Bourgoin 27 Munster 30
Munster dug deep for a narrow win but they were almost rolled over in Switzerland as Bourgoin threatened to ruin the Heineken Cup holders’ quarter-final qualification hopes.
Declan Kidney’s men survived the sternest test of their cup defence to retake top spot in Pool Four and tee up a winner-takes-all battle against Leicester at Thomond Park next Saturday.
At Stade de Geneve, the home of Swiss football club Servette FC, Bourgoin pulled out all the stops and ran in four tries with teenager Matthieu Nicolas grabbing two second-half scores.
Lifeimi Mafi notched his first Heineken Cup try after 66 minutes, adding to an earlier Marcus Horan effort and a penalty try, and that haul, allied to 15 points from the boot of Ronan O’Gara, was enough for Munster to maintain their unbeaten run in the pool.
Sixth in the French Top 14 championship and buoyed by last week’s win over Biarritz, Bourgoin weathered an early storm and stole a sixth-minute lead when Sebastien Laloo landed a long-range penalty.
Donncha O’Callaghan then reeled away in pain when he tried to gather possession and got a knee in the back from Julien Pierre.
Munster regrouped and O’Gara bisected the posts with the resulting penalty, however an error from the Ireland fly-half led to Bourgoin’s opening try after 17 minutes.
His short kick over the top of the Bourgoin defence failed to work out, Salesi Finau chipped back into open space and the long limbs of captain Julien Bonnaire nudged the ball forward twice before he pounced to score in the right corner. Laloo’s conversion attempt came back off the post.
Munster squeezed it back to 8-6 when Pablo Cardinali brought down a scrum and O’Gara mopped up with the penalty kick.
Bourgoin’s lead was rubbed out on 24 minutes when their defensive line was fooled by Barry Murphy’s jinking feet and the swift hands of David Wallace and pacy prop Horan blazed over in the right corner.
O’Gara converted yet Munster could never exert full control, with their lineout under pressure and Bourgoin’s clinical attack capitalising on almost every error from the champions.
The French side went 15-13 in front on the half-hour mark. Tongan bruiser Finau was again central to the try – he put a thunderous hit on Horan over halfway, the ball squirted free and centre Guillaume Bousses scooped it up to run in unchallenged for a seven-pointer.
Munster snaffled a 20-15 lead for the interval when a Paul O’Connell-inspired lineout drive was pulled down and referee Malcolm Changleng awarded a penalty try, with flanker Brice Monzeglio seeing yellow for his sins.
Munster persisted with an open game plan for the second half but got little reward as Bourgoin’s rock-solid defending thwarted them time and again.
O’Gara ended a run of 16 successful kicks at goal when he swept a 46th-minute penalty attempt wide and Bourgoin nosed back in front when replacement Nicolas, who looks an excellent prospect at 19, wriggled over under two tacklers for his first try.
Laloo’s conversion drew the sides level at 20-20 and the tension grew for Munster’s band of supporters. They drew breath again when O’Gara sent Shaun Payne hurtling through a midfield gap and Mafi was up in support to notch his third try in two games.
O’Gara converted and tagged on a much-needed penalty as Munster sprung Jerry Flannery, who was making his first appearance of the season, and Anthony Foley from the bench.
Nicolas still had time to skip past Murphy’s weak challenge and cruise over for another converted try, setting up a nail-biting finish but Munster, despite some haphazard passing, held on.