Munster had slight edge on territory on Sunday but, perhaps crucially, Clermont conceded 24 turnovers to Munster’s 11 despite the hosts having less possession in the game. Fifteen of those turnovers were conceded in the Munster half.
JJ Hanrahan was the focus of much interest before the game but one early contribution suggested flash over pragmatism; a poor cross kick undoing a hard earned turnover by his colleagues in the forward pack.
He redeemed himself later with a simple but perfect grubber into touch on the Clermont line after Felix Jones had conceded a yellow card. It was the end of a stirring couple of minutes from Munster who made sure that if they were going to play for 10 minutes one man down then Clermont would start off deep in their own half.
Munster gave up just one penalty in that time, and that was a calculated concession. Tommy O’Donnell was shuttled from the flank of the scrum to the right flank of the pitch, Andrew Conway switched to the left wing with Simon Zebo dropping to full back. The scrum was reset first time up and more valuable seconds ticked by. And when Camille Lopez missed the penalty it was a perfect reward for Munster’s gamble.
Later, Clermont, with a 21-9 lead and chasing the extra two tries for a bonus point, would concede six penalties in the last 20 minutes. That’s momentum-killing stuff, which led to that Ian Keatley strike to finish within seven at one of Europe’s great grounds.
At the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, Leinster would scrape home against Harlequins but, due to their meagre onepoint win, are now behind on points difference in any potential tiebreaker with Conor O’Shea’s side. Leinster’s scrum on their own ball has had just a 73% success rate in their four European Cup games, well below the competition average of 83%. They’ve allowed their opponents to have an 88% success rate.
In the second half props Jack McGrath and Mike Ross conceded four penalties in 19 minutes. In the 63rd minute referee Romain Poite took captain Jamie Heaslip aside to warn him further scrummaging misconduct would lead to cards.
But there would be no more scrums until the final three minutes. With seconds to go and down to 14 men Conor O’Shea subbed in lock Sam Twomey for a winger.
“We tried to make a hasty substitution right at the end when we got ourselves into a scrum position and get a full pack on,” he explained after the game. One final effort to eke out a scrum penalty, but too late for Quins. On radio commentary Liam Toland offered a suggestion: should Harlequins have considered engineering a knock on after Poite’s warning? Gamesmanship in the extreme, perhaps, but an intriguing notion.
Stats courtesy of OPTA