MUNSTER are into the Champions Cup semi finals following a thrilling 20-19 victory over Toulon at Thomond Park.
It looked like all was lost going into the final minutes after Chris Ashton’s try and five points from the boot of Francois Trinh-Duc had put the French side 19-13 ahead.
However, a stunning piece of individual brilliance from Andrew Conway swayed the game Munster’s way late on. His try will go down as one of the greatest ever seen at Thomond Park.
Toulon had all the early momentum and came close to opening the scoring when Eric Escande spotted a gap in the behind the home defence and kicked for Chris Ashton to chase.
Luckily for Munster, Simon Zebo was alert to the danger and did enough to stop the former Saracens full back from scoring. In doing so, Zebo got the injury that was eventually to end his game later in the half.
Last ditch defending kept Munster in the game with Andrew Conway then denying Josua Tuiova after Zebo was caught in no man’s land.
Ashton came close again in the sixth minute of a frenetic opening but Sammy Arnold forces a fumble on the left hand side attack.
Toulon were rewarded for their dominance four minutes later. Rory Scannell failed to roll away from the tackle area and Anthony Belleau nailed a penalty from 45 metres to give the French side a deserved 3-0 advantage.
Munster eventually got to grips with the challenge in front of them. A penalty by Ian Keatley brought them into the Toulon ’22 and after fine carried from Jack O’Donoghue and Scannell, CJ Stander came within inches of scoring but was forced into touch by Escande.
Toulon weathered that brief storm and came down into Munster territory again in the 19th minute with the classy Belleau landing a left footed drop goal to double their lead.
The momentum changed five minutes later when O’Donoghue powered through an attempted Ma’a Nonu tackle and put Munster on the front foot.
Keatley then kicked in behind for Conway and Darren Sweetnam to chase. Toulon got back to initially hold off the attack but when Guilhem Guirado lost control of the ball on his own line, Murray intervened to pick the loose ball and touch down.
A lengthy discussion ensued between referee Nigel Owens and his TMO but the outcome was a Munster try. Keatley slotted the conversion with ease to put Munster into the lead.
He followed up with another excellent kick on the half hour after Semi Radradra put in a late hit on Sweetnam and against the run of play Munster were 10-6 ahead at the break.
Munster almost bagged the first try of the second half when a Murray up and under looked to have been knocked backwards by Sweetnam.
The ball was recycled for Alex Wootton to score but play was brought back by referee Owens as he deemed Sweetnam to have knocked on.
Keatley then added another penalty after Toulon were blown up at a scrum but Toulon then back roaring back with Radradra inches from scoring.
Trinh-Duc was then brought on for Belleau and changed the game. He first slotted a penalty to reduce Munster’s lead to four and then had a hand in the try that helped them go ahead with 15 minutes left.
He offloaded to Bastereaud in midfield and the Toulon captain was away. He passed inside to Ashton, who was left a clean run to the posts. Trinh-Duc converted to put Toulon 16-13 ahead.
Trinh-Duc showed his class again on 69 minutes with another excellent kick at the posts but there was a sting in Munster’s tail.
A kickable penalty was kicked to the corner and from the resulting maul, Niall Scannell came close to touching down but was held up by Bastareaud.
From the scrum, Munster went through the phases and had an opportunity to kick wide to a free Rory Scannell but Keatley opted to put the ball threw the hands to Wootton but he knocked on.
Trinh-Duc missed touch when the ball eventually came his way again and Conway made him pay with a devastating finish.
He initially did brilliantly to keep the ball in play. Conway then had the confidence to run at the Toulon side from near halfway.
The Munster winger come full back glided his way past Trinh-Duc, Raphael Lakafia and Malakai Fekitoa to score one of the best and most important tries ever seen at Thomond Park.
Keatley was then left with the relatively simple task to put over the conversion and give Munster a sensational win.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Darren Sweetnam, 25); Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray (James Hart, 77); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin, (53), Rhys Marshall (Niall Scannell, 53), Stephen Archer (John Ryan (53); Jean Kleyn (Gerbrandt Grobler, (77), Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony, Jack O’Donoghue (Robin Copeland, 59), CJ Stander.
TOULON: Chris Ashton; Josua Tuisova, Matthieu Bastereaud, Ma’a Nonu (Malakai Fekitoa, 58), Semi Radradra; Anthony Belleau (Francois Trinh-Duc, 53), Eric Escande (Alby Matthewson (59); Florian Fresia (Xavier Chiocci, 46), Guilhem Guirado (Anthony Etrillard 74), Marcel van der Merwe (Emerick Setiano, 77); Juandre Kruger (Romain Taofifenua, 46), Dave Attwood; Raphael Lakafia, Facundo Isa, Duane Vermuelen.
REFEREE: Nigel Owens (WRU)