When the end came, at least CJ Stander was able to set off on his own, a luxury not always afforded to five-star Munster generals or world superstars.

At least the gods granted him the little pity of standing face to face against superior opponents and trading blow for blow, standing and fighting like hell until the last bell rang, tolling the death knell for his last. European campaign. Toulouse was just too beautiful.

When they counted Munster, Stander was still standing, unlike the tallest of his captain predecessors. Paul O’Connell had been sentenced to a different outing six years earlier, his face twisted in pain after practically tearing out a hamstring during a World Cup match against France in Cardiff.

It denied him the opportunity to take Ireland where they had never been before and the promise of a richly rewarding season or two in the sun in Toulon. The great old warrior of Limerick had to be taken in a motorized buggy flat on his back, never to play again.

Usain Bolt ended up flat on his stomach two years later, surprising proof that even the most famous sportsman on the planet after Muhammad Ali could not claim immunity against human frailty. Instead of bringing the Jamaicans home in the 4x100m relay at the World Championships in London, he collapsed into a heap with no legs to stand on.

At least Stander went the distance, rightly proud of the players who had given even the smallest drop in a desperate search for another of the miracles they used to work in tandem with the Red Army. Their mass confinement in barracks made it impossible to work another, but at least CJ could withdraw from Europe to his spiritual home, a privilege denied to one of his most distinguished predecessors.

Christian Cullen, surely the best full back of the professional age, should have come out in the purest tradition of showbiz leaving a multitude of worshipers clamoring for more. Instead, recurring injuries doomed him to the most anti-climactic outing, away from the angry crowd.

The All Blacks made their final fight for Munster under circumstances which, with respect to all parties involved, could hardly have been more mundane: a midweek match against the Dragons in front of a few thousand at Musgrave Park on April 28, 2007.

For another of the greats, the big stage and the corresponding crowd – 66,000 at Twickenham for the 2005 English Premiership Grand Final – made the result even more difficult to bear. Martin Johnson’s last game for Leicester coincided with the Tigers’ 39-14 blitz by the Wasps.

Old Beetle Brows, never one to let emotion get the better of him, left at sunset after making a cold clinical admission: “We didn’t play. And that’s a bad feeling. ”

At least CJ is devoid of such a feeling because Munster played. They continued to play even when the game was inspired by a team of conjurers whose sleight of hand and winged feet gave them a hypnotic quality.

Unlike Johnson at Twickenham, Stander shed tears once the reality hit home that, for him, Munster in Europe was done for good. “I’m going to miss this place,” he said, staring at the empty stalls with teary eyes.

Not as much as they’ll miss him.

Chickens at home for roosting for PRO14

Louis Dupichot of Racing is tackled by Damien Hoyland of Edinburgh at Paris La Défense Arena. The Edinburgh six-test runaround was the worst performance on a bad weekend for the PRO14 teams. Image: Dave Winter / Inpho

This time, two years ago, the PRO14 went into black overdrive. Hadn’t five of their teams just requisitioned the majority of the Champions Cup quarter-final spots and that just showed theirs to be a better competition than the English Premiership and the Top 14?

Yes, they had and no, they had not. Of the five, only Leinster are still around and they did so without the hassle of having to play. Three of the other four – Munster, Glasgow, Edinburgh – had to show up if only to be eliminated. The fifth, Ulster, had already been demoted to the Challenge Cup.

The larger the image, the less it looks for the PRO14. Of ten teams in the two competitions, nine fell by the wayside, with Benetton being the lone exception. Edinburgh was the worst surrender given a runaround of seven tries by Racing. Scarlets ended the Welsh exodus, wiped out by Sale before half-time.

Cardiff, 12 points ahead in the last ten minutes against an Irish team from London reduced to 14 men for most of the second half, still managed to find a way out.

In a dazzling final, the Exiles hit them with three tries converted in eight minutes. Munster may be missing, but Declan Kidney is holding on to his flag – next stop in Bath on Saturday.

The national team may have won as many Grand Slam tournaments as England, France and Ireland put together in the past 16 years, but their regional teams continue to leave Europe with a haste indecent enough to arouse the suspicions that Nigel Farage must direct them.

Despite the presence of nine Welsh internationals, Ospreys duly collapsed at home in Newcastle, followed quickly by Dragons whose late implosion in Northampton matched that of Cardiff in London. Their disappearance will not have surprised Jerry Flannery, for his part.

“This season the PRO14 has not been competitive at all outside of the Irish teams,” said the Munster hooker in their two winning European finals, now a Harlequins coach. “It was the worst I have seen.”

Does TMO have blind spots?

Clermont is alive with renewed hope that he may, at last, be close to losing his doomed status as the best club not to win the blue ribbon trophy in Europe. They owe such a state of bliss to yet another example of what their victims would describe as the misuse of technology.

The wasps, sprawled out on the ropes in a desperate challenge as Clermont went through five minutes of relentless beating, finally reached what was to be phase 40. Kotaro Matsushima’s try three minutes after the stoppage time tied the game at 25 points.

Neutral observers and, no doubt, some of the long-suffering Jaunards feared that all had been in vain.

During the long build-up, Morgan Parra’s pass to Fritz Lee near the left corner seemed to have advanced, just in front of the assistant referee. At the very least, it would have been worth a check.

Instead, Camille Lopez aimed for the decisive conversion without the referee, former Munster and Leicester scrum-half Frank Murphy, asking for his review. The referees can’t see everything, in which case it was surprising that none of the other three officials, including TMO Brian MacNeice, thought it was worth a look.

The same happened hours later at Welford Road when Alex Wootton shredded the Tigers to bring Connacht back to within two points.

Welsh referee Adam Jones granted the try subject to review for a possible double move which was duly examined in detail, but again no one saw fit to verify the legality of Caolin Blade’s score .

Gallic growing monopoly

Anyone looking at the roster of the last eight in the Champions Cup would find it hard to believe that Wales propelled France to the Six Nations title just a fortnight earlier. Five French clubs reached the last eight for the first time, while the Welsh were wiped out from both competitions.

The Gallic monopoly ensures that at least two of them are bound to reach the semi-finals, a state of affairs that will do nothing to allay Toulon’s sense of injustice of being denied a crack in Leinster due to a positive Covid test.

“The anger and the disgust” of the president of the club Bernard Lemaitre pushed him to evoke the boycott of the tournament by Toulon.

My weekend team

15 Dillyn Leyds (La Rochelle)

14 Keith Earls (Munster)

13 Henry Slade (Exeter)

12 Levani Botia (La Rochelle)

11 Matthis Lebel (Toulouse)

ten Romain Ntamack (Toulouse)

9 Antoine Dupont (Toulouse)

1 Cyrille Baille (Toulouse)

2 Akker van der Merwe (Sales)

3 Charlie Faumuina (Toulouse)

4 Jonny Hill (Exeter)

5 Will Skelton (La Rochelle)

6 Gavin Coombes (Munster)

7 Kevin Gourdon (La Rochelle)

8 Sam Simmonds (Exeter)



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