God, but they're the most incorrigible drama queens, aren't they? Never ones to do the handy thing if they can do the Munster thing, Tony McGahan's side found themselves in a strait-jacket and handcuffs here with five minutes left on the clock. They trailed 13-11 and had in truth been bossed for long spells of a second half they had played against 14 men. But two roof-raising late tries coaxed them back from the edge of the ledge and in the end they sent the French side home without so much as a losing bonus point, running out 23-13 winners. It's a mad world sometimes.
Of course, times generally tend to get that little b it madder when it's Munster and it's Thomond Park and it's a Saturday and it's the Heineken Cup. This place was built on Saturdays like this. On winter evenings cold enough to make your knuckles hurt and your eyes water. On nights when the players on the pitch were like bubbles on top of a soup made up of their followers in the stands. On matches that spawned their own mythology and never had to have it cajoled out of them. (Which, by the by, makes it stick in the craw all the more when they have a warm-up guy exhorting the masses into tiresome pre-match chanting like they had at 3.15. If there was one ground in the world that absolutely never needed that kind of thing, it was this one.)
This one contained all the elements needed to sit on the shelf beside the ones that went before it. Clermont gave Munster plenty of it, especially in the third quarter when, just like last week, they came blazing from the stalls after half-time. Having gone in 11-3 down, the French side – obdurate and awkward as old furniture – gave no impression that they were of a mind to wilt or lay down and let Munster sail clear. French sides rarely come away from Limerick with much more than bruises and slight confusion at the madness of the place but despite being a man down, Clermont dug in and insisted they'd be going home with more.
They were that man down because in the 18th minute Canadian lock Jamie Cudmore decided that life had become just a little too humdrum for his liking. Some people jump out of aeroplanes, some abseil down into ravines, some jump motorbikes through rings of fire across a dozen buses. Cudmore trumped all of that by throwing a succession of punches into the faces of first Paul O'Connell and then Donncha O'Callaghan.
Didn't quite work out for him though. For one thing, O'Connell wrestled him to the ground and returned fire. For another, he drew a red card from Chris White, leaving the visitors to have to forage with 14 men for more than an hour (O'Connell got a yellow). And finally, the resultant penalty sailed through the posts from Ronan O'Gara's boot to open the scoring. Not the wisest 30 seconds of Cudmore's life, as he'll no doubt be reminded if he ever plays here again.
The rest of the half trundled along fitfully enough – Keith Earls managed to fit in not only a 22-to-22 sprint with the ball but a diving try-saving tackle without it – and the scoreboard only had traded penalties by O'Gara and Brock James to show for it as we went into injury-time. But then, a Munster scrum from five metres out got wheeled and fractured, leaving David Wallace to pick and drive over the line with Alan Quinlan on his back. O'Gara missed out on the extras to leave matters standing at 11-3 at the break.
They were decent enough value for it, but then they were decent enough value for their 16-12 lead in France last Sunday and look how that ended up. And anyone in the ground who didn't fear that this one could go the same way while drinking their half-time warmer-upper had every reason to start doing so early in the second half. Clermont came out and hit harder, ran straighter, fought and foraged with altogether more verve than they had been. Brock James stroked over a penalty to make it 11-6 with under half an hour to go and suddenly Thomond was getting a little nervy. Within five minutes, those nerves were justified when Julien Malzieu handed off both Barry Murphy and Earls to go over in the corner. James' conversion put Clermont 13-11 ahead with an hour on the clock.
It stayed that way until the 75th minute and, in all honesty, never looked too much like changing. Until, that is, Earls put in another clean break and took the whole of Limerick with him. After a couple more phases, Peter Stringer – by now on for Tomás O'Leary – fed Lifeimi Mafi who put Marcus Horan away in the corner. O'Gara missed the conversion but got another chance at kicking his 1001th point in the Heineken Cup a minute later when Neil Ronan collected his own kick through to score.
Cue raucous scene. Same as it ever was.