Munster put to the sword by James

Clermont Auvergne 25 Munster 19
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Losing is not a popular word in the vocabulary of the European champions Munster, even when a bonus point is attached, but they were put to the sword yesterday by 25 points racked up by the very non-French Brock James from Adelaide at the hub of an increasingly proud Clermont Auvergne.

This was a must-win match for the Auvergnats if they were to have any further interest in Pool 1 of the Heineken Cup, having lost at home to Sale.

They have never made it past the quarter finals. Kiwi coach Vern Cotter, who signed only a couple of months ago a new contract taking him through to 2011, may now be tempted to take a strong side to Ireland next weekend for the return encounter.

If all the early energy and ambition came from Clermont, they were also setting a pattern which persisted throughout the first half which saw them held up time and again without breaking the gain line.

The tackling and general defensive work by Munster, flankers Alan Quinlan and Niall Ronan always prominent, meant that the men in yellow and blue never looked like breaking the red line guarding the Munster try zone.

Instead, the home side could manage only penalties, all four of them from the boot of Brock James.

At least that kept them in touch. Prop Marcus Horan, in contrast, had been trying his hand in the right wing position and was rewarded with a try out wide, which Ronan O'Gara, counting down the last 21 towards a tally of 1,000 points in the European Cup alone, converted from near touch.

The real right wing, former All Black Doug Howlett, then also came desperately close and as the crowd cheered the television official's thumbs down it was quickly silenced by another penalty in front of the posts. O'Gara stepped up to bag his third three-pointer, but there was all to play for and, when James slotted his fifth less than two minutes into the second half, the Clermont blood was up from 1 to 15.

It was James again who sold O'Gara a dummy, stepped inside and snatched the try which had been threatening.

He converted and Clermont decided they wanted some more. Munster, struggling for any meaningful possession and now playing always in their own half, often in their 22, was probably thankful only to concede a further, sixth penalty to James in a torrid third quarter.

If there was any criticism for the Munster coach Tony McGahan it was that, when they did battle back into the game in the final 20 minutes, they tried too many ambitious passing moves. Their only reward was a final O'Gara penalty, made easier by 10 metres after the ball was deliberately thrown away. That leaves him seven to go. Clermont could be victims, yet.