Munster 45-18 Toulon, Heineken Cup, October 16
Munster bounce back to rout Toulon
October 16, 2010
Doug Howlett barges over the line for one of his two tries during the Thomond Stadium clash
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Munster returned to winning ways and sounded a warning to the rest of Europe with a thumping 45-18 victory over Toulon in their Heineken Cup clash at Thomond Stadium.
The hosts ran in a total of six tries with a brace from Doug Howlett and further scores from Denis Leamy, Tony Buckley, Mick O'Driscoll and James Coughlan powering them to a deserved victory over their Pool 2 rivals that will go some way to erasing the memory of their opening loss to London Irish. The boot of a near-faultless Ronan O'Gara hammered home their dominance but it was a superior set-piece, a well-regimented defence and an impressive work-rate that laid the foundation for their latest euro triumph.
Toulon had threatened a major upset with the opening try of the game from Jean-Philippe Genevois but they were unable to maintain that momentum with a late score for captain Joe van Niekerk nothing more than a consolation leaving the star-studded French side to rue their failure to capitalise on hard-won territory and possession.
Toulon stunned the home crowd with a try within a minute of the kick off and although you could not fault their endeavour, the score owed a great deal to lady luck. A forward-looking pass found Fontunuupule Auelua in midfield and he crashed through Munster defence before the ball was recycled to Felipe Contepomi. The Argentinean playmaker, handed the Toulon No.10 shirt ahead of an inform Jonny Wilkinson, then found Van Niekerk with a deft off-load and the No.8 fed Genevois who had the pace and power to surge over the line. Contepomi added the extras as the Munster faithful aired their grievances at referee Wayne Barnes' failure to spot the forward pass.
Back came Munster with a formidable forward effort taking the hosts close to the Toulon line and successive penalties drew a warning for the visitors before the hosts turned the screw by kicking to the corner for the lineout. They were soon knocking on the door again and when the inevitable whistle came it was Toulon flanker George Smith who was penalised for hands in the ruck and sent to the sin-bin as a result.
The whistle continued to favour Munster with the scrum now their weapon of choice and the pressure finally told. A short-side break off the back of a scrum from scrum-half Peter Stringer created the opening for Leamy who he found on the inside for a simple score. O'Gara slotted the conversion to level the scores with ten minutes gone.
Toulon looked to re-take the lead with a long-range penalty soon after but Contepomi's kick drifted wide before a sweeping counter from Munster had the crowd on their feet. Fullback Paul Warwick opted to run the ball back and he found support in winger Doug Howlett who in turn fed centre Johne Murphy at pace and it looked as if the home side had conjured one of the tries of the season only for the Television Match Official to disallow the score with a last-ditch tackle from Contepomi forcing his rival into touch in the corner as he looked to touch down.
Munster continued to dominate and Buckley was the next to drive close to the Toulon line only to be denied by a tackle from wing Paul Sackey and the TMO. But the industrious tight-head cropped up just a few phases later to crash over from close range. O'Gara bisected the posts to cement the home side's well-deserved lead but Contepomi's first penalty of the game kept Toulon in touch.
But Munster raised their game again before the break with Howlett squeezing over for his side's third try after a neat chip and chase from Warwick had forced Toulon onto the back foot. O'Gara's conversion carried the hosts to a 14-point half-time lead and a missed penalty from Contepomi ensured that's the way it stayed as they headed to the tunnel.
O'Gara was short with a long-range penalty shortly after the re-start before the introduction of Wilkinson to the Toulon backline. But the England international could do little to prevent the Munster pack drawing another penalty with O'Gara making no mistake on this occasion.
A superb drop goal from Wilkinson reduced the arrears and Toulon looked to capitalise by playing with more width. And the muscle of Van Niekerk and Auelua and the guile of Wilkinson helped them dominate territory and possession for long periods. But they failed to make it pay and a yellow card for Contepomi for an off the ball tackle on Howlett added to their woe.
And it soon got worse for the Top 14 side. A powerful drive from O'Driscoll resulted in the bonus-point try and O'Gara's latest conversion left Toulon chasing the game.
However, Munster were hungry for more and they did not have to wait long. A good run from Wilkinson appeared to have relieved the pressure on his defence but a turnover allowed O'Gara to drop a delightful cross kick into the path of Howlett and the Kiwi claimed the ball and dived over to score in one classy movement. O'Gara's exceptional display with the boot brought him yet another conversion.
Toulon went in search of an unlikely bonus point and a powerful break off the back of a scrum by Van Niekerk took his side close but he spilled the ball in the tackle as he crashed over the line. The Toulon talisman was back in the thick of it just two minutes later - this time powering over for a try in the corner following a neat pass from Gabirieli Lovobalavu. But it was fitting that Munster had the final say with replacement Coughlan burrowing his way over in the shadow of the posts after some excellent work from his fellow forwards. O'Gara's conversion set the seal on the win that is sure to reverberate around Europe.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.