Malfunctioning Munster grab precious point at the death
On the flight to London yesterday morning the Aer Lingus hostess asked a man in a Munster jersey who was struggling to get his gear into the overhead locker if he had got over the shock of last weekend. Clearly she was a Leinster fan. Quick as a flash he looked at her and said: "Hold on a minute -- we could flown Ryanair you know!"
There and then you thought that Munster would have to be every bit as sharp if they were to survive at the Madejski Stadium where 20,188 turned up to see a tie the home club had been wishing for every time the names were being pulled out of the hat in this competition.
Munster were a long way from sharp, but having trailed 6-20 early in the second half they did what they have done so often in the past and worked their way back into the game. The reward was a bonus point with literally the last play of the game, in which Ronan O'Gara threaded through a lovely ball for Sam Tuitupou to latch onto.
The Munster contingent recognised the moment for what it was: another down-payment on qualification. Another one of those strikes in October which only hit the target in January. This is a savage pool, as bad as Munster have ever fetched up in; a losing bonus point when ravaged by injury, and with a handful of rusty rivets in the bodywork, is not a bad day out.
That stunning conclusion rounded off a complicated afternoon for Tuitupou. A week ago his mate Lifeimi Mafi got seven weeks for an assault on Gordon D'Arcy, and we wait to see what the other half of Munster's midfield will pick up for a bad, bad tackle on Paul Hodgson. The 10 minutes in the bin were the least of his worries, and the citing will be a formality.
When you factor his loss in the first half into the equation -- at one stage in that period Niall Ronan was also on the deck, leaving Munster with only 13 -- a bonus was a more than Munster could have hoped for. Their lineout was downright poor, and their handling error rate was typical of players struggling to get to the pace of the game.
In Johne Murphy's case perhaps it was a battle to play well in the unfamiliar territory of 15. He did some things well and a few not so well, being caught out for an intercept in the first minute of the second half to Topsy Ojo when trying to connect with Denis Hurley, who was just back in the side and looked it. Keith Earls, making his first start of the season, also found it hard going. And in the absence of Tomas O'Leary Munster had to get by without one of their best battlers -- the trade off for Peter Stringer's excellent service didn't quite cut it. And still they got something from the exercise, which clearly rankled with London Irish coach Toby Booth. "I don't want the issue of Munster getting a bonus point clouding what we achieved here," he said. .
But Munster have a bit to fix in the meantime. They are losing key men to injury or suspension and showed blunt edges that maddened their coaching staff. But they will be satisfied to have hung in there. When replacement Alex Corbisiero hurled himself at the legs of Denis Leamy, you felt -- well the home fans felt -- that Munster were done. They had battered their way through phase after phase only to cough it up with a metre to go.
Yet they came back with another O'Gara penalty to make it 20-12, having gone 20-9 down on 56 minutes. Delon Armitage extended the lead again, on 69 minutes, with a penalty from just inside his own half, and this time the Exiles thought they were safe.
Not quite. Booth is right about not taking away from Irish's achievement, but this morning he'll realise Munster are too close for comfort.
London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, E Seveali'I (D Bowden 69), S Tagicakibau (J Joseph 69); R Lamb, P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt, J Buckland, F Rautenbach (A Corbisiero 56), N Kennedy, B Casey (M Garvey 69), K Roche, G Stowers, D Danaher (C Halu'ufia 53) Munster: J Murphy; D Howlett, K Earls (P Warwick 69), S Tuitupou (23-33), D Hurley; R O'Gara, P Stringer (D Williams 73); W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley (J Hayes 65), D O'Callaghan, D Ryan (M O'driscoll 57), D Leamy (capt), J Coughlan, N Ronan (D Wallace 32) Referee: C Berdos (France)