It was just so typically Munster. McGahn’s side had failed to impress all season, O’Gara’s conversion rate loitered below 50%, the scrum was either collapsing or retreating, the pack looked jaded, the backs ponderous. The writing was on the wall, having scraped past Perpignan by the slenderest of margins in fortress Thomond, the Limerickmen looked destined to crumble against the mighty Catalans who hadn’t lost at home in the Heineken Cup in five years. What transpired was one of the best European performances Munster have ever conjured up.
Munster bullied their French opponents for eight minutes and dominated every facet of the contest. The scrum held its own providing Leamy with the platform to repeatedly gain yards. The restart was perfectly commanded by captain O’Connell who looked 8 feet tall all match popping up everywhere to devastating effect. O’Gara and Warwick pulled the strings in the back line giving Munster the edge territorially.
The breakdown, however was where the visitors utterly outclassed Perpignan. Ruck after ruck saw navy shirts committing in twos and threes as the “aging” pack outmuscled the stunned hosts. Wallace, O’Connell and co. showed remarkable desire and technique to orchestrate countless turnovers, due credit must go to forwards coach Laurie Fisher. For the first time this season Munster used the kicking game to good effect and had the French defence scrambling anytime O’Leary, O’Gara or Warwick took control.
The victory was the product of a brilliant collective performance but individuals, particluarly in the forwards really shone. O’ Connell, Leamy, Quinlan, Wallace all put in a breathless showing. The timing and force with which they attacked rucks ensured quick ball and for the first time we saw the point of contact shifted beyond the first receiver, successfully fooling the Perpignan defence and earing crucial yards and momentum. Behind the pack O’Leay was as menacing as ever. O’Gara fed his outside backs well and more importantly kicked immaculately. It was also great to see Jean De Villiers finally announced himself in a Munster shirt. The former Springbok showed devastating speed and strength to score the pick of the tries.
To confront such formidable opponents in such a hostile atmosphere and return victorious would in itself have been an astonishing feat. To pick up a try bonus point and leave Perpignan pointless seemed near impossible, but we should know by now that this Munster team excels in the face of adversity, as they proved last Sunday in what was possibly their finest European outing.