Clermont Auvergne 16 Munster 10 match report: Paul O'Connell's grit drives brave Munster close

Clermont survive late Irish fightback to reach Heineken Cup final as province fall just short

stade de la mosson

Not quite a miracle match to add to Munster folklore but what heart they showed in all but reining Europe's heirs apparent, Clermont Auvergne, in an intoxicatingly colourful semi-final in Montpellier.

Clermont made it through to their first final, a year after a fingertipped fumble by Wesley Fofana denied them at this stage against Leinster, but Munster's dogged spirit was epitomised in the unyielding form of their captain, Paul O'Connell. Under the eye of Lions coaches Warren Gatland and Andy Farrell, the former Ireland captain had been close to missing the match, it emerged yesterday morning, after tweaking a groin muscle in a practice run on Monday. The need to stand down from training for the rest of the week took O'Connell's mind, he said, off the furore surrounding his escape from so much as a citing after kicking Leinster's Dave Kearney in the head earlier this month. "The injury took over for me, it was the main worry," O'Connell said. "The Leinster incident got a lot of coverage in France but I'd like to think it didn't affect me. The injury did."

Neverthless O'Connell, like six of his fellow Munster forwards, made it through a switchback 80 minutes that had Clermont seemingly home and hosed with a 13-3 lead at half-time. The French Top 14 leaders needed old fashioned forward grunt as much as any of their more alluring flourishes by the end despite the advantage of playing on native soil.

Ronan O'Gara, the Munster fly-half and the Heineken Cup's all-time leading points scorer by hundreds of points, went on a lap of honour with his son Rua at the end and many believe the dad to be close to retirement. His record 10th Heineken semi-final was lost, leaving Munster's titles of 2006 and 2008 further in the past, but a new team is emerging. Witness the back row Tommy O'Donnell, Peter O'Mahony and James Coughlan – inheritors of the legacy of Foley, Leamy, Quinlan and company – tackling brilliantly and forcing epic effort by Clermont at the breakdown.

O'Gara kicked an early penalty but Clermont's response was a try that summed up their dynamic, thoroughly modern game, played by a team mostly consisting of huge, mobile men who can all offload before or after the tackle. The 33-year-old O'Connell made a finger-in-the-dyke tackle on Sitveni Sivivatu that postponed the inevitable; the other wing Napolioni Nalaga eventually strolled dismissively past O'Gara near the posts for the ninth-minute score that had begun with the Fijian making a barrelling run on the left. Morgan Parra, that bright-minded general with the cultured left foot, converted then swiped over a penalty from 45 metres and another from about half that distance for 13-3.

With O'Connell a little tentative, there were just minor bursts of Munster activity to lift their outnumbered support (it felt as if the Stade Marcel Michelin in Clermont had been uprooted, expanded and plonked a few hundred miles south on the Mediterranean coast).

The stumbles into unfulfilling cul-de-sacs included Conor Murray's short-side break ending with a mistimed pass to Simon Zebo, another Lions candidate forced to live on iron rations. O'Gara's short drop-out backfired when it was caught by Jamie Cudmore (who soon went off injured for Clermont, along with the centre Regan King), and though Munster's Mike Sherry effected a crucial steal at the tackle in his 22, Clermont did precisely the same up the other end to snuff out a rare Irish threat.

When Sherry was penalised for preventing release seven minutes into the second half, Parra's fourth kick out of four felt like the telling blow. But the miraculous tales of the All Blacks in 1978, and Gloucester in a Heineken pool more recently came to mind as Munster grabbed a try on 59 minutes. O'Mahony caught a line-out on the left, Felix Jones made a charge in the middle and all O'Gara's wiles went into a deft chip that made Lee Byrne turn and was latched on to by Denis Hurley, who had just come on for Keith Earls. The conversion by O'Gara left a six-point gap for Munster to chase.

And, yes the Clermont team described by O'Connell afterwards as "probably the best in Europe", wobbled. Twice. They eked a penalty out of Munster's BJ Botha for dropping a scrum but Parra kicked wide across the posts from the 22-metre line for his first miss. Then O'Mahony nicked a line-out off Julien Bonnaire, captaining Clermont in the absence of the injured Aurélien Rougerie, and on the opposite flank only a wicked bounce as Casey Laulala kicked through prevented either him or Jones scoring for Munster. The dawdling Nalaga was the most relieved man in Montpellier, because you wouldn't have bet against O'Gara landing the conversion.

Murray had one last dab off a line-out that ended with a forward pass before Clermont won another scrum penalty upfield and celebrated with equal amounts of ecstasy and relief. "We know Saracens and Toulon well," Parra said of today's other semi-finalists. "I don't care who gets through, we need to win the final."

Clermont Auvergne: L Byrne; S Sivivatu, R King (N Nakaitaci 64), W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James, M Parra; T Domingo (V Debaty 62), B Kayser (T Paulo 69), D Zirakashvili (C Ric 77), J Cudmore (J Pierre 39), N Hines, J Bonnaire (capt), D Chouly, J Bardy (A Lapandre 57).

Munster: F Jones; K Earls (D Hurley 51), C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; R O'Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry (D Varley 57), BJ Botha, D Ryan, P O'Connell (capt), P O'Mahony, J Coughlan, T O'Donnell.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk