MUNSTER suffered back-to-back defeats in the European Champions Cup to Clermont Auvergne, but the losing bonus point Anthony Foley’s side earned in a 26-19 reverse keeps their hopes of making the quarter-finals alive.
Out-half Ian Keatley landed a crucial last gasp penalty as Munster came away with a precious point from the Stade Marcel Michelin ahead of their remaining pool fixtures away to Saracens and at home to Sale in January. This is the first time Munster have lost both back-to-back fixtures in European club rugby’s top competition.
Munster are now in third place in Pool 1, four points behind leaders Clermont and three points adrift of second-placed Saracens.
Despite an improved display from their mis-firing performance at Thomond Park eight days earlier, Munster still trailed French Top 14 side Clermont 6-15 at half-time.
A scintillating solo effort from Clermont wing Noa Nakaitaci produced the try which provided the home side with a flattering 9-point lead at the break.
Clermont were penalised at the first breakdown of the second period - one of Munster’s strong points - and Keatley held his nerve to cut the deficit to six points with 38 minutes to go.
But travelling delight turned to despair with Welsh referee Nigel Owens yellow carding Felix Jones for a trip on Lopez, the outside half picking himself up to punish 14-man Munster with the resulting penalty.
Jones resumed duty but then had to watch Lopez fire over a long range penalty that left Munster looking at a double point deficit for the first time.
And there was worse to come, Lopez sending a pinpoint cross kick for Chouly to collect unopposed and cross for his second and Clermont’s third try.
With five minutes remaining, Munster hooker Duncan Casey finally found the way to the Clermont line intercepting a pass. Keatley converted and duly added a late, late penalty to secure a bonus point for the visitors.