Ronan O’Gara was the hero once again as his last minute drop goal won the game for Munster in their round two pool clash with Castres in Toulouse; the final score standing at 27-24 to the away side.
Munster showed the resilience and mental strength they are renowned for the second week in a row and overturned an 11-point deficit Castres held over them in the first half to win the game with the last kick.
Tries from Doug Howlett, Peter O’Mahony and Will Chambers helped secure the points for Munster while O’Gara converted all three tries, scored a penalty and the all important drop goal.
Munster seemed to be taken aback by the home side’s start, as Castres were 6-0 up within the first six minutes thanks to the long range kicking of Pierre Bernard and another six minutes after that they added 5 points to their score.
Brice Mach was the scorer as Castres worked the ball across Munster’s defence until they found an opening on the right wing and the hooker was on hand to capitalise for his team.
Bernard missed his conversion attempt however and in the 24th minute Munster put their first points on the board with a try from Doug Howlett.
O’Gara had just missed a simple drop goal and Munster’s attacking opportunity looked to be wasted but the team in red drove forward once again and James Coughlan sent away the New Zealand winger for his sides opening try.
O’Gara duly converted the try but it was Castres who were on the scoreboard next after an uncharacteristic mistake from captain O’Connell gifted the home side position just metres from the Munster tryline.
Castres shifted the ball from right to left and found acres of space on the wing where Pierre Gilles Lakafia’s brilliant inside step avoided a tackle from Howlett and went over for the home team’s second try which Bernard made no mistake in converting this time to put his side 18-7 in front.
Munster’s attempt for a second try took the game five minutes over the usual 40 minute mark as scrum after scrum collapsed and the referee eventually gave a penalty to Munster which O’Gara kicked to make it 18-10 to Castres by half time.
Munster upped the pressure in the second half and got their rewards just 4 minutes in when some quick passing from O’Connell and Conor Murray led to an opening down the right wing which Peter O’Mahony was glad to take advantage of for his first Heineken Cup try; converted by O’Gara.
10 minutes later Castres put some breathing space between themselves and the visitors when Bernard kicked a penalty but the French side contrived to be the masters of their own downfall with less than 15 minutes to go.
The home team had the ball inside their own 22 metre line and needed to simply clear it but Remi Tales’ attempted kick was charged down by O’Gara and the ball rebounded to substitute Leamy who passed to fellow sub Will Chambers who gladly went over the line for five points.
Munster now led 24-12 after O’Gara converted Chambers’ try but a penalty given away by BJ Botha was kicked over the bar by Bernard to level the scores with less than 10 minutes to go.
It was Munster who were putting most of the pressure on in the final moments of the game but basic errors and penalty concessions kept letting Castres off the hook.
Those errors and mistakes disappeared when the clock ticked over into the red and Munster’s pack shaped themselves to allow their talismanic out-half to have a crack at the posts.
Castres must have seen it coming but failed to stop the number 10 swirling the ball over the bar from around 40 metres out and sealing the win for the visitors.
Munster were by no means perfect and let simple opportunities slip through the hands, with O’Gara missing much easier drop goals than the winner and basic handling errors letting them down at times but their conviction, determination and heart mean they are now in pole position to finish the group as leaders, at 1.11 with Betfair.com.