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Saturday 30 August 2014

Penney rues Reds lack of a gamebreaker

Munster boss bemoans lost lead but takes heart from dominant scrum ahead of Toulouse showdown

David Kelly

Published 31/03/2014 | 02:30

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Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip is tackled by Ian Keatley, left, and Damien Varley
Munster head coach Rob Penney ahead of the game
Munster head coach Rob Penney ahead of the game
Eoin Reddan, Leinster, is tackled by Keith Earls and Tommy O'Donnell, Munster
Eoin Reddan, Leinster, is tackled by Keith Earls and Tommy O'Donnell, Munster

If you were looking for a neat snapshot of a sporting theatre that never quite gripped the imagination, then Rob Penney came pretty close to nailing it, once the packed audience, so hushed, so reserved, had fled the scene to seek sustenance elsewhere.

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"There are a lot of people who had good games for us, without probably having the couple of stand-out moments that you need from individuals," said the chiselled-jawed coach, before adding superfluously "like you saw again with Brian O'Driscoll."

Sure, any number of Munster folk could have, justifiably, wondered how a clearly dominant scrum ended up on the debit side of the ledger – Penney and stand-in Damian Varley didn't escape the premises without reinforcing this fact quite strongly.

You reckon that Nigel Owens will be more sympathetic, if – and it's a reasonably sized 'if' at that – Munster's is once more the dominant set-piece in Limerick.

"I don't think we'll change anything," said Varley, referencing Alain Rolland's warning to the front-rowers, with Dave Kilcoyne at times being a little over-eager to seek early engagement with Mike Ross.

"Whatever about last week against Treviso, I thought we were even more dominant tonight against a very good, solid, physical pack. So, I think we are happy with what we are doing. There's probably an onus on referees to really understand what's happening and they need to reward a dominant pack."

DOMINANCE

Then again, his team would also have questioned how such dominance at set-piece – notwithstanding the referee's intervention – was not reflected in the outcome, particularly after stepping briskly into a familiar cup-match scoring pattern of 3-6-9.

They would reach 12-15-18, too, but too late to save the day. In truth, their inability to add five or seven to their account, rather than just three, was the difference between the sides and you got the feeling that Munster may not have scored a try were they left out there until the clocks went forward.

"Our attack didn't function as well as we would like," admitted Penney, who may ruefully reflect in private moments that his two best attacking threats, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo, were far removed from the action.

Both wingers played reasonably well, but, by the time the play had laboriously shuffled in their direction, Leinster were set fair and easily hobbled their intent. Munster's kicking game was awful too. And that's being charitable.

Denis Hurley's impression of a trucker and off-loader at 12 wasn't the worst we've seen, but Casey Laulala, as usual, danced himself dizzy, always attempting the impossible outcome without ever attaining the probable. Cohesion was sorely absent.

Certainly they may need more than just three-pointers when it comes to Toulouse. Their inability to copperfasten that healthy 12-3 advantage was a mortally wounding let-off for hitherto generous hosts.

In the battle of the freshly minted, vengeful Munster crew against the battle-hardened Leinster mob, the advantage eventually swung the way of the latter, albeit that Shane Jennings was more of a key figure than any of Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad.

Leinster eventually bossed the breakdown – naïve Munster also moaned here, a little too richly, of players being held at the rear of rucks on at least two occasions – carried better and finished the stronger.

"Our defence was robust and solid most of the time," noted Penney. "But it's just a war of attrition when Leinster are putting wave after wave of attack against you, there's going to be a frailty at some point. Credit to them, they put us under that much pressure."

He blamed his pet hate – a defensive 'whoopsy' – on the decisive score, but, in truth, once Leinster upped their intensity, Munster struggled to keep up, though their final quarter riposte was more than heartening.

"Certainly we got a bit of a lesson in a few certain areas. We've got some good lads here. They just haven't had the time to settle in with that intensity," said Penney.

"It will be very beneficial for us going into next week, because they will know the step-up that is required. And they'll have to step up even higher again with Toulouse being the quality outfit that they are.

"We can improve the whole bit. Our scrummaging was excellent, though. We didn't get the rewards here that we could have got. Our line-out was fine, we just didn't get enough opportunity from it. But overall, to have 12-3, it was a lead that was whittled away too quickly. There were a couple of instances where our players were held at the back of the breakdown; we got pinged even though they can't move when they're being penned in.

"But that's just great cuteness on Leinster's part. That's stuff we have to get better at defusing – we must learn some tricks of the trade ourselves."

That Peter O'Mahony was withdrawn after the coin toss – his hamstring issue a Six Nations legacy – should not preclude him from appearing next week, Penney hinted.

The prognosis on Donnacha Ryan's foot problem is less sure and, CJ Stander's vigour notwithstanding, the Nenagh man would be a huge loss against the French aristocrats.

"You always want your big players available, so it could be potentially damaging," added Penney. "I'd love to think we've done the right thing by Pete this week to make sure he's available next week. It will be very disappointing if the injury lingers. I'd be very surprised if it did, but you just can't be guaranteed with these things.

"We don't know what the core problem with Peter is. It's a hamstring-type thing. But it may be nerve related.

"He's been fine, but it just flared up, so we were just being very cautious with him."

Munster will be better, you feel; they have to be.

Many of their players were inhibited, rather than inspired, by the prospect of advancing their claims to the watching Schmidt, whose puzzlingly criticised squad selections this spring were roundly justified by the unfolding events.

Munster's real statement of intent comes next week in Thomond Park; they are still likely to remain in the top two of this league and face another renewal against their old rivals down the track.

They traditionally bomb in European dress rehearsals; they had a shocker against Glasgow before mugging Harlequins 12 months ago, so losing, even in Dublin, won't provoke too much insomnia.

"I wouldn't worry too much," Varley concludes. "We got a good run-out this evening, probably got rid of a few cobwebs and we'll push forward over the next couple of days.

"It's cup rugby, so we have to really work hard and increase the intensity for next week."

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