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Late try enough as Munster make it three from three at Castres

By PA

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Gavin Coombes’ late try was good enough for Munster to come from behind and win a tight Champions Cup third-round pool match against Castres 16-13 at Stade Pierre Fabre.

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The fourth time was the charm as the number eight blitzed over from close range in the 78th minute after Tadhg Beirne had won another breakdown penalty, which was kicked to touch on the hosts’ five-metre line. Jack Crowley converted.

Munster had earlier blown three penalty kicks to touch, making a mess of the lineout each time. But Coombes’ score made up for those earlier errors, as Munster made it three wins from three in this year’s competition.

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Full-back Thomas Larregain’s 28th-minute try – his first for Castres since joining from ProD2 side Colomiers – was the highlight of a messily enthralling opening half. Ben Botica added the extras.

He was the first on the scene when Botica chipped over Munster’s solid defensive line after the hosts had battered away for several phases following a penalty kicked to touch just outside the visitors’ five-metre line.

Until that point, Jack Crowley’s 23rd-minute crossfield kick to release Keith Earls deep inside Munster’s own 22 had been the most threatening moment of a close-quarter half. Earls offloaded to Mike Haley, who found Chris Farrell. The ball was deep inside Castres’ 22 before the attack was halted. Munster won a penalty from the breakdown, but messed up the resulting close-range lineout.

Crowley had kicked Munster into an 11th-minute lead with a penalty after Castres scrum-half Santiago Arata had gone off his feet at a breakdown. The pushing and shoving that followed was a brief reminder of previous spicy encounters between the two sides in this competition.

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Munster quickly settled into a set-piece plan where they were confident they would have the upper hand. They kept things simple in their own half, kicking for territory cleverly, while Beirne and captain Peter O’Mahony ramped up the pressure on the set-piece and breakdown.

But Castres were both scrappy and disciplined, giving little away and troubling Munster more than they would have expected in the tight and the loose.

The game had gone ahead in temperatures hovering around zero at Stade Pierre Fabre despite Castres reporting six positive Covid-19 results from routine testing on Wednesday.

Those test results accounted for some of the hosts’ 13 changes from the side that beat Stade Francais in the Top 14 last Saturday. The visitors, meanwhile, had made five changes from the side that had downed Ulster in the URC last weekend.

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Munster fought their way back into the lead in the opening 10 minutes in the second half, courtesy of two Crowley penalties.

But they gave away two kickable chances of their own after 55 and 66 minutes. Botica converted both to make it 13-9.

Castres then tried to shut the game down. They seemed to have played the percentages better than Munster had earlier, until Coombes’ late score which was converted by Crowley.

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