European Rugby Champions Cup: Castres 17 – 17 Munster Rugby

Two points shared by both sides after a frantic eighty minutes of action, a contest where both sides will rue missed opportunities and questionable officiating at the death which on another side could have handed the hosts with a penalty kick to win the contest. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the contest.

Castres take advantage of Munster inaccuracy early

In warm and sunny conditions, Munster Rugby started the contest on the front foot, building some good phases of play where David Kilcoyne was prominent but all the early groundwork was reduced to nothing when Chris Farrell decided to hit a colleague with a trademark skip pass. Credit to Ebersohn for reading the play no doubt seeing the video footage from last weekend and strode with the ball for a try under the posts. Terrible try concession from the visitors. Farrell should have taken the ball into contact but his style of play is now becoming predictable. time for the player to mix up his play for the betterment of the player and the team. The thirteen channel for Munster yielded little thereafter.

Munster Rugby were now on the back foot and the penalty count which was a key talking before this fixture was starting to rise. The Castres pack lifted by the intercept try starting to build a platform. The hosts were presented with a penalty opportunity but it was missed, it gave Munster the chance to regroup and with Simon Zebo in the ranks, the visitors got back into the contest with an excellent try, patience in phase play leading to Zebo seeing a small gap to crash over. Game on as Bleyendaal added the extras.

Now was the time for Munster Rugby to focus and put pressure on their hosts but Castres took full advantage of sloppy Munster defensive play to hit the front again. Castres back line love the unstructured play, playing off the cuff and the visitors were not switched onto the threat as Dumora went over. Ortega’s offload was sublime. 14-7 and Munster on the back foot.

The fighting spirit in this Munster Rugby side again came to the fore as the half ended. An excellent passage of play seeing Munster camped on the hosts line. Castres penalty count rising at an alarming rate so much so that Ebersohn was shown a yellow just before the interval. Munster Rugby took the penalty option and the arrears reduced to four at half-time, a kind scoreline for Munster considering that they were second rate for long periods.

Munster Rugby roar back into the contest

Castres set out their stall in the opening second half exchanges. Fourteen players. The pack were asked to drive up repeatedly, build the phases and kill the clock. It worked for around five minutes but when Munster Rugby did get their hands on the ball, line breaks were presenting themselves. Zebo went close. Debutante Mark Flanagan even closer, look destined to score but an inaccurate pass from Murray denied the score. However, the referee had given a penalty for Munster Rugby and a quick tap and go from Murray was finished well by Kilcoyne. Murray takes the plaudits, saw the hosts were not set defensively and who better to boar over the line then Kilcoyne who had a superb game. The conversion was superbly scored by Bleyendaal and suddenly, Munster were in front by three points. 14-17. Time to assert dominance.

As in the Leinster game, Munster’s restart after the Kilcoyne try was poor. Castres winning the restart battle and using their pack to create territorial platform. The Munster pack were now struggling to defend the hosts lineout. Ortega calling the lineout well and the abrasive front five were having success with the maul. Urdapilleta levelled the game with a regulation penalty as Munster were pinged for collapsing the maul.

Time for Munster Rugby to throw on fresh bodies and stem the flow and so followed a slew of changes. Ryan on for Archer. Marshall on for Scannell but no replacement for Kilcoyne? Flanagan was replaced by Copeland; mobility over physicality and a distinct lack of options in the second row at this time. O’Donnell made way for O’Donoghue and Sweetnam who had a quiet game was replaced by Conway.

Frantic last quarter yields no further scores

As the warm conditions took their toll on both sides, defensive line speed was starting to slow. Both sides had excellent opportunities to add to their points tally. Munster Rugby in particular unfortunate to not leak any further tries; the touchline came to the rescue of the visitors on two occasions in this period. David Smith was a serious threat out wide with ball in hand and caused Munster plenty of headaches during his cameo. Rory Scannell’s tackling and game management were excellent for Munster in this second half and with the ever alert Keith Earls intercepting Castres passing exchanges, Munster had a glorious opportunity to score thereafter but a combination of abrasive defense and static line running from Munster saw possession lost.

Castres on reflection will feel hard done by in the closing exchanges. Zebo looked to deliberately knock on in the final quarter but was missed by the officiating crew deep in Munster territory. The incident that will irk the locals further was the clear infringement from Robin Copeland at the death; coming in from the side. The officiating crew unbelievably gave a knock-on and scrum. Munster still had to survive a nervy final two minutes deep in their twenty-two. Castres pack tried to setup the drop-goal but the kick was indecisive at best, going wide and Earls touching down. Munster get out of jail. Plenty to work on.

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