Munster Rugby secured their place in the semi finals of the Amlin Challenge cup with a 5 point win over French side Brive, in an exciting match in France.
Dougie Howlett and Keith Earls grabbed two tries apiece as both sides gave an exhibition of rugby in a game that saw the lead change hands on a number of occasions. The game was just 60 seconds in when Dougie Howlett crossed for the first of the games nine tries, the New Zealander finishing his own run under the posts following some good work by Lifemini Maifi. Ronan O’Gara then converted his first and easiest kick of the day.
If Brive were rocked by that opening minute then there was more to come as Earls danced his way through the Brive defence to send the visiting support to Rugby Heaven. O’Gara missed this time but Munster was still 12 points to nil up inside the first five minutes.
Like Munster, Brive is not without pedigree, having won the Heineken cup in 1997 and 1998 and they belied their current position at the wrong end of the top 14 table with a magnificent display of running rugby. They were rewarded on 10 minutes with their first penalty of the day which Mathieu Belie kicked to reduce the deficit to 9.
Those 3 points kick started Brive and suddenly it was Munster who were on the back foot and following an intense passage of play, Brive were back in the game with South African lock Retief Uys crossing in the corner. Belie converted and suddenly it was game on.
A two point deficit became a 5 point lead minutes later when Fabrice Estebanez barged his way over after breaking endless tackles, Belie converting with ease.
There wasn’t a chance to grab a breathe in this game both for the players and those watching as despite the heat Munster weren’t giving up and almost straight from the kick off Howlett had his second of the day following a good counter attack. O’Gara converted to put Munster 19-17 ahead.
It was evitable that the game would go through a dry spell and that was the end of the try scoring for the first half, however it wasn’t the end of the scoring as Belie landed a penalty 4 minutes before half time to send Brive in with the narrowest of one point lead.
The momentum looked to have swung the way of the French side when Belie added his third penalty of the day on 44 minutes to put Brive four points ahead however 2 minutes later Earls had his second of the day following good link up play with Howlett, O’Gara’s conversion putting Munster 3 ahead.
There was no let in the Munster attack and moments after coming on, Peter Stringer pounced on a mistake by Scott Spedding to go in under the posts. O’Gara converted and Munster was now in control of the game.
O’Gara has been in fantastic form of late and his showed his class from distance with two penalties from near the half way line sandwiched in between a straight forward penalty following a high tackle on Stringer.
With 10 minutes to go Munster looked comfortable as they led by 19 points, 42-23 however the introduction of Shaun Perry revitalised Brive and firstly Palisson crossed on 70 minutes and then with less than 3 minutes to go Perry crossed to reduce the deficit. Both tries were converted by Belie to make it a 5 point game.
In the end Munster managed to hold on and they will now meet English premiership side Harlequins for a place in the final.