DUBLIN (Reuters) - Twice European champions Munster had quick-thinking scrumhalf Conor Murray and winger Andrew Conway to thank for a thrilling 20-19 victory over three-times winners Toulon on Saturday which booked their place in the Champions Cup semi-finals.
Murray, the British and Irish Lions number nine, turned the game on its head when he picked Toulon’s pocket in the first half but after the visitors regained the lead, it took a brilliant late try from Conway to inspire another famous Thomond Park triumph.
“Toulon have an incredible squad. There were 23 fellas that put in a savage shift today,” Munster captain Peter O’Mahony told Sky Sports.
Toulon spent the opening phases camped deep in the Munster half and were almost in at the corner three times in the first six minutes alone - one of which could have been a penalty try - before an Anthony Belleau penalty opened the scoring.
The 2015 champions were dominant up front and were picking off their scores as the young flyhalf followed up with a drop goal off his weaker foot midway through the half.
Already without injured Ireland grand slam winners Keith Earls and Chris Farrell, Munster lost Simon Zebo to injury and looked in big trouble as the Racing 92-bound fullback departed his final European game at Thomond in tears.
Yet somehow the hosts almost immediately found themselves in the lead in the most bizarre fashion.
With the ball at the back of a ruck on the Toulon line, Murray was the only man in the stadium to spot the slightest of knock-ons when Guilhem Guirado tried to pick ball up the ball and he reached between the hooker’s feet to touch it down.
It took a series of replays - not the first in a half that took 56 minutes to complete - for referee Nigel Owens to award the try.
A conversion and penalty from Ian Keatley meant Munster were roared into the most unlikely 10-6 halftime lead.
But the Murray try had completely changed the momentum of the game as the 2006 and 2008 champions, playing in a record 17th quarter-final, stretched the lead to seven points on 55 minutes thanks to another Keatley penalty.
Francois Trinh-Duc replied with three points for the French side and it was the replacement flyhalf’s neat offload that helped Chris Ashton add to his record European try haul and put Toulon back ahead.
Another Trinh-Duc penalty gave the visitors breathing space but when he marginally failed to find touch on the halfway line five minutes from time, Conway fielded it brilliantly and sprinted past three defenders to score under the posts.
Keatley converted to send the Irish province into the last four against either Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92, who meet in an all-French quarter-final on Sunday.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Ed Osmond