Munster's European campaign has become knotted with a couple of complications with a 13-12 defeat away to Castres, a result that leaves them just three points clear of the side that were so comfortably beaten at Thomond Park last weekend.
It's hardly terminal for Munster - they are three points clear at the top with two games to go - but this was a game they should have won. They were frustratingly error-strewn, with Joey Carbery missing a couple of costly kicks from the tee. There was also some poor on-field decisions from Munster - they elected to run a guaranteed three-point penalty at the end of the first-half, which ended in ceding possession to Castres without getting a single point.
While partly culpable for their own fate, Munster weren't helped by the performance of referee Wayne Barnes.
Castres' physicality occasionally strayed beyond the line of what is acceptable, and there were two major incidents in which Barnes failed to take proper action.
The first came just before the game's only try - a lengthy TMO review decided to award Castres a try, but Barnes did not choose to review an alleged eye-gouging incident. Munster complained that Chris Cloete was caught in the eye by Castres' Rory Kockott. Barnes waved away the issue at the time, saying that it was a matter for the citing commissioner.
Replays showed that Kockott clearly made contact with Cloete's face:
Later in the second half, Barnes was again lenient on Castres: as Andrew Conway scampered down the touchline to score a try that was rightly disallowed for a knock-on, a straggling Peter O'Mahony was wiped out off the ball by Marc-Antoine Rallier.
The ball was nowhere near, and Railler didn't even attempt to wrap his arms around the Munster captain, who landed heavily on his shoulder. Barnes showed a yellow card when perhaps a red was warranted.
— Des Cahill (@sportsdes) December 15, 2018
This game should be the counter to the "Give Barnsey the World Cup final" crowd. A shocker #COvMUN
— Three Red Kings (@threeredkings) December 15, 2018
#CASvMUN Wayne Barnes is generally an excellent ref but he’s letting Castres get away with murder at the breakdown. Constantly not rolling away, not releasing, playing the ball on the ground and playing the ball when body weight unsupported. It’s really killing the game.
— Bruce Lawson (@Sapere_vivere) December 15, 2018
Munster let that game slip away tonight but weren’t helped by a woeful refereeing performance by Wayne Barnes. I know how the Kiwis felt at the World Cup #COvMUN
— Ross Nicholas (@ross_irl) December 15, 2018
This game is running away from Wayne Barnes, Castres dirty digs and foul play getting ridiculous now....take off the Castres Jersey Wayne Barnes #COvMUN
— Feidhlim O'Neill (@ONeillFeidhlim) December 15, 2018
Wayne Barnes is not going to enjoy the review of this game with the ref assessor. It will be as embarrassing as Henry Paul's review of the Miracle Match in Thomond.
— Overthehillprop (@Overthehillprop) December 15, 2018
That's was a hard watch. #Castres are absolutely filthy. Should have been 2 red cards. #waynebarnes bottled it along with the TMO. #Munster got drawn into an arm wrestle and put on a poor display leaving a win behind. Absolutely hated losing to them. #COvMUN #SUAF
— Cllr Daniel Butler, Mayor of Limerick (@DanielButlerFG) December 15, 2018