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Brave Munster just fall short

Toulon 24

Munster 16

IT was one of the great occasions of a superb rugby tournament today in the Veldrome in Marseilles but a magnificent and courageous performance from Munster just came up short as Toulon qualified for a final meeting in Heineken Cup 2014 against Saracens in Cardiff on May 24.

It is difficult to describe the amount of effort put in by Rob Penney’s men. They trailed by nine points at the break and after surviving two try opportunities by the French, they came back to within two points of their opponents when Simon Zebo squeezed over near the corner flag and Ian Keatley, who was magnificent throughout, landed the difficult conversion.

It looked at that stage as if Toulon were rocking as memories of semi-final wins in Bordeaux in 2000 and in Beziers in 2002 flooded back. Keatley was wide with a kickable penalty as the tension rose and Jonny Wilkinson hit the target with a similar effort as Toulon went 21-16 in front. The last quarter was a nail-biting affair with the intensity levels rising in every area of the field. A brilliant defending tackle by Zebo deprived Toulon of a certain try and a after a long period of possession around the French 22, Munster failed to find a gap that could have brought them victory. Losing Keith Earls to the sin bin did not help the Munster effort but the attitude and commitment of the entire team was typical of what this club is founded on.

Right at the finish, Toulon fought their way to the Munster 22 and after a Wilkinson drop goal was brilliantly blocked down, the former England number ten kicked the last penalty of the game to give the millionaire club of French rugby their ticket to the final.

It was a closely-fought opening half. Munster were well in the game after 20 minutes with Ian Keatley showing great composure with his place kicking. Jonny Wilkinson had kicked Toulon into an early lead with a penalty which the Munster out-half matched to leave the sides level at 3-3. Two further penalties from Wilkinson and one from Keatley kept the scoreboard busy as Toulon led 9-6 before a well-taken drop goal from Wilkinson, after Dave Foley knocked-on the re-start, put the French side 12-9 to the good. Toulon finished the half strongest as Munster only threated from broken play and a fifth successful shot at the posts by Wilkinson and a massive penalty from inside his own half from full-back Delon Armitage gave Toulon a half-time lead of 18-9.

Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley Capt., BJ Botha; Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell; CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.

Toulon: Delon Armitage; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana; Jonny Wilkinson (c), Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Craig Burden, Carl Hayman, Danie Rossouw, Jocelino Suta, Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage

Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Alexandre Menini, Martin Castrogiovanni, Virgile Bruni, David Smith, Maxime Mermoz, Michael Claassens, Konstantine Mikautadze.

Referee, Wayne Barnes, England.

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