Munster pride intact after Wilkinson masterclass

Toulon 24 Munster 16
The golden boot of Jonny Wilkinson produced another Heineken Cup final spot for Toulon at the Stade Velodrome this afternoon, but there was no shame in this defeat for Munster, who did everything and more that could be expected of a developing team against a group of mega-rich superstars.

Munster scored the only try of a feverishly contested side in front of 38,000 or so spectators and gave as good as they got throughout a tough, rugged, contest.

In the process, despite the disappointment of finishing second for another year in the semi finals, they earned the respect of the Toulon crowd who confidently expected to put Munster to the sword before the start of this game on a lovely sunny day in Marseilles.

World Cup winner Wilkinson hopes to sign off on his Toulon career with another European medal and he certainly made all the difference today, kicking six penalties and a drop goal to add to a magnificent long range penalty effort from Delon Armitage.

But Munster showed their mettle too and produced some very good moments in the first half as they tried to recover from being nine points down at the break. They won the second half, but unfortunately didn’t win it by quite enough.

Toulon were first out of the blocks with a Jonny Wilkinson penalty after three minutes and he then added another after 18 following an Ian Keatley intervention.

Referee Wayne Barnes clearly didn’t like the way Dave Kilcoyne was managing at scrum time and he warned the Munster front row after 22 minutes. A penalty gained ground for Toulon and from the maul the French side had a chance, after Munster collapsed, but Wilkinson missed the chance to stretch the lead out to 9-3.

He did manage it less than a minute later and then, after Munster’s Keatley kicked his second penalty, the former England great dropped a goal. That was a bonus given that Juan Fernandez Lobbe was in the sin-bin for a reckless knee to the head of Conor Murray.

Keatley kicked his third penalty but Munster pressed the self destruct button immediately and Toulon went 15-9 up as the game headed to the half way stage. It got even worse for the Irish province when Delon Armitage knocked over a long range penalty on the stroke of the buzzer to put nine points between the sides.

Munster, despite a couple of promising moves, one in particular involving Keith Earls midway through that opening half, could hardly complain because, in reality, they had produced little or nothing to threaten the champions who seemed content to just drain Munster’s energy and take whatever chances came their way.

Simon Zebo came to Munster’s rescue two minutes into the second half when he managed to tackle Mathieu Bastareaud into touch and Munster lived very dangerously in the early moments of that second half. It was all going Toulon’s way apart from the mistakes they made themselves.

But Munster struck back brilliantly in the 53rd minute, winning two successive penalties and making ground to heap the pressure on Toulon.

From the second line out off a penalty, Munster were briefly held up by the French side but Conor Murray darted blind and sent in Zebo for the try in the corner, brilliantly converted by Keatley.

At 16-18 it was all to play for; unfortunately Munster didn’t get the rub of the green and then conceded another penalty to allow Toulon push into a 21-16 lead. That penalty was down to an off the ball late tackle by Earls on David Smith and even though Munster survived the ten minute period without any further penalty, they were unable to take advantage of some superb attacking movements with just the 14 players.

It became completely unstuck as Munster attempted to run their way out of defence in the 78th minute and made the mistake of trying something too clever without any chance of scoring. They turned over possession and then conceded a penalty to Toulon. Wilkinson sealed the deal to push the lead out beyond Munster’s reach

Toulon: D.Armitage, D Mitchell, M Bastareaud, M Giteau, B Habana, J Wilkinson, (captain), X Chiocci, C Burden, C Hayman, D Rossouw, J Suta, J Smith, S Armitage, J F Lobbe

Replacements. S Smith for Habana (49), JC Oriole for Burden (59), M Claasens for Chiocci (both 60)

Munster: F Jones, K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo, I Keatley, C Murray, D Kilcoyne, D Varley (captain), BJ Botha, D Foley, P O’Connell, CJ Stander, J Coughlan, S Dougall.

Replacements. T O’Donnell for Dougall (56) , JJ Hanrahan for Downey, D O’Callaghan for Foley (65), J Cronin for Kilcoyne (66), D Hurley for Jones (73)

D Casey for Varley (76).

Referee. W Barnes (England).

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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