Munster tryscorer Simon Zebo powers through the Castres Olympique cover in Sunday's Champions Cup game at Thomond Park
RAMPANT Munster secured a home quarter-final in this season’s Champions Cup, thanks to a 45-point demolition of Castres Olympique in a delayed pool game at Thomond Park on Sunday evening.
Clinical Munster racked up six tries in all to set up a mouth-watering quarter-final with another French side, big-spending Toulon back at Thomond Park in April.
And should Munster overcome the Top 14 side in their record 17th European, Cup quarter-final appearance, the two-time winners will be away to either Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92 in the semi-finals of the competition.
After an evenly contested opening quarter, Munster put Castres to the sword in the second half, running in six tries and scoring 48 unanswered points to claim a 10th win in 14 European Cup meetings with Castres.
Just after 12.30pm, confirmation came over the PA at Thomond Park that the fixture would be put back for three hours until 4pm. Match referee Ben Whitehouse opted to delay the kick-off time because of health and safety concerns for the players as a result of puddles of the standing water which were visible on the pitch.
When the delayed kick-off time arrived it was obvious that a number of Munster fans on the terraces who had travelled distances to attend the game opted to return home and watch it on TV rather than sit it out. However, to be fair the number of absentee fans was small.
The two teams retired to their respective hotels to wait it out. When they finally arrived onto the pitch to begin the fixture the reception was deafening,
We wondered which side would be most impacted by the delay in kick-off and it appeared to be Munster who struggled to claim any meaningful possession and territory.
Castres made the better start to lead 3-0 after 13 minutes with a Rory Cockott penalty. However, Munster hit back with 13 unanswered points over the remainder of the half.
Out-half Ian Keatley landed two penalty goals in the 18th and 25th minutes before the complexion of the game changed just after the half hour mark with the sin-binning of Castres centre Thomas Combezou .
Munster sniffed blood, opting for a scrum off the resultant penalty. Having been awarded a free-kick off that scrum, Murray took a quick tap and the ball was quickly spread wide for Man of the Match Keith Earls to score his 14th European Cup try in the left corner. Keatley nailed a superb touchlinhe conversion to make it 13-3.
Munster held their 10-point advantage until half-time and indeed it could well have been more had Murray and Conway not spilled the ball between them when trying to link up after a terrific break through the middle of the pitch from Chris Farrell.
Thomond Park paid tribute to the late Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer with The Cranberries at half-time as Munster supporters broke into a warm round of applause as a mark of respect to the Limerick woman who died last week aged just 46.
For the second half, Munster needed to bring the same level of intensity and pace to their game that has characterised their display in the second quarter.
And right on queue, the home side nabbed a second try, off a brilliantly-executed rolling maul as Kiwi hooker Rhys Marshall was credited with the touchdown. Keatley’s conversion made it 20-3.
Munster continued to turn the screw and Castres lost replacement prop Daniel Kotze to the sin-bin as the French side were pinged for infringing at a series of scrums close to their own line.
Referee Woodhouse awarded Munster a penalty try soon after and the home side had bagged the bonus point try within a flash as full-back Simon Zebo streaked over. Keatley’s conversion made it 34-3.
Munster continue to rack up the points with replacement Alex Wootton dotting down in the 69th minute and JJ Hanrahan converting, while James Cronin got in on the try-scoring act with the final play of the game, with Hanrahan again adding the extras.
SCORERS: Munster: Keith Earls, Rhys Marshall, Simon Zebo, Alex Wootton, James Cronin try each, pen try, Ian Keatley two pens, three cons, JJ Hanrahan two cons. Castres Olympique: Rory Kockott pen,
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O'Mahony (capt), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander. Replacements: James Cronin for Kilcoyne (injured, 17 mins), John Ryan for Archer (42 mins), Niall Scannell for Marshall (48 mins), Darren O’Shea for Holland (61 mins), Alex Wootton for Earls (63 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley (65 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for Cloete (66 mins), Duncan Williams for Murray (71 mins).
CASTRES OLYMPIQUE: Geoffrey Palis; Kylian Jaminet, Thomas Combezou, Robert Ebersohn (capt), David Smith; Julien Dumora, Rory Kockott; Antoine Tichit, Jody Jenneker, Damien Tussac, Alexandre Bias, Thibault Lassalle, Yannick Caballero, Steve Mafi, Alex Tulou. Replacements: Kevin Firmin for Jenneker, Tudor Stroe for Tichit, Victor Moreaux for Lasselle (all 47 mins), Daniel Kotze for Tussac (53 mins), Damien Tussac for Tulou (56 mins-66 mins), Yohan Le Bourhis for Palis, Afusipa Taumoepeau for Combezou (both 61 mins), Yohan Domenech for Cockott (72 mins),
REFEREE: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)