By Simon Lewis, Thomond Park
Munster 26 Stade Francais 13
Munster restored some much-needed Champions Cup pride as they rebounded from Parisian humiliation with a bonus-point victory over Stade Francais in Limerick today.
The win may have come too late to prevent the province from sliding out of the competition before the knockout stages but after three successive European defeats Anthony Foley's men showed the sort of passion and fight that had been so lacking seven days ago when they were trounced 27-7 by 14-man Stade in the French capital.
The return game could have had a funereal air to it with ticket sales well below capacity at 18,884 and an actual attendance of just over 14,000, that atmosphere underlined by Munster having to wear their all-black away kit due to an equipment mix-up last week in Paris.
And when the home side went behind in the first 90 seconds to a Morné Steyn penalty there a real sense of continuing doom, JP Doyle blowing up prop Mario Sagario for a block on Sekou Macalou.
Yet what followed will have heartened the Munster supporters who chose to stand by their team in their darkest hour and were rewarded with a first home win since the round one pool victory over Treviso in mid-November.
There was a back to basics feel about the way Munster fronted up, first of all at the scrum where they had been marched backwards in Paris seven days earlier. And the breakthrough came once more through the pack as Billy Holland took a five-metre lineout and Munster went to the maul, driving Mike Sherry over for the opening try on 18 minutes.
Ian Keatley missed the conversion from out wide and Steyn added a penalty soon after but the Munster fly-half could not miss from in front of the posts on the stroke of half-time after Keith Earls had slid over having made a break from halfway.
Munster had gone in for the break with a 12-6 lead which was quickly extended as the second half got under way, Simon Zebo gathering a clever Keatley chip to score under the posts on 42 minutes, the fly-half again presented with the simplest of conversions.
Stade had come to Ireland looking for a win to bolster their hopes of a runner-up finish that would see them progress to the last eight with a home game against Leicester to come next weekend and there was hope for the French champions when Munster wing Ronan O'Mahony was sin-binned on 50 minutes after colliding with an airborne Hugo Bonneval.
Yet Munster managed to hold their lines for the 10-minute numerical disadvantage, conceding no points, only conceding once O'Mahony returned.
Stade back row Jono Ross capitalised on a poor home lineout to score on 63 minutes, the malfunction serving as a reminder that Munster still have a long way to go to return to their early-season form.
However, they ran out deserved winners as man of the match and captain CJ Stander capped a fine individual performance with the fourth, bonus-point try 12 minutes from time, Keatley nailing the conversion from out wide to the right to send the supporters home with a long-missed warm feeling on a cold winter's afternoon.
Munster: S Zebo; K Earls, F Saili, R Scannell (L Amorosino, 61), R O'Mahony; I Keatley, C Murray (T O'Leary, 73); D Kilcoyne (L O'Connor, 77), M Sherry (N Scannell, 69), M Sagario (J Ryan, 49); D Foley, M Chisholm (D Ryan, 49); B Holland (R Copeland, 69), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander – captain (J O'Donoghue, 73).
Yellow card: R O'Mahony 50-60
Stade Français: H Bonneval; W Vuidarvuwalu, J Danty, P Williams, J Arias; M Steyn (J Plisson, 73), J Dupuy (J Tomas, 73); Z Taulafo, L Panis, R Slimani (P A Emile, 55), P Gabrillagues, P Papé (H Pyle, 65), S Macalou (S Nicolas, 58), J Ross, S Parisse – captain.
Replacements not used: Z Zhvania, H Van der Merwe, J Sinzelle.
Referee: JP Doyle (RFU)