Embarrassed Munster made to pay for mistakes
EDINBURGH 29 MUNSTER 23
In the space of an hour at lunchtime in Edinburgh yesterday, a lovely autumn day lurched into the gloomy chill of winter. Munster fans should have known what was coming: against lowly opposition who have just one win to their credit so far in the Pro12, a team from whom nothing is expected in this pool, the favourites put in a performance where the endeavour was undermined by a stack of mistakes.
'Unforced error' is a term regularly used wrongly in this game, but there were enough overcooked kicks or dropped balls or forward passes yesterday which are not appropriate at this level. Munster's concession went up when the drizzle started in the second half, but there were enough before the break – at which point they were trailing 19-17 – to have the alarm bells ringing.
Leading the list of things not to be repeated were two penalties (Munster lost this count 11-7) for picking the ball up from an offside position after a team-mate had knocked it on. The first, from Niall Ronan, looked bad, but the second, from replacement CJ Stander, was sufficiently awful that he might understandably ring in sick for the video review.
"We got embarrassed today by a number of errors and I think it was on the back of a general malaise – a bit of flatness in the group for some reason," Rob Penney said afterwards. "We'll be looking at what we did all week in terms of mental preparation to see if there was something amiss there. We may have got a bit ahead of ourselves – we don't know, but that's for some discussions over the next few days."
Certainly it was a fairly sobering experience for followers who had raised a few glasses too many after the win over Leinster last weekend. If they thought that was a corner turned then it was into a dead end. And Murrayfield shouldn't be a cul de sac for any team with ambition, despite Alan Solomons' contention that his team are getting better week by week.
The result leaves Munster under the cosh with Gloucester coming to Limerick on Saturday. Losing first up away from home wouldn't normally puncture a team's chances of qualification, but in a pool as negotiable as this one, it leaves Munster in a real bind.
On the injury front, Simon Zebo is a serious doubt for Saturday having pulled up short with a foot injury – which was put into a moon boot before he travelled home last night. Penney said Felix Jones's removal was due to no more than cramp.
Then there is the issue of how they play rather than who is carrying out the plan. A week ago, Ian Keatley was enjoying the good feeling of having been central to Munster's win over Leinster. It was a different vibe here. While his shooting stats were five from five, he over hit a few kicks at various points in the contest, and ran into a few brick walls that resulted in ball being turned over. When Jones went off in the final quarter, Keatley shifted to fullback with JJ Hanrahan coming on at 10.
He was barely on the field when there was one of those 'frozen in time' moments. He got the ball in his own third of the field and opted to chip and chase into space only to come into contact with try scorer Matt Scott.
Hanrahan may have genuinely have been derailed, or else he went off track looking for something more, but either way it resulted in the game's critical swing with Grant Gilchrist floating a lovely pass out to Tim Visser who beat two tackles en route to the line.
When you looked back to the prone Hanrahan you immediately reckoned it was a passage in his life that he'd like to live over, though differently. Of course Laidlaw, who finished with 19 points, nailed the conversion and Munster's 23-19 lead had become a 26-23 deficit with 10 minutes left.
That pretty much book-ended the game for the home team. They got off to a flyer in the first half with a 10-point start inside 12 minutes, and then tacked on another 10 in the last 10 minutes.
In between, they caused Munster more trouble with their wide game than Munster did when they tried the same thing. When Munster were more direct they were successful, as in a highly productive spell midway through the first half with Casey Laulala's try from a lovely spot-pass by Conor Murray, and then the touchdown by Mike Sherry after James Coughlan and Paddy Butler had taken the ball up.
Save for that spell there wasn't much to lift the spirits of the Munster fans who made up the majority of the 7,024 crowd. It felt like a long trek home.
Scorers – Edinburgh: Visser, Scott tries; Laidlaw 5 pens, 2 cons. Munster: Laulala, Sherry tries; Keatley 3 pens, 2 cons.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; H Leonard, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel, G Gilchrist, S Cox, D Basilaia (R Grant 62), D Denton, C du Preez.
Munster: F Jones(JJ Hanrahan 67); K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey (D Hurley 62), S Zebo (D Williams 73); I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 53), M Sherry (D Varley 59), S Archer (BJ Botha 53), D Ryan, P O'Connell, P Butler (CJ Stander 55), J Coughlan, N Ronan (Donncha Ryan 66).
Referee: JP Doyle (Eng)