MUNSTER WERE BEATEN at their own game for much of this encounter, as Clermont’s hugely aggressive line speed forced Anthony Foley’s men into errors in a 16-9 defeat. An uncharacteristic blocked-down Conor Murray kick outside the Munster 22 in the first half was symptomatic.
Clermont celebrate a superb victory in Limerick. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
Julien Bonnaire, man of the match Fritz Lee and the rest of the Clermont pack scrapped for every single loose ball, got hands into the rucks to slow Munster’s possession and looked for trouble off the ball too.
We’ve become accustomed to travelling French sides not quite bringing that intensity to Thomond Park, but this international-influenced Clermont team are something altogether different.
Usually an area of major strength for Anthony Foley’s side, the attacking maul failed to fire at Thomond Park this evening. On four occasions, Munster kicked for touch and attempted to maul from within striking range of the Clermont tryline. Thrice they dropped their transfer, on the final occasion Damien Chouly picked off the throw.
O’Connell and Munster just couldn’t get their maul going. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
In contrast, Clermont took their one prime mauling opportunity, the powerful Lee crossing with just a minute gone. The Samoan number eight broke back to the right after his pack had drawn the Munster resistance in, Lee finding little in his way as he dove over.
Opportunism or analysis-driven, it was a clever score. Although Munster drew a first-half penalty at the maul to allow Ian Keatley to kick three point, it was very much a case of being out-mauled in Limerick.
Foley’s side too narrow
The narrow nature of Munster’s attack has been a genuine strength on other occasions this season, notably against Leinster and Saracens. However, at Thomond Park this evening the same attribute turned into a weakness.
Zebo showed glimpses of his attacking quality. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Clermont were more than happy to defend around the fringes, winning collisions time and again in the tight channels and forcing Munster into several unsuccessful offload attempts. Simon Zebo did make a couple of half-breaks in those zones but Foley’s men needed more variety.
It was certainly not a night for expensive rugby in the slippery conditions in Limerick, although Munster might regret not adding a little more width to their attack. Oftentimes, it was too predicatable, allowing Clermont to hammer forward into the tackle.