Munster 13 – 18 Toulouse
Five-time European champions Toulouse began their 2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup campaign in ideal fashion, as they secured a tight 18-13 victory over Munster at a foggy and freezing Thomond Park.
In doing so, Toulouse become just the fourth club side ever to win at the home of Munster Rugby in front of a crowd in the European Cup, following in the footsteps of Leicester Tigers, Ulster and Clermont Auvergne.
Munster enjoyed more possession and territory in the clash, but struggled to get past a brilliant Toulouse defence, with just a single Joey Carbery try and two penalties all they could register in Limerick.
Munster – Tries: Carbery (10). Cons: Carbery (11). Pens: Carbery (39, 75).
Toulouse – Tries: Lebel (23), Tauzin (42). Cons: Ramos (23). Pens: Ramos (30, 72). Yellow cards: Dupont (78).
Toulouse, the current Top 14 leaders in France, notched two tries in the victory through back-three duo Matthis Lebel and Lucas Tauzin, while full-back Thomas Ramos struck two penalties.
Scrum-half Antoine Dupont – who was originally banned for this fixture due to his red card for France against South Africa in November, only to have his suspension halved on appeal – was named Player of the Match.
Graham Rowntree’s Munster travel to face Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens next Sunday, in a clash they now must win to have realistic hopes of progressing to the Round of 16.
Played in thick fog and very cold conditions, Munster earned an early boost when they drove forward for a penalty from the first scrum in their own 22 – a significant moment considering it was at that very set-piece Munster were punished heavily at the last time the sides met in last season’s European Cup quarter-final
The hosts should have made their early territory count when Toulouse second row Emmanuel Meafou was penalised for failing to roll away, but Carbery hit the post with a kick he really ought to have landed.
Munster continued to probe, attacking off two lineouts in the Toulouse half, and the next time the visitors were penalised at the breakdown, captain Peter O’Mahony and Carbery decided to kick to the corner.
Though the forthcoming maul struggled for movement following the lineout, Munster played away and went close through No 8 Gavin Coombes off quick Craig Casey ball, before Carbery dived over for the opening try in the 10th minute.
The Munster 10 converted superbly for a 7-0 lead, and though the home side continued to dominate the early stages, their next spell in possession ended when second row Jean Kleyn knocked on.
Toulouse got their own back at the scrum on 22 minutes when they earned a penalty near halfway – a decision which allowed them territory in the Munster third for the first time in the contest, and from which they would strike for a try against the run of play.
Initially forming a maul which roared forward and was collapsed to create penalty advantage, the Toulouse backs then sprung into action, showing quick hands across the pitch for Lebel to sprint forward and touch down in the corner despite the attentions of Shane Daly.
Ramos converted exceptionally off the touchline to level the game, and the visitors nearly struck again soon after when Dupont stepped and seared through on a superb break, only for Munster wing Calvin Nash to intercept a pass out wide.
On the half hour, Toulouse hit the front when tighthead Dorian Aldegheri jackalled to win a penalty at the breakdown and Ramos calmly slotted between the posts from 40 metres out.
A Casey knock-on just outside the Toulouse 22 after a stirring Mike Haley break saw Munster’s next chance end, before referee Christophe Ridley again penalised Munster at the breakdown to allow Toulouse back into the hosts’ half – Kleyn picked out for sealing off.
With the half drawing to a close, Haley knocked on a Carbery pass on the Toulouse 22 as Munster continued to fail to make their pressure count on the scoreboard, to much frustration.
The boot of Carbery ensured they would head in at half-time level, however, as he curled over in worsening fog for 10-10 after Toulouse were penalised again for failing to roll away.
Toulouse made the perfect start to the second half, as a mistake by Carbery in the face of aggressively quick defensive line-speed saw the hosts gain possession, counter and force Munster centre Antoine Frisch to kick out.
Off the ensuing lineout, Dupont pirouetted and offloaded for replacement wing Tauzin to dive over for their second try.
Toulouse were extremely fortune to avoid a card of some description when Thibaud Flament took out Haley in the air without getting airborne himself, but referee Ridley decreed a penalty-only decision to be sufficient.
Munster kicked to the corner at five points adrift, and though they went close and forced a penalty advantage near the try-line, the next time they kicked to the corner, Toulouse rendered the maul unplayable and were able to clear.
Ramos passed up the chance to stretch the lead to two-scores when he struck a penalty short, but for all Munster’s time in possession and phases in and around the Toulouse 22 for much of the remainder, they struggled to create chances up against a very strong Toulouse defence – the visitors ferocious at the breakdown and in contact.
A Ramos penalty from directly in front of the posts gave Toulouse an eight-point lead into the final 10 minutes, but Munster responded with a Carbery penalty with four minutes to go to set up a grandstand finish.
Dupont was sin-binned for an intentional knock-on as Munster attempted to attack from deep following the restart – with referee Ridley having to be convinced by TMO Rowan Kitt to produce the card – but the concession of a Munster penalty near halfway stopped any chance they had of pulling off a late win.