It doesn’t seem to matter what country they are in or what continent they are. Munster have a peculiar way of winning matches and they produced it again when it mattered most in trying conditions in the Highveld last night.
More than 200 Munster supporters roared them on as they came from 14-0 to edge in front in the final quarter — and then withstand a late onslaught, the sort which saw the Cheetahs win four of their last five home matches at Toyota Stadium close to the hooter.
They set up the chance to do that again with a succession of scrums inside the Munster 22 but Johaan van Graan’s men didn’t buckle on a couple of resets and won a penalty to secure a home quarter-final in the PRO14 and send them to Bordeaux next weekend on a high.
“We knew it would be tough. They are a quality side who had won so many of their games in the closing stages,” said van Graan.
“So it was great to hold out and get the win and return from South Africa with two wins. We will now turn our attentions to Racing 92 next week, but this is a good way to prepare for that.”
A heavy pitch after overnight rain, combined with the thin air in the Highveld ensured this was going to be a tough test for Munster and the task became even more difficult when they fell 14-0 behind after 28 minutes.
The Cheetahs were on the offensive from early, running from deep and punching holes in the visitors’ defence with their unpredictable and exciting play and it was no surprise when they hit the front after eleven minutes.
Both sides won penalties off each other’s scrum put-ins and the Cheetahs made the most, with full-back Clayton Blommetjies, who is heading to the Scarlets next season, bursting through to score, aided by a slip by Simon Zebo on the boggy surface.
Johan Goosen, back for his first competitive game since walking out on Racing 92 in December 2016, landed the difficult conversion as he chalks up some game-time before his controversial summer move to Montpellier.
Good tackles by Andrew Conway on Francois Venter and by Sammy Arnold on No 8 Uzair Cassiem — another who is heading to Scarlets next season — kept the Cheetahs at bay, but it was only a matter for how long after Zebo was binned for what was deemed a professional foul.
Munster rolled up the sleeves and battled away, going to the right corner with a penalty from the 20-metre line, but they lost the lineout and the chance was cleared.
And just when it looked like they would survive the binning without conceding a score, the Cheetahs struck for their second try.
Niall Scannell did well to turn the ball over inside his ten-metre line but Munster failed to secure possession and with scrum-half James Hart down injured, his opposite number Tian Meyer got in to score after a break by Blommetjies down the right.
Goosen again converted after the TMO had a look at one incident but did not seem keen to pursue argument by Munster to scrutinise something else in the move.
Jack O’Donoghue looked to have opened Munster’s account seven minutes from the break but the score did not count as Robin Copeland was adjudged to have knocked-on in a scrum, even though it was more than two phases previously. The scrum came after Goosen knocked-on behind his own lines, but it was rare error from a guy out of the game for 17 months.
It took Murray less than half a minute to make a telling impact when he was introduced for the injured Hart, skipping around from a scrum to score, with another unnecessary visit to the TMO to confirm what everyone in the ground already knew.
JJ Hanrahan converted to cut the gap to seven but the Cheetahs led 17-7 at the break when Goosen landed a penalty from distance.
Munster made a good start to the second-half and cut the gap when Hanrahan landed a good penalty from the ten-metre line after good work by Billy Holland helped force a turnover.
The constant interruptions did Munster no harm in the trying conditions, with Sammy Arnold and Jack O’Donoghue making telling contributions.
Good work by Gerbrandt Grobler resulted in more go-forward ball which coughed up another penalty and Hanrahan duly obliged from 35 metres to make it 17-13 after 52 minutes.
Another Hanrahan penalty cut to the minimum 10 minutes later.
Then four minutes after that, the Cheetahs coughed up yet another penalty just inside the Munster half.
Up stepped Murray, and from about 55 metres his kick split the posts and carried for another 10 metres. It was some kick to win a match.
All that mattered was to withstand the late onslaught.
But, in typical fashion, they did that with style as well.
Scorers for Cheetahs:
C Blommetjies, T Meyer tries, J Goosen 2 cons, pen.
Scorers for Munster:
C Murray try, JJ Hanrahan con, Hanrahan 3, C Murray pens.
C Blommetjies; W Small-Smith, F Venter, N Marais, S Maxwane; J Goosen, T Meyer; O Nche, T van Jaarsveld, J Coetzee; C Wegner, R Hugo; P Schoeman, O Mohoje, U Cassiem.
C Marais for Nche (58), T Botha for Coetzee (58), H Venter for Mohoje (59), R Bernardo for Hugo (66), C Swart for Goosen (68).
S Zebo; A Conway, S Arnold, D Goggin, D Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, J Hart; B Scott, N Scannell, J Ryan; G Grobler, B Holland; P O’Mahony, J O’Donoghue, R Copeland.
C Murray for Hart (36), S Archer for Ryan (40), R Marshall for N Scannell (44), D Kilcoyne for Scott (44), I Keatley for Zebo (48), D O’Callaghan for O’Mahony (55), R Scannell for Goggin (58), C Oliver for O’Donoghue (75).
Mike Adamson (Scotland).
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