Munster coach Anthony Foley paid tribute to the cool head of Ian Keatley after he kicked his side to a last-gasp win over Sale in the opening match of pool A in the European Champions Cup.

Time was up at the AJ Bell Stadium with the Sharks clinging to a 26-24 lead when Keatley, whose precision place-kicking had kept the visitors in contention, stepped back and slotted a 40-metre drop goal between the posts to snatch a 27-26 victory.

Strong-running South African number eight CJ Stander won the man-of-the-match award but Foley knew that without the 27-year-old fly-half, who is trying to fill the boots of Ronan O'Gara, the two-time champions would have begun the so-called group of death with a damaging defeat.

"He showed great composure," Foley said. "I thought he struck it sweetly.

"Kicking conversions is so important, it's the difference between winning and losing, and that was very true today.

"He was very good defensively, too. He's growing into the 10 shirt, which is a big shirt to wear, and it's great to see him pull out a performance like that away from home."

"They believed to the end and that's the great thing about the character that's been developed here" - Anthony Foley

Keatley's match-winning strike completed a remarkable recovery by Munster, who had trailed 23-7 at half-time to a Danny Cipriani-inspired Sale and were down to 14 men with Tommy O'Donnell in the sin bin for a professional foul.

But tries from winger Andrew Conway and scrum-half Conor Murray brought the Irish side back into the game and Keatley's touchline conversions set the stage for them to pull off their latest "Houdini" act, to the delight of the travelling Munster fans, who made up more than half the 9,879 crowd.

"There is a bit of relief but I think the hard work in the second half paid dividends," Foley said. "They stayed patient and kept going forward with the ball.

"It's unique to this group. We've done a few Houdini acts in recent years - last year we got a last-minute try against Perpignan over there - and it's credit to the team that they stay patient.

"They believed to the end and that's the great thing about the character that's been developed here."

Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne had scored the game's opening try but Cipriani used the stiff breeze to kick his side into a 9-7 lead, and tries in the second quarter from Johnny Leota and Magnus Lund enabled the home side to open up what appeared to be a commanding 16-point advantage.

Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond was disappointed his side could not hang on but took encouragement from their battling performance.

"It was a game of two halves," said Diamond. "To lose by a drop goal is always disappointing but we've come a long way.

"It's a big group that we're in and we took a good hiding last week by Northampton, so the step-up in performance was huge.
"Cipriani was outstanding for us and Magnus Lund put in a big shift and they are naturally disappointed, but we are certainly heading in the right direction.

"We just couldn't put them to the sword after that first-half performance. We just panicked a little bit. We probably did enough to win but the experience of Munster showed in the last 10 minutes.

"So we're disappointed about the result in the end but really chuffed about the performance."

Diamond also had a message for England coach Stuart Lancaster after Cipriano's virtuoso display.

"If there were any contentious opinions about his goalkicking, he put them to rest today," Diamond said.

"His ball in hand and his defence especially - he put in 12 or 13 tackles in today - showed he is playing well. If the England coaches select him, he definitely won't let them down."