THE SMALLEST ACTIONS can change the outcome of a game, and those little things went against Munster yesterday.
That’s not to say that their performance wasn’t poor, but they still came close to winning against Edinburgh and it’s far too early in the season to panic. They will bounce back next weekend against Gloucester.
Rob Penney said after the game that Munster should be embarrassed with their performance, but I don’t think you’d be embarrassed. You’ve got to give respect to Edinburgh. They have got a good team, certainly their back-line is full of quality.
Tim Visser showed how good a finisher he is for his try, while the centres Nick De Luca and Matt Scott played exceptionally well. That latter duo made ground in midfield consistently and gave Edinburgh front foot ball. Greig Laidlaw was superb for them, kicking well and he was a real thorn in our side.
It was very disappointing to see Munster give up too many easy yards in the middle of the park, whether it was backs defence or general defence. I think they’ll need to stiffen up their defence in those areas if they’re to progress in this competition because you can’t let teams get five or 10 metres every time they run the ball. I think that’s been one of Munster’s strengths down the years, stifling teams with strong defence.
The line-out malfunctioned badly, but it’s not just Mike Sherry’s fault, it’s a team fault. People weren’t hearing calls, or mishearing calls, and they didn’t react in time. Calls were made and just fell down on timing or whatever. There are probably easy fixes there, so it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s probably better to have a game like this at the start of the group than at the end.
Munster just didn’t bring enough intensity and focus in their mind set. Rugby’s a fickle game and if you have a 5% difference in your attitude, it can really show up in a game. That just happens sometimes and it’s kind of self-fulfilling. One player will make a mistake and and it tends to carry like a cold through the team, it just keeps happening.
Maybe it’s just that the sense of confidence goes out of the team and you take your eye off the ball, trying to do too much. If nobody is making mistakes, you don’t want to be the only one only doing it, so you’re more focused. It can be an effect of trying to do too much as well, in those close games when you’re the favourite and supposed to be ahead.
Aside from the general lack of concentration and physicality, there were a couple of genuine missed chances for Munster. Just before half-time, we got good go-forward ball and got down to within metres of their line, but just unfortunately weren’t able to hold onto the ball.
They got a turnover, I think it was a scrum, and that territory and momentum was wasted. That was a pivotal time as we were two points behind, so that would have swung things in our favour. We came away with nothing and your territory and momentum is gone.
In the first half, Ian Keatley had that chance down the right, he got away and there was a split second where he could have passed the ball inside, but he just didn’t take the option. That could have been another seven points there. It’s those little things in games that certainly change it.
I have seen criticism of the back row in the aftermath of the loss, but I thought they did well. Paddy Butler carried quite well, Niall Ronan linked with the backs and James Coughlan got over the gain-line on a few occasions. They were paramount leading up to Munster’s two tries.
So I think they did quite well. Niall Ronan probably took another bang on the head and neck, he struggled with that last year as well. CJ Stander comes on and gives you that extra bulk, and you’d like to see him get that little bit more time on the pitch maybe. There’s so much competition there, anyone could step in.
This pool becomes a lot more difficult now, because this was probably the easiest away game. Perpignan and Gloucester are two much harder away games. You have to play cup rugby and we didn’t do that against Edinburgh.
I think we have generally started the Heineken Cup pretty poorly down through the years. We did it in Racing last year, and now this year too. But I think the fighting spirit comes out when the backs are against the wall and Munster have the talent and ability to qualify.
The old English team is coming over to Thomond Park in Gloucester, although we probably would have preferred to save that for the last game of the pool matches. It’s a little bit early but our backs are to the wall already and it’s probably a good time to get them on the back of a defeat.
Munster love playing at home and Gloucester have such a rich history. We’ll be relishing that and it’s probably a good time to be playing them. It’s way too early for Munster to be worrying about being knocked out, but a good home win next is vital.
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