Five points and five tries as rampant Reds pound Perpignan

Munster 36 Perpignan 8

Five points and  five tries  as rampant Reds pound Perpignan

Munster have been saddled with this shift more often that they would care for in the Heineken Cup, but they energised the lunchtime slot with a performance that delivered entertainment in abundance and five points to boot.

Five tries, spread between the third and 78th minutes, secured a place atop Pool 6 for Rob Penney’s side and strapped them securely into the driving seat in a bid to qualify for the knockout stages.

It wasn’t, unfortunately, a victory earned without cost as scrum-half Conor Murray looks unlikely to feature in the return leg next week after limping off with a knee injury sustained inside the first quarter.

Yet even that cloud came illuminated by a silver lining with his replacement Cathal Sheridan delivering an exceptional performance when called on to step in to the shoes of a man whose star has been so firmly in the ascendancy. With JJ Hanrahan also replacing a discommoded Ian Keatley before the end it meant Munster finished the game with a half-back pairing that had only half-a-dozen European appearances between them — all off the bench.

There were other individual talking points besides.

Chief among them was Sean Dougall. Injuries have restricted the flanker’s input at Munster but he has been exceptional at times and never more so than yesterday with an all-round performance on both sides of the ball.

It was Dougall who opened the scoring with the first try, one earned by Johne Murphy’s decision to eschew contact for space, and it set the tone for the next 37 minutes which ended with Munster 22-0 to the good.

If that sounds straightforward it wasn’t. It took Perpignan 80 minutes to register their only try, through wing Joffrey Michel, but the narrative could have changed considerably had the ball bounced differently at a handful of key moments earlier in the afternoon.

Chief among them was Johne Murphy cleaning up a loose ball under his own posts after 23 minutes, Earls cantering free for the second try after a turnover and Sofiane Guitone’s disallowed effort after 56 minutes for a forward pass.

None of which is to say the result was ever in doubt.

Penney’s devotion to expansive, running rugby was far from a qualified success last year but Munster gained considerably more profit from spreading their wings here even if that was less the case after the interval. Much of the fun came in a first-half. This was, instead, rugby’s version of freeform jazz, paint-it-as-you-feel-it impressionism transferred to a green sod in Limerick.

Munster’s heads-up rugby was wedded to some superb grafting with Felix Jones, Earls and Sheridan joining a superb back row and the rest of the grunts in earning crucial turnover ball when Perpignan probed with pace and intent. Yet the sequence that sealed it came after 26 minutes when, already 10-0 to the good, Munster opted for back-to-back lineouts rather than a shot at the posts and it ended with Dave Kilcoyne burrowing over from inches.

Ten minutes later and Earls was haring up the touchline and the focus turned to the one bonus point rather than the four already in the bag for the win and it came courtesy of a 66th minute penalty try. James Coughlan made it a quintet of touchdowns by going over at the back of a scrum just minutes after Earls had a second ruled out for a forward pass against a side troubled by injuries and a pitiable away record.

The French tend to be less pliable when they play within spitting distance of their town hall, of course, and there was enough about Perpignan yesterday to suspect that Munster will be hard-pressed at Stade Aime Giral.

They will travel knowing this was far from the perfect day and that will help. Four lost lineouts will be addressed in training this week. So, too, will their passing which all too often went to ground and hamstrung their obvious ambition. It was encouraging then to hear Penney voice such thoughts and that Saturday’s appointment had already been addressed while the steam from the showers was still shrouding the home dressing-room.

Much still needs to be done but the manner in which Munster have moved on from that opening shocker of a defeat to Edinburgh in Murrayfield has been impressive. Their destiny is still very much in their own hands.

MUNSTER: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony, S Dougall, J Coughlan.

Replacements: C Sheridan for Murray (18); JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (49); BJ Botha for Archer; J Cronin for Kilcoyne (both 61); D Hurley for Jones (62); B Holland for O’Callaghan (67); D Casey for Varley; CJ Stander for O‘Mahony (both 72).

PERPIGNAN: J Hook; J Michel, T Benvenuti, W Votu, S Guitone; C Lopez, T Ecochard; S Taofifenua, R Terrain, P Ion; L Charteris, G Vilaceca; JP Perez, A Strokosch, J Purll. Replacements: T Allan for Lopez (29); K Pulu for Taofifenua (47); Replacements: S Vahaamahina for Vilaceca (53); D Duvegne for Ecochard (56); M Delonca for Terrain (60); D Leo for Perez (63); JB Custoja for Purll (70).

Referee: G Garner (England).

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