Munster coach Tony McGahan was relieved to see his charges come through a frenetic Amlin Cup quarter-final tie after scoring five tries against Brive in a 42-37 win at Parc Municipal on Saturday.
Double Heineken Cup champions Munster looked to be cruising when wingers Doug Howlett and the magnificent Keith Earls both crossed for tries in the first five minutes, but Retief Uys and Fabrice Estebanez struck back for the French side.
Howlett stopped the rot with another score, but Brive battled their way to a 20-19 lead at the end of a breathless first period played in temperatures of 28 degrees centigrade.
However, Ugo Mola’s Brive charges undid all their hard work early in the second half. Earls and Peter Stringer were allowed to score two further tries and Ronan O’Gara’s 17-point haul set up a home semi-final against Harlequins, despite late tries from Alexis Palisson and Shaun Perry.
The remaining Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final at the end of the month will be a French derby between Stade Francais and Clermont Auvergne.
Tony McGahan said: “To get the result and make into the semi-finals is a great first of all.
“Brive have turned over some quality side’s here today and you can see why from that performance and it was a tremendous game.
“It was a hot day and there was a lot of space in which to play out there and both sided looked to play, which created a great game.
“It looked like we had built a cushion but then they came back at us and I am just really glad we managed to hang on and get the result.
“It was really open out there and in attack we were great but there we made some crucial errors on our part in defence.
“It was a cracking atmosphere and the game really lived up to it.
“Harlequins are a quality Premiership side and they are going to be looking for a place in the final and will want to come over to us and take a big scalp at Thomond Park.”
Brive’s former England centre Jamie Noon believes Munster have the quality to win the Amlin Challenge Cup at the first time of asking.
Jamie Noon said: “Munster are class and they have the firepower and the experience to go all the way and win the competition.”
“It was a great game to play in and a fantastic fixture for the Amlin tournament. It showed what a high level the competition is and showed the best of French and Irish rugby.
“I am disappointed as we have just lost a quarter-final and to come so close and lose is hard but it was truly a fantastic game,” he said.
“We knew it was going to be a massive fixture, Munster are European giants and we didn’t help ourselves by not starting well.”
Scorers - Munster: 42 (Keith Earls, Doug Howlett two tries each, Peter Stringer try, Ronan O’Gara three pens, four cons); Brive: 37 (Retief Uys, Fabrice Estebanez, Alexis Palisson, Shaun Perry try each, Mathieu Belie three pens, four cons)
Munster: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Sam Tuitupou, Keith Earls; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll; Denis Leamy, David Wallace, James Coughlan. Replacements: Peter Stringer for Murray (48 mins), Marcus Horan for du Preez, Johne Murphy for Tuitupou (both 50 mins), Mike Sherry for Varley (54 mins), John Hayes for Buckley (59 mins), Donnacha Ryan for Coughlan (60 mins), Niall Ronan for Wallace (66 mins).
Brive: Scott Spedding; Guillaume Namy, Jamie Noon, Fabrice Estebanez, Alexis Palisson; Mathieu Belie, Augustin Figuerola; Davit Kinchagishvili, Benoit Cabello, Pablo Cardinali, Thibault Dubarry, Retief Uys, Gerhard Vosloo, Antonie Claassen (capt), Julien Le Devedec.
Replacements: Pat Barnard for Kinchagishvili, Vasil Fakovin for Cardinali, Jean-Philippe Bonrepaux for Cabello (all 48 mins), Regis Lespinas for Namy, Arnaud Mela for Dubarry (both 54 mins), Fabien Domingo for Uys (59 mins), Simon Azoulai for Devedec (62 mins), Shaun Perry for Estebanez (70 mins),
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)