Munster turned in a magical display to tally up seven tries against a hapless Castres side and pull themselves right back into the qualification reckoning in Heineken Cup Pool One.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL ONE: Friday, January 13
CASTRES OLYMPIQUE 9 MUNSTER 46, Stade Pierre-Antoine (Att: 9,423)
Scorers: Castres: Pens: Laurent Marticorena 3
Munster: Tries: Marcus Horan, Shaun Payne, John Kelly, Paul O'Connell 2, Tomas O'Leary 2; Cons: Ronan O'Gara 3, Jeremy Manning; Pen: O'Gara
The bonus point win hurled Declan Kidney's side temporarily to the top of the Pool standings - but long-time leaders Sale Sharks, who Munster meet at Thomond Park next Saturday, managed to beat the Dragons on Sunday with a bonus point included to go clear on 23 points at the summit.
Munster, who are seeking to make the quarter-finals for the eighth consecutive year, sit on 18 points so they could still qualify as Pool One winners with a bonus point defeat of the Guinness Premiership leaders next weekend. Any other win for the men in red would see them still qualify as one of the two best-placed runners-ups.
On Friday night when Munster captain Anthony Foley was making his 155th competitive appearance for the province and fly half Ronan O'Gara was becoming the first player to break through the 700-point barrier in Heineken Cup career points, Kidney's side were fittingly on song.
Fit-again lock Paul O'Connell and replacement winger Tomas O'Leary shared out two tries apiece, while prop Marcus Horan, full-back Shaun Payne and winger John Kelly also got off the mark as Castres were simply blown away.
Although Laurent Seigne's hosts, who started without injured trio Kees Meeuws, Yann Delaigue and Paul Volley, proved sticky opponents in the first half, their efforts waned after the interval.
Fly-half Laurent Marticorena landed a second-minute penalty to kickstart Castres' bid to rain on the visitors' parade in the tenth Heineken Cup meeting between the sides.
O'Gara replied eight minutes later, then the Munster pack wielded its influence as Castres prop Jeremy Castex was forced into committing a ruck offence that had him sin-binned on the quarter-hour.
Munster continued to forage into a howling wind and grabbed an unconverted opener on 32 minutes when prop Horan muscled over, with the considerable support of John Hayes, from a lineout drive.
Six minutes later, a slip by Castres number 8 Guilaume Taussac when retrieving a Peter Stringer kick allowed Foley to scoop out a pass and send Munster haring into the home 22. The ball was recycled and Trevor Halstead, who was voted Heineken Cup man-of-the-match, looped a well-timed pass out for the lurking Payne to score in the left corner.
O'Gara again missed a difficult conversion and Castres managed to close up the deficit to 13-9 at the break thanks to two injury-time penalties from Marticorena.
Castres, however, were blown out of the water in the second half. Halstead thundered through to create the space for Kelly's try in the right corner, just three minutes in.
Another Halstead charge saw O'Connell pick and drive, five metres out, and the Ireland international held off the challenge of Karim Ghezal to touch down.
On 56 minutes, an O'Gara kick to the left corner for Heineken Cup debutant Ian Dowling, who did enough on the left wing to warrant selection against Sale, created havoc in the home defence. The ball was flashed out to the right wing where O'Connell easily edged past Bradley Fleming for his second.
O'Gara created O'Leary's first when he intercepted a pass from Mathieu Barrau to race 70 metres and offload to the Cork youngster just short of the line.
With Castres replacement Romain Teulet in the sin-bin for a nasty knee challenge on Dowling, O'Leary was fed by his fellow replacement Jeremy Manning for try number seven right on 80 minutes. Manning converted and the travelling supporters celebrated this one long into the night.
TIMELINE: 2 minutes - Castres penalty: Laurent Marticorena - 3-0; 10 mins - Munster pen: Ronan O'Gara - 3-3; 15 mins - Castres yellow card: Jeremy Castex; 32 mins - Munster try: Marcus Horan - 3-8; conversion: missed - 3-8; 38 mins - Munster try: Shaun Payne - 3-13; conversion: missed - 3-13; 40(+3) mins - Castres pen: Laurent Marticorena - 6-13; 40(+7) mins - Castres pen: Laurent Marticorena - 9-13; Half-time - Castres 9 Munster 13; 43 mins - Munster try: John Kelly - 9-18; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 9-20; 48 mins - Munster try: Paul O'Connell - 9-25; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 9-27; 56 mins - Munster try: Paul O'Connell - 9-32; conversion: missed - 9-32; 67 mins - Munster try: Tomas O'Leary - 9-37; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 9-39; 71 mins - Castres yellow card: Romain Teulet; 80 mins - Munster try: Tomas O'Leary - 9-44; conversion: Jeremy Manning - 9-46; Full-time - Castres 9 Munster 46
CASTRES: Phil Christophers; Yann Fior, Nicolas Raffault, Freddie Tuilagi, Bradley Fleming; Laurent Marticorena, Mathieu Barrau; Jeremy Castex, David Roumieu, David Attoub, Karim Ghezal, Nicolas Spanghero (capt), Romain Froment, Guillaume Bernad, Guilaume Taussac.
Replacements used: Carl Hoeft for Bernad (19-29 mins), Julien Puricelli for Froment, Romain Teulet for Marticorena (both 64), Carl Hoeft for Attoub (73); Not used: Remy Vigneaux, Federico Capo Ortega, Laloaoa Milford, Alexandre Albouy.
MUNSTER: Shaun Payne; John Kelly, Barry Murphy, Trevor Halstead, Ian Dowling; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Anthony Foley (capt).
Replacements used: Tomas O'Leary for Kelly (54 mins), Gary Connolly for Halstead (68), Federico Pucciariello for Horan, Mick O'Driscoll for O'Connell (both 72), Denis Fogarty for Flannery (73), Jeremy Manning for O'Gara, Stephen Keogh for Foley (both 78).
Referee: Chris White (England)