A tough day at the office for Munster’s youngsters, who fell heavily to French second division outfit Stade Rochelais at the Stade Marcel Deflandre in searing heat on Friday night.
Having shadow boxed for 20 minutes, the heavyweight home side found the power and level of reserves necessary to cruise to a comprehensive victory as Munster struggled with the temperature and the getting to know you process that was inevitable with such a new-look and inexperienced side.
Allowing for the fact this was the home side’s third pre-season outing and Munster’s first, new coach Rob Penney was still disappointed, admitting there was "a lot to be learned out of that."
He added: "There will be some interesting reviews out of the back of that performance. I think we had 22 unforced errors and allowed 13 line breaks against us; combine those and you’re never going to be able to put any continuity together."
The opening score fell to Stade Rochelais, with hooker Benjamin Geleden earning the honour, but not without a degree of controversy; the ball fell kindly into his path but after a clear knock on from number eight Loann Goujon. That 23rd minute score stood after a brief consultation between referee and touch judge and out-half Sebastien Fauque added the conversion for a seven points lead.
The home side took a grip after that. Fauque enhanced Stade’s advantage with a 38th minute penalty and very nearly created an injury time try only to send a wild pass behind winger Maxime Le Bourhis as he stormed towards an unprotected Munster line.
Penney rang the changes, as promised, at half time, and retained just two of the back division, Howlett and Luke O’Dea. He introduced a new front-row and made one change in the back row, nine alterations overall.
Stade Rochelais also made changes but still managed to produce a magnificent 52nd movement when they swept from inside their own half before substitute Francois Herry finished with a try that Fauque converted.
It got worse for Munster midway through the half when Uini Atonio, just on the pitch, finished off another quality attack and the out-half added the points again to push his side into an unassailable 24-0 lead.
One brief attacking flurry apart, Munster played their best rugby in defence and Christy Condon earned praise for saving a certain try in the 65th minute by getting under the ball carrier over the line. He was unable to help hold the subsequent scrum, however, and Stade grabbed their fourth try when Thomas Soucaze picked up to score, with Clement Marienval this time adding the conversion.
Munster finally broke their duck in the 70th minute when Sean Scanlon galloped away following a clever chip through by Scott Deasy, who also added the conversion to salvage some face for the visitors.
At 31-7 there was to be no way back, however, and as the sun went down, Stade continued to hold a considerable grip, mainly through the ever increasing power of the pack.
La Rochelle: K Murimurivalu; M Le Bourhis, C Marienval, G Canale, D Cler; S Fauque, D Neveu; J Senaca; B Geledan, S Clement; J Groblerc (capt.), L Cedaro; K Gourdon, A Dorier, L Goujon. Replacements used: F Pani, P Toderasc, F Jacob, R Sazy, T Soucaze, J Berger, B Ferrou, U Atonio, C Lafoy, R Brison, A Cestaro, F Herry.
Munster: D Hurley; D Howlett (capt.), D Barnes, J Downey, L O’Dea; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, G Slattery, S Archer; B Holland, B Hayes; T O’Donnell, J Coughlan, S Dougall. Replacements used: D Casey, M Horan, J Ryan, W du Preez, C Condon, P Donnellan, C O’Flaherty, P Butler, B O’Mahony, P Stringer, J Holland, S Deasy, JJ Hanrahan, C Laulala, S Scanlon, R O’Mahony.
Referee: C Dutreuich (France).