It was not the first time Toulon captain Mathieu Bastareaud had appeared baffled by the events that had unfolded in front of his eyes at Thomond Park on Saturday.
The frustration and confusion he was expressing during the beaten quarter-finalists’ post-match press conference had also visited the bulldozing France centre on the field as he stood over Semi Radradra after the wing had botched an excellent try-scoring opportunity midway through the second half as this enthralling encountered teetered on a knife-edge.
Radradra, the code convert from Australia’s National Rugby League, had the line at his mercy only to spill the ball as he stretched his arm towards the line under pressure from Alex Wootton’s last-ditch tackle. As the ball bobbled loose Radradra’s first sight as he looked up will have been the disbelief on his captain’s face as he stood over him and a similar demeanour returned to Bastareaud as he pondered how Toulon had lost a game they had dominated in terms of possession and territory, enjoying 61 and 60 per cent respectively.
“We had territory and possession but we didn’t score points. If you don’t score tries you cannot win,” Bastareaud said.
“It’s very frustrating. We had a lot of opportunities and errors with the ball.”
An official count of 19 turnovers underlined his point, undermining the 23 defenders beaten by an explosive Toulon side which also felt hard done by regarding some of the judgments of referee Nigel Owens. Bastareaud walked a diplomatic line and preferred to praise Munster’s cohesion.
“The referee tries to do his best. I’m not happy with some of his decisions. We know this team had special spirit and today I think we saw that.”
Toulon’s English lock Dave Attwood, one of the standout performers for the three-time European champions alongside his compatriot at full-back Chris Ashton, was similarly both frustrated by his team’s errors and admiring of the Munster team ethic which had denied them.
“We had a number of opportunities and didn’t finish them off and made some defensive mistakes that cost us dearly,” Atwood said.
“The spirit here is very strong. It doesn’t take many mistakes against one of the top teams in Europe.
“There is a great atmosphere because there is a great team there. We certainly thought we had the firepower to beat them.”
So too head coach Fabien Galthie, who praised the organisational framework that allowed Munster to thrive on a budget a third of the size of Toulon’s.
“They are at home. They are (like) a national team, they are not like us,” Galthie said. “It is harder for us to build a team. They have the model, the provincial teams like Leinster and Munster.
“Munster on the first occasion scored a try and took the momentum.
“They took the moment, 10 points in two minutes. But we thought we did what we needed to do to win this match.”
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