Munster 20-19 Toulon: Late Andrew Conway try books Champions Cup semi-final
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 01/04/18 6:59pm
A magnificent Andrew Conway effort with just four minutes remaining ensured Munster booked their place in the last four of the Champions Cup with a dramatic 20-19 victory over Toulon at Thomond Park.
Toulon were well on top for most of the opening period, but had only an Anthony Belleau penalty and drop goal to show for their efforts, while Munster went in at the break in the lead courtesy of a Conor Murray try and Ian Keatley penalty.
Keatley added a second penalty at the beginning of the second half, but a Francois Trinh-Duc penalty and Chris Ashton try with 15 minutes left on the clock looked like dumping the Irish province out.
That was until Conway popped up with the most brilliant of tries, slaloming from the left wing to dive over near the sticks and pull the result out of the fire.
Munster will face either Clermont at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard in Saint-Etienne or Racing 92 at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux in the semi-finals, depending on the result of their semi-final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Action.
The game started at a rip-roaring pace with Toulon utterly dominating the opening proceedings. Indeed, as early as 48 seconds in they had a potential argument over a penalty try.
An intelligent kick through from Toulon scrum-half Eric Escande saw Ashton sprint on to it, but his opposite number Simon Zebo appeared to bat the ball away in his own in-goal. In consultation with the TMO, referee Nigel Owens gave the Munster man the benefit of the doubt, awarding a knock-on against Toulon.
From the ensuing defensive scrum, Munster tighthead Stephen Archer was penalised for collapsing, but after Toulon kicked to the corner, their attacking lineout was stolen by Peter O'Mahony.
After four minutes, Josua Tuisova had a chance to go over in the corner after a long Ma'a Nonu pass cut out Zebo, but Conway was across from the opposite wing to put in a sensational try-saving tackle.
Two minutes later, Ashton had a chance in the opposite corner, but once again Munster's last-ditch defence did the job as centre Sam Arnold came across to force a knock-on.
Toulon hit the front after nine minutes when Rory Scannell was penalised for failing to roll away, and Belleau struck a superb penalty from distance.
Munster had to wait until 13 minutes for their very first foray into the Toulon 22, when Keatley turned down a 40-metre shot at goal to kick to the corner, but CJ Stander was tackled into touch when attacking down the short side off the collapsed maul.
Toulon stretched their lead out to 6-0 when Belleau dropped a classy drop goal off his left foot from close range, and six minutes later Munster lost another key man in Zebo to injury.
But three minutes later, Munster hit the front in bizarre circumstances. A strong carry from Jack O'Donoghue in midfield was followed by a Keatley grubber kick.
Toulon recovered to regather the ball ahead of Conway but in the ensuing ruck, Guilhem Guirado knocked on and Murray showed outstanding intelligence of the rules to nip around, pick the ball up and ground it - recognising the ruck was over. A lengthy TMO review confirmed the try was legitimate.
Munster, somewhat incredibly, added three more points to their lead nine minutes from the half when Semi Radradra was penalised for blocking replacement Darren Sweetnam off the ball. Keatley obliged from 15 metres in from touch, 30 metres out.
Murray attempted a penalty from the halfway line on the stroke of half-time but his effort was sliced wide and short.
On 50 minutes, it was Munster's turn to feel aggrieved by a refereeing decision when Sweetnam's bat back in the air saw Alex Wootton eventually stroll over for a try, but the play was called back for an apparent knock-on.
Five minutes later, Munster were next to trouble the scoreboard when a replacement frontrow of James Cronin, Niall Scannell and John Ryan pulverised a Toulon scrum against the head to earn a penalty from close range, which Keatley converted.
Toulon wasted a glorious opportunity near the hour mark to level things when Radradra knocked on in the act of attempting to ground the ball, with Mathieu Bastareaud waiting for the offload on the inside.
Trinh-Duc reduced the gap to four points when he struck a penalty after 62 minutes for a Jean Kleyn discretion at the maul.
With 15 minutes remaining, Toulon took the lead when Bastareaud picked up Trinh-Duc's offload and fed Ashton on his shoulder to dive over the sticks.
Trinh-Duc extended the lead out to six points with a penalty on 69 minutes and at that stage, Munster looked up against it to turn things around.
But with just four minutes left on the clock, Conway showed athleticism to catch the ball above his head and keep a clearing Trinh-Duc kick on the field of play, before embarking on the most spectacular of individual efforts, searing and weaving past a number of Toulon shirts to cue delirium in the ground.