Munster left to curse missed opportunities at Welford Road
Leicester Tigers 17 Munster 6
Echoes of last Christmas for Munster who once again have it all to do in January after a truly frustrating evening at Welford Road where they somehow managed to avoid scoring a try despite creating plenty of opportunities.
Away wins at this venue do not come easily, but Anthony Foley was left tearing his hair out as visit after visit to the home '22 came and went without the visitors scoring a try.
The English side's last-ditch defence was good, but a little composure would have gone a long way for the two-time champions who have now lost both of their back-to-back games in successive Decembers.
This year, they have the luxury of a game in hand that offers a glimmer of light to Foley, but the fact that it comes away from home against the champions of France, Stade Francais, undermines any optimism.
There are concerns about the quality and depth of the Munster squad. Their bench simply isn't good enough to win a game for them at this level and, when key men underperform, Foley has limited options.
Ian Keatley, again, was unable to provide consistency off the tee and the two kickable efforts that sailed wide again sapped confidence from the team.
Yet, despite the limitations of his squad, Foley has cultivated a game-plan that, when executed properly, can cause even a fine team like Leicester all sorts of problems.
Twice, Francis Saili had the tryline in his sights only to be scythed down by last-ditch defenders, while Conor Murray spurned a real chance when his pass to the brilliant James Cronin was deemed forward and there was a five-metre lineout that came to nothing in the first half.
Having worked so hard to create openings, they then didn't have the composure to execute in the red-zone and, in contrast, their hosts were far more clinical.
"We worked so hard to get into positions to create opportunities and then we just let it go. It's as simple as that," was Foley's take. "You want to make the opposition work hard, defend, make another decision, make another tackle and we didn't seem to do that at stages and the other side of it is all the hard work and the good work that it took to get us into those positions goes up and the momentum shifts.
"The boys will look at the game, look at the opportunities . . . We thought we should have won last week and we will probably go away from today feeling we should have won. The fact is we didn't. Why? We're not scoring. We're not being ruthless in that area of the pitch and when you continue to do that it is very hard to win games."
Munster started well, weathering Leicester's first visit to their half in comfort and then standing up to the first scrum despite concerns over their understrength front-row.
Having endured a nightmare evening last time out and a gruelling week in the spotlight, Keatley would have been relieved to nail his first shot at goal to put his side in front after a strong attack led by Saili.
The dominant team, they might have been entitled to more from their next foray into enemy territory, but referee Jerome Garces failed to spot Ben Youngs' knock-on that derailed Murray's pass to CJ Stander who looked to be through and the home side escaped.
Last week's defeat and the subsequent criticism demanded a response and, led by the much-improved Murray and an inspired Cronin, the Reds played with fire in their hearts as the loosehead prop picked up a poor pass and broke a tackle, offloaded to Keith Earls who surged through the gap and then found Dave Foley. Under pressure, Marcos Ayerza went off his feet, but Keatley couldn't double his side's lead from 40 metres.
Still, Munster were the dominant force, but having turned down a kickable penalty to go for the corner the visitors couldn't get their maul working and then John Ryan got isolated and turned the ball over. The home crowd were beginning to become restless when Mike Sherry executed successive choke tackles, but, after 20 minutes on the back foot, the home side began to get some momentum during the second quarter.
They threatened to score through their Tongan full-back Telusa Veainu who was stopped by Keatley as he headed for the line, but Jerome Garces reckoned he had gone high, and Freddie Burns kicked for the corner. Munster sacked the maul, but couldn't sustain the effort as Leicester captain Ed Slater powered over from close range and Burns converted.
The out-half extended his side's lead as half-time approach and the home side grew increasingly dominant, but the game swung back in Munster's direction on the stroke of half-time when CJ Stander made a big play in his own '22 to win a penalty and, from the resultant lineout, Dom Barrow played Murray from an offside position and was sent to the sin-bin.
Keatley kicked over the penalty and Munster headed for half-time four points down and knowing they'd the extra man after the break, but they couldn't take advantage despite some excellent play.
Saili went closest, skinning Mike Fitzgerald and leaving a second defender for dead before Peter Betham hauled him down short. Munster recycled, but Murray's skip pass to Cronin never looked lateral and the Tigers escaped.
Munster remained in enemy territory, but another Murray forward pass relieved the pressure. The scrum forced a penalty that Keatley spurned, before the second-row returned with his team relatively unscathed.
Burns missed a chance to extend the lead before Munster's moment appeared to arrive. Saili picked up a loose ball in his own '22 and raced the length of the field, only to be caught by Telusa Veainu. Before the tackle, the All Black managed to find Simon Zebo, but Adam Thompstone had him covered and support never arrived as Lachlan McCaffrey forced the penalty.
Instead, it was the home side who were able to put it to bed at the other end after a smart Ben Youngs tap-and-go put Munster on the back foot, Beatham left Mark Chisholm for dead and passed out of Andrew Conway's tackle for Niki Goneva to score.
When the final whistle went, Munster's players looked distraught. Their coach needs them to learn from this.
"They've got to learn. It comes with a lot of experience, it comes with being through it and understanding it and I think they're getting through it very quickly," Foley (pictured) said. "We have to go over (to Paris) and do a job. It's a hard place to go. They're French champions. It's going to be tough. We have to dig in."
Leicester Tigers - T Veainu; A Thompstone, P Bethan, M Smith, V Goneva (S Bai 73); F Burns (T Bell 68), B Youngs (S Harrison 76); M Ayerza (M Aguero 45-50, 72), T Youngs (H Thacker 72), D Cole (F Balmain 58); M Fitzgerald (T Croft 52), G Kitchener (D Barrow 37-50); E Slater (capt), B O'Connor, L McCaffrey.
Munster - A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley (LG Amorosino 75), S Zebo; I Keatley (R Scannell 67), C Murray; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 67), M Sherry (N Scannell 70), J Ryan (M Sagario 75); M Chisholm (B Holland 70), D Foley; R Copeland, D O'Callaghan (J O'Donoghue 52), CJ Stander (capt).
Ref - J Garces (France)