
This was billed as the clash of the 'European Titans', two teams with six European Cup titles between them, both playing a record 157th game in the tournament.
But Toulouse are something of a fallen giant these days, a team struggling to keep pace with the big spending clubs in the Top 14 and languishing in 10th place in their domestic league and in the end they were well and truly beaten.
And they couldn't have got off to a worse start at a packed Thomond Park, the venue at which they were beaten 47-23 at the same stage in 2014.
The last thing you want to do in Limerick is get the crowd into the game early doors, or give Munster the chance to take an early score. That's why No.8 Francois Cros can expect a tough time in the match review for needlessly charging into Duncan Williams with his elbow well after the ball had gone.
The game was less than two minutes old and, by the time the 23-year-old returned, his side were 10 points adrift. It wasn't quite game over, but it gave the home side, still riding on the emotional wave of the passing of Anthony Foley, a real grip on the game.
Two close range line-outs finally opened up a gap for man-of-the-match prop John Ryan to drive through for a try at the posts and Tyler Bleyendaal added the extras.
The Kiwi flyhalf then punished experienced Italian hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini for pulling down and maul and Bleyendaal made it 10 points in as many minutes.
After that, though, Toulouse settled down and used their huge pack to make vital inches. Jean-Marc Doussain kicked three penalties, interspersed with a second from Bleyendaal, and the gap at half-time was probably better than expected at a mere four points, especially as it took six camera views from the TMO to deny a try for Bleyendaal after a knock-on was spotted by Tommy O'Donnell.
With the swirling wind behind them, Munster wasted no time in building up a bigger cushion. Bleyendaal thumped over a penalty from the half-way line and then their 'go-to' man Christiaan Stander converted a neat peel from a five-metre line-out into typical close range try.
Bleyendaal couldn't improve the try, but he stroked over a simple penalty in front of the posts to make it 11 points in 13 minutes at the start of the second half to extend the lead to 15 points.
A touchline break by Paul Perez and Yoann Maestri was finished by Perez in the left corner and Doussain landed a magnificent touchline conversion to cut the gap to eight points and keep the door slightly ajar.
But Munster finished the stronger with those late scores and are through for yet another semifinal.
Man of the match: Tyler Bleyendaal kept the scoreboard ticking over with his accurate boot and deserves the award.
Tries: Ryan, Stander, Sweetnam, Conway
Cons: Bleyendaal 3
Pens: Bleyendaal 5
Pens: Doussain 3
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave O’Callaghan, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Andrew Conway.
Toulouse: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Paul Perez, 10 Jean-Marc Doussain, 9 Sebastien Bezy, 8 Francois Cros, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Joe Tekori, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Tala Gray, 20 Piula Faasalele, 21 Samuel Marques, 22 Luke McAlister, 23 Arthur Bonneval.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: Greg Garner (England), Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)