Munster have secured their second win in the Champions Cup with a dominant performance over Castres Olympique at Thomond Park this afternoon.
Johann van Graan’s side had to do so without the services of Joey Carbery and Chris Farrell who were ruled out prior to kick-off but Carbery’s replacement, JJ Hanrahan, proved more than up to the challenge as his two penalties in the first half proved the difference at the break. Though sloppiness prevented them from exerting their obvious dominance on the scoreboard in the first half, they were far more clinical in the second, leading to tries from Rory Scannell, CJ Stander and man-of-the-match, Hanrahan.
With Conor Murray at scrumhalf, the home side preferred to kick but it was a challenge the Castres back line were more than capable of dealing with at the beginning of the game. The kicking was less than precise on the other side. Benjamin Urdapilleta attempted to pressurise Mike Haley but the kick was too long and went dead, gifting Minster a scrum just outside the 22. Castres were penalised at the breakdown and with six minutes on the clock, Hanrahan slotted over their first score of the day.
Castres’ poor discipline and decision making continued to work against them. A box-kick from Murray ricocheted back to the Munster side and the scrum-half was subsequently cleared out, resulting in a penalty which Hanrahan dispatched down the line. Munster went over the top in the lineout and Rory Scannell set up their first real assault on the Castres line. Unfortunately for them, CJ Stander fumbled the ball and Urdapilleta relieved the pressure.
Munster dominated both field position and possession. Murray fed Andrew Conway who burst through the Castres defence with Chris Cloete making an excellent subsequent carry, but once again, a handling error from Munster turned over possession. Even without ball in hand, Munster were relentless. Their frontline applied huge pressure to the Castres scrum which resulted in another chance for Hanrahan, who nailed the penalty. More ill-discipline from the Castres back row brought play up to the 22, courtesy of Scannell’s left boot but Niall Scannell’s throw into the lineout was not straight and the French side were let off the hook once again.
Yet, the pressure from Munster ensured that they could not string together a period of possession. Castres were awarded a scrum but Murray bore down on Ludovic Radosavljevic, forcing a knock on and in the resulting scrum, John Ryan was awarded a penalty for his efforts. While Munster were relentless in their pursuit of possession, they were guilty of wasting it on a number of occasions. In the 34th minute, they lost their third lineout and the sloppy play handed Castres an attacking platform, though they kicked possession right back to the home side, as was the case throughout the first half.
Munster’s first chance of the second half came within the first minute. Scott Spedding failed to get adequete distance on his clearance kick and following a clean lineout, the province went through the phases before being awarded a scrum for an accidental knock-on. Another excellent scrum set up a platform for Murray who ran around the side before excellently feeding Scannell who burst over the line. Hanrahan landed the difficult conversion in the windy conditions.
It took until the 50th minute for Castres to get their first shot at goal. Though Urdapilleta attempt drifted wide, it worked in their favour when Murray fumbled the ball on collection and the visitors were awarded a five metre scrum. Munster’s defence was more than up for the challenge, captain Peter O’Mahony continuing his fine display’s in green by ripping the ball back. Chris Cloete then proved his worth at the breakdown, earning a penalty which Hanrahan sent down the line. The next phases of play were scrappy to say the least with the crowd repeatedly accusing the Castres defence of being offside. Eventually, JP Doyle awarded the penalty to Munster and Hanrahan extended their lead to 16 points.
Castres introduced Martin Laveau who made an immediate impact with a quick break through the Munster defence. The homeside were then penalised for being offside but just as was the story with the first half, handling errors let Castres down and a knock on from the lineout handed the advantage straight back to Munster. While breaking out from the scrum, CJ Stander was dragged down by the neck, resulting in a penalty. This time however, it was Munster who sent thier lineout astray and Castres were gifted possession.
It wasn’t long, however, until Munster were back on the scoreboard. Again, Castres’ attempted clearance set up the Munster platform. Murray produced a clever break before offloading to Stander who easily dodged the defender and bundled over with Hanrahan once again, accurate with the boot. They almost had another less than a minute later when Scannell made a blistering break, beating four tackles but the Cork man found himself isolated and possession was coughed up.
The French side were visibly tiring and Munster took full advantage. A clever interchange between Hanrahan and replacement, Alby Mathewson saw the Kerryman over for the province’s third try. After adding the conversion, he was involved again in the next play when he and Andrew Conway prevented Yannick Caballero from scoring a try after a quick break from Christophe Samson but Conway was deemed to have deliberately knocked on the ball in the exchange and he was sent to the bin. Castres made repeated assaults on the Munster line and eventually, Laveau found a way through out wide for their only score of the game.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Tadhg Beirne, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (C), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, Ciaran Parker, Fineen Wycherley, Arno Botha, Alby Mathewson, Tyler Bleyendaal, Jaco Taute.
Castres Olympique: Scott Spedding, Armand Batlle, Thomas Combezou, Florian Vialelle, Taylor Paris, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Ludovic Radosavljevic; Antoine Tichit, Jody Jenneker, Daniel Kotze, Loic Jacquet, Thibault Lassalle, Mathieu Babillot, Kevin Gimeno, Alex Tulou.
Replacements: Kevin Firmin, Paea Fa’anunu, Marc Clerc, Christophe Samson, Yannick Caballero, Julien Caminati, Martin Laveau, Rory Kockott.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)