HAVING BEATEN TWO provincial rivals on consecutive Saturdays, Munster coach Rob Penney might have been entitled to hide behind the eight points.
Instead, he fronted up.
Munster had been up against Ulster’s second-string side. And after scoring three tries in 50 minutes, failed to turn the screw and claim a bonus-point.
The 24-10 win moves his side into third place in the RaboDirect Pro12, but with Paul O’Connell getting pencilled in for surgery, it was not a night to be sunny-side up.
Penney lamented 50 minutes of sloppy, ill-disciplined play, enveloping two good spells either side of half time:
“We made some errors, we got penalised a few times.” He said. “All of a sudden the momentum swung a little bit.
“I think they may have only been in our half three times in that second half and they scored on the back of a couple of penalties and a little bit of inaccuracy from us.
“Then a quick-tap caught us unawares, good on ‘em. But for us, the 30 minutes around half time were good, the book ends were disappointing.”
The Kiwi added: “It was such a mixed bag. At times we held onto he ball and built pressure. At times we mauled well. At times our forwards got us into the game by playing a bit more of a power game round the edges… and at times we didn’t. It’s just about consistency of performance over 80, that’s what we’re all seeking.”
That ‘power game’ has become something of a no-win situation for Penney. It has to be used, that’s how rugby games are won. But every time a prop takes the ball into contact some analysts leap to a conclusion that Munster are reverting to type and throwing the new theories away.
Simon Zebo’s 45th minute dart under the posts was bizarrely used as further evidence that the southern province had temporarily abandoned their width.
“The reason Zebo’s try came through the middle is because we had gone to width three times previous which opens up the space in the middle.” Penney said, keeping an exasperated tone in check before calling up another example of where his side have been stretching defences.
‘Foot on the throat’
“Tommy O’Donnell’s try a few weeks ago against Cardiff, when he burst through the middle, it was on the back of us stretching defences and making mis-matches. The great thing was that we have a guy like Zeebs and Tommy previously who can rip it up and take advantage of those mis-matches.”
Another of a handful of critical, honest observations Penney had about Saturday’s victory was the lack of a killer instinct from Munster. He admitted ‘frustration’ that opportunities for more scores like Zebo’s and O’Donnell’s are being created regularly, but are being passed up.
“I’d like to think we could be a little bit more ruthless in our ability to put a bit more pressure on when we’ve got our foot on the throat.”
Expanding on the concept of a ruthlessness, Penney said: “That’s a kind of a mental toughness thing, isn’t it. I think even some of the greatest psychologists would debate about whether you can teach it or you’re born with it.
“I think a bit of it comes with confidence and experience, and knowing how to battle your way through adversity to come out with a positive outcome.”
Some have got it and some never will, but going into 2013 Munster under Penney have certainly showed plenty of gritty determination to get back where they need to be.