ON their way to a 25th Thomond Park Heineken Cup triumph, just a couple of days before the anniversary of that famous win over the All Blacks, Munster showed glimpses of absolute brilliance.
Their display was highlighted by six smashing tries; scores taken with a combination of brute force and stunning running skills; the downside was that they also conceded 23 points at home to a French side reeling from the defeat at home to Cardiff a week before.
That won’t go unnoticed when the coach Declan Kidney prepares for a return trip to France in January.
Yet, on another lousy day for football, Munster produced way more positives than negatives. They did have to battle out of touch, but they held up well against a strong Bourgoin scrum, and their mauling was excellent, both offensively and defensively.
But perhaps the most exciting part of this all-action performance was Munster’s ability to spin possession wide and to drive aggressively up the middle in equal measure.
Trevor Halstead won the Man of the Match award — with some justification — but it could have gone to a number of others, particularly to Shaun Payne, who put in the type of performance, well, that we have come to expect.
Barry Murphy, having only recently recovered from his broken leg, was back to close enough to his best, while John Kelly and Ian Dowling worked brilliantly with Payne at the back to ensure that Bourgoin, intent on using the Garryowen to unsettle Munster, could never succeed.
As usual, O’Gara got an excellent service from Peter Stringer, and if the out half’s first half line kicking was ever so slightly off course, his distribution and decision-making going forward was clinically good.
There were cracks at times, but mainly because Munster tried to be so positive. Kidney noted: “I would have been far less happy if we hadn’t tried to do things, to make things happen. You’ve got to give credit to the team for that.”
Munster were surely well pleased with the lead of 14 points they enjoyed at the interval, but not necessarily with the totality of performance.
Bourgoin are noted as the best line out team in France and that showed on occasions. Munster struggled to win the same quality of possession, although one superb take helped lead to the opening try, and it became more streamlined as the game progressed.
Munster won’t be happy with the number of first half turnovers, but they were happy to note that this French team were not the potent attacking force that many others are.
Most of the chances fell to Munster, and despite some of those handling errors, they took good advantage. Frankie Sheahan charged in for the first try after eight minutes in between penalties by Boyet.
O’Gara kicked a subsequent penalty and the mood of the fans brightened in the 32nd and 35th minutes when Ian Dowling and Barry Murphy got in for brilliant tries, the second of which O’Gara converted for a 20-6 lead.
Munster suffered a dramatic setback 12 minutes into the second half when Bourgoin broke away from their own line after a Munster turnover and substitute Florian Denos made it all the way for a try that Boyet converted.
It was to be a brief boost. Munster turned the screw when Donncha O’Callaghan got in for the bonus try that O’Gara converted, and the home side, playing some marvellously entertaining rugby, scorched on to victory. Kelly got his second try that O’Gara converted for a 34-13 lead, and while Boyet kicked a penalty, Andy Kyriacou stormed over for a further exceptional score that was chiefly orchestrated by hard graft from John Hayes and David Wallace at source, and spectacular work by newcomer Lifiemi Mafi.
Bourgoin, to their credit, hit back in injury time and Denos got in for his second try that Boyet converted. It was both consolation and a reminder that this Bourgoin side have plenty of guts.
MUNSTER: S. Payne, J. Kelly, B. Murphy, T. Halstead, I. Dowling, R. O’Gara, P. Stringer, M. Horan, F. Sheahan, J. Hayes, D.O’Callaghan, P. O’Connell, A. Quinlan, D. Leamy, D. Wallace.
Replacements: M. O’Driscoll for Quinlan (63), J. O’Sullivan for O’Connell, T. O’Leary for Stringer, J. Manning for O’Gara (all 68), A. Kyriacou for Sheahan, L. Mafi for Halstead (both 71), temporary, F. Puciariello for Horan (40-45).
BOURGOIN: S. Laloo, J. Janin, G Bousses, S. Finau, R. Coetzee, B. Boyet, M. Prendergast, O. Milloud, B. Cabello, O. Sourgens, C. Del Fava, B. Williams, A. Petrilli, J. Bonnaire (captain), M. Rennie.
Replacements: D. Florin for Janin (injured, 15), J. Frier for Perrilli, P. Cardinali for Sourgens (both 55), W. Jooste for Rennie (63), J. Genevois for Cabello, M. Campeggia for Prendergast (both 80).
Referee: W. Barnes (England).