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Struggling Munster no match for Stade in Paris

(Losing Andrew Conway early on disrupted backline)

European Club Champions Cup:
Stade Français Paris 27, Munster Rugby 7:
AFTER one of their worst away performances in their long association with European rugby, Munster crashed out of the Club Champions Cup tonight in Paris. They were hanging on by their finger-tips at half time where a Keatley penalty miss on the stroke of the break could have given them a lifeline.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for the reds in the second period after their trailed 10-0 and, to be honest, they lacked leadership, a required standard of defensive basics and a few individuals who, in the past, could be relied upon to lead from the front.
This was another soul destroying display that hits deep into a loyal red army that has travelled throughout Europe and shared some glorious away victories with their heroes.
Three defeats in Pool 4 of this season’s competition gives Munster and early exit for 2015/16 and on this display, European silverware appears now to be but a distant dream.
Even down to 14 players in the second half, Stade Francais were superior all over the field. Their pack pummelled the red eight at the scrum and apart from a late flurry which produced a disallowed try by Rory Scannell for a forward pass by Francis Saili and a scrappy try that was finished off by Conor Murray and converted by Scannell, there were very few reasons to feel optimistic that Munster will be a threat in Europe in the immediate future.
With that 10-0 lead, Stade Francais set about their task of sealing this victory after the re-start. Keatley kicked direct which resulted in Morne Steyn slotting over another three pointer to push the lead to 13-0 on 54 minutes and the same player missed a chance from another penalty a few minutes later.
Then came Scannell’s disallowed effort but two converted tries from the home side really buried any hopes of a dramatic Munster recovery. Both of them showed dreadful weaknesses in the Munster defence with second-row Sekou Mackalou showing the skills of a winger after missed tackles by Stander, Keatley, O’Donoghue and Earls to go over unopposed. Full back Bonneval then showed his ability to slice through static defences with another try, both of which were converted by Morne Steyn who sailed through the 80 minutes as if it was a practice run on a sunny Paris morning.
Stade almost got the winning bonus point with the last play of the game, running the ball from almost their own line and the final pass just falling short of try number four.
At half time in Stade Jean Bouin it was 10-0 to the home side. Munster had started comfortably and were not seriously threatened in the opening stages. Keatley and Murray used their kicking intelligently but they were dealt an early injury blow when Andrew Conway had to leave the field with an injury after an aerial clash as he chased a high kick. A few minutes later there was a further set-back for the reds when BJ Botha also had to leave the field with an injury but with Ronan O’Mahony and John Ryan filling the positions well, Munster still looked like they could snatch the first score.
The big chance of the half came for them on 16 minutes. Rory Scannell kicked a penalty deep into the Stade red zone, they set up the maul to force a penalty but Ian Keatley’s right footer slipped narrowly wide of the left hand post. Keith Earls they sliced a clearance inside his own 22, Tommy O’Donnell returned after a spell in the repair zone of the touchline and it took a saving tackle by Saili on Vuidarvuwalu to save a scoring chance for Stade.
The almost inevitable opening score for the home side came on 33 minutes when Paul Williams went through a weak tackle in midfield to touch down close to the posts and Morne Steyn popped over the easy conversion.
The 7-0 lead increased to 10-0 three minutes later. Munster lost their own lineout throw and with Tommy O’Donnell finally calling a day and replaced by Jack O’Donoghue, Morne Steyn landed a penalty.
There was some drama with the clock in the red. Munster showed great character to set up an attack that brought them over the ten metre line. They were awarded the kickable penalty but during the ‘advantage play’ Stade left wing Josaia Raisuqe was shown red by referee Nigel Owens for putting his finger close to the eye of CJ Stander as they grappled for a ball that had gone dead. Keatley’s penalty could have left just seven points between the sides, but the out-half again missed the target.
Down to 14 men for the rest of the game, Stade Francais’s lead now looked vulnerable.
By the end of the game the Munster camp resembled a war zone with BJ Botha, Tommy O’Donnell, Andrew Conway (all retiring in the early stages) and Dave Kilcoyne operating for most of the game with vision in only one eye, the other one full obscured by a swollen eye-lid.
Next Saturday the sides meet again in Thomond Park with Munster playing only for pride. Where the club goes from now nobody knows. No doubt there will be some soul-searching but the juggernaut pack of the French tonight will be something they will have to deal with again in seven days time.
Stade Français Paris: Hugo Bonneval; Julien Arias, Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, Paul Williams, Josaia Raisuqe; Morné Steyn, Julien Dupuy; Zak Taulafo, Laurent Sempéré, Paul Alo Emile, Hugh Pyle, Paul Gabrillagues, Sekou Macalou, Sylvain Nicolas, Sergio Parisse (c)
Replacements: Laurent Panis, Heinke Van der Merwe, Rabah Slimani, Gerhard Mostert, Jonathan Ross, Julien Tomas, Jules Plisson, Jonathan Danty
Munster: Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Mark Chisholm, Robin Copeland, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (c)
Replacements: Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Mario Sagario, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Tomas O’Leary, Denis Hurley, Ronan O’Mahony

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