Munster put themselves right back in the picture in Heineken Cup Pool Five as they ran five tries past a much-changed Clermont Auvergne side at Thomond Park on Sunday.
The province returned to their old stomping ground, which is currently being redeveloped into a 26,000-capacity stadium, to notch a crucial bonus point win and end a run of three successive European defeats.
Full-back Shaun Payne and centre Rua Tipoki both touched down for the second week running, while second half tries from winger Brian Carney, flanker Alan Quinlan and prop Marcus Horan sealed the result.
Having made 14 changes to the side that started last week’s bonus point success against Llanelli Scarlets, Clermont Auvergne were always going to struggle for continuity and despite a shoddy lineout, the French visitors showed plenty of heart in a second half fight back.
South Africa’s World Cup-winning captain John Smit made his first start for his new club while his countryman, centre Marius Joubert, nabbed the Top 14 outfit’s only try in a man-of-the-match performance.
But wind-backed Clermont struggled for both possession and territory in the opening half and their lineout was an obvious problem with Smit hindered by both the language barrier and crowd noise.
Munster’s first real surge in the seventh-minute led to Clermont’s Vilimoni Delasau being sin-binned. The Fijian World Cup winger got no change from referee Nigel Owens as he was caught not rolling away from a tackle and the hosts took their cue.
From the resulting penalty Clermont simply fell asleep, presuming that Ronan O’Gara would be kicking for goal. Yet the Munster out-half deceived almost everyone in the Limerick ground by taking a quick tap and skimming a kick out to the right for the unchallenged Payne to mark his 100th Munster cap with a try.
O’Gara converted before his opposite number, Fiji’s Seremaia Bai, opened Clermont’s account by landing a 12th-minute penalty after Donncha O’Callaghan had infringed. Clermont managed to survive a couple of scares close to their try line, most notably when Lifeimi Mafi was just held up short.
Vern Cotter’s men weathered the storm and had their only spell of pressure near the half hour mark, with centre Raphael Chanal relishing a chance to run, but after O’Gara and Bai had swapped a penalty apiece, Munster’s patience was rewarded in injury-time.
Bai had to scramble back to prevent Quinlan from scoring after the Munster flanker had charged down his kick, but moments later in the same left corner, Tipoki stepped past Emmanuel Etien and ducked under a tackle from Fabien Alexandre to score his second Heineken Cup try.
O’Gara converted for a 17-6 half-time lead and Munster continued to make ground in their pursuit of a bonus point when a looping pass from Payne sent Carney over for his first European score, eleven minutes into the second half.
Munster were brimming with confidence as O’Gara added the extras but Clermont managed to click for the final quarter and deservedly bagged a 65th-minute touchdown through Joubert. The South African charged down Tipoki’s attempted clearance kick and did well to make the line for a debut try.
However, Munster succeeded in wrestling back control in the closing stages. Quinlan crossed for the bonus point score, five minutes from time, after Peter Stringer had managed to disrupt Arnaud Pic at the base of a scrum.
There was some added gloss in the 80th-minute when Denis Leamy threw a well-weighted pass for Horan to dive over in the right corner and confirm Munster as genuine contenders this season.