Take the draw, the two points and run: Reds ride their luck

The rouble with Castres is, you never quite know what they will bring to the table. With just two wins from seven outings in the French Top 14, they should make for more inviting opposition than any of the other five French qualifiers in this season’s Champions Cup.
Take the draw, the two points and run: Reds ride their luck

Then again, their last home game two weeks ago resulted in a 29-23 win over reigning Top 14 champions Clermont Auvergne.

Their last Champions Cup outing at the Stade Pierre Fabre prior to yesterday?

A 24-24 draw against Leinster last January, despite the fact that they had no chance of advancing to the quarter-finals.

Despite a disastrous start to their domestic competition, Castres were always going to prove a handful for Munster in this game.

Given that Munster were barely hanging on in the final quarter, a draw was about as good as it was going to get.

In fact, Munster were blessed to escape with two points as Argentine out-half Benjamin Urdapilleta missed two glorious opportunities, from a penalty and a drop goal, in the last few minutes to fashion a home win.

Had that transpired Munster could have no complaints, having lost their way as the second half progressed.

Travelling without Jaco Taute and Jean Kleyn left Munster vulnerable, especially in the key setpiece battle but every squad in this tournament, as Leinster showed impressively on Saturday, has to cope with the loss of key personnel at some stage.

It was clear from the outset that, despite their recent poor form, Castres were chasing a famous European scalp and shredded Munster in the key opening period of this game. With Conor Murray receiving a yellow card as early as the fifth minute, Castres had at least one call, and possibly two, for a penalty try but referee Matthew Carley was not in the mood to oblige. For that, Munster should be thankful.

As with all French club sides, once they get on the front foot and boss the gainline, especially playing at home, they are extremely dangerous and difficult to stop. Munster were asked all kinds of questions defensively and, to their credit, found the answer on most occasions.

Having successfully survived a series of early onslaughts, it was a far bigger blow to cough up the inevitable opening try to Castres from an intercept pass deep in the opposition half.

Chris Farrell, who will not have enjoyed his return to France after a few impressive seasons with Grenoble, was far too ambitious with a floated pass that was picked off with ease by Robert Ebersohn. Munster immediately found themselves fighting an uphill battle.

To recover from the concession of two first-half tries to lead by three points, seven minutes after the break, after a quickly taken penalty by Murray resulted in a try for the impressive Dave Kilcoyne, highlighted Munster’s traditional resilience on the road in Europe.

Once Castres drew level minutes later however, Munster lost their way and were a poor second throughout the final quarter.

Twice, in quick succession, Castres looked certain to score out wide but for two outstanding pieces of scramble defence from Murray and Darren Sweetnam, in the opposite corners of the field, to save the day.

In those circumstances to come away with a draw was somewhat of a moral victory for Munster. Trouble is it might not be enough as Racing 92 and Leicester Tigers will travel here chasing an away win that could prove crucial in what is certain to be a very tight pool.

Clever line out variation and an improving scrum, after some early difficulties, enabled Munster compete well up front but, not for the first time this season, Tyler Bleyendaal offered nothing like the control and direction from out-half that he displayed on so many occasions when driving Munster forward last season.

The midfield combination of Farrell and Rory Scannell is still a work in progress as they are trying to build an understanding in the heat of battle. Scannell had an outstanding game, showing some decent footwork and good hands.

He was a constant threat with ball in hand, as was Keith Earls and Simon Zebo who ran some brilliant lines throughout.

A year to the day of Anthony Foley’s tragic passing in Paris, it must have been a bit eerie for this group of players and management to find themselves back on French soil. In the circumstances, they did well to return home with something tangible to show for their efforts even it it means that next Saturday’s game against Racing 92 has a backs to the wall feel to it already. That should suit Munster just fine.

I

f strength in depth is an absolute pre-requisite for success in Europe then Leinster sent a clear message to the other teams in this season’s Champions Cup. With their multi-millionaire owner Mohed Altred splashing the cash liberally over the summer some rate Montpellier as dark horses for this season’s title.

For Leinster to record a bonus point win shorn four British and Irish Lions in Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney, a nailed on future Lion in Gary Ringrose and a hardened Wallaby in Scott Fardy says everything about the quality available to Leo Cullen.

Despite having a surfeit a stellar names in your side, rugby is still hugely dependent on a strong work ethic and players willing to cover for each other. That is exactly what Leinster did when playing against a significant wind in the opening half with the excellence of their defensive line speed forcing Montpellier into constant error.

To score two tries against the elements set Leinster up perfectly for the second half even if the visitors’ human battering ram - Nemani Nadolo - offered them a lifeline just before the break to put just five points between the sides.

That Leinster lost their captain and most experienced back in Isa Nacewa at precisely the same time heaped even more pressure on Cullen’s young charges. Yet they prevailed.

Montpellier played with a complete lack of urgency for long tracts of this game. Leinster’s forwards may have resembled a lightweight taking on a super heavyweight but they prevailed by displaying far greater athleticism and finesse.

In the absence of Sexton, Ross Byrne mixed his game magnificently and was central to everything positive the home side produced. Cullen resisted the temptation to shift Joey Carbery from full back to deputise for Sexton and was rewarded with a superb, counter attacking, display from him.

When the chips were down and Leinster were left defending a seven-point lead in the closing minutes, reduced to 14 men after Adam Byrne was yellow carded for a deliberate knockon, the character of their side shone through. They were also aided by the appalling decision of Timoci Nagusa to ignore a clear overlap with a try beckoning.

If Leinster have every reason to be pleased with this bonus point win, the losing one acquired by Montpellier could yet prove crucial. On that basis, Leinster hope that they will have already qualified by the time the return fixture at the Altrad Stadium comes around in January.

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