Wednesday 22 November 2017

Marginal losses damage Munster as Williams puts boot into winning run

Leicester’s Adam Thompstone is tackled by Munster’s Simon Zebo after kicking the ball up field. The late tackle earned Zebo a yellow card. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Leicester’s Adam Thompstone is tackled by Munster’s Simon Zebo after kicking the ball up field. The late tackle earned Zebo a yellow card. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

Soon we shall know how deeply Munster should have absorbed a sense of regret about Saturday's mis-step in the English midlands.

Leicester 18 Munster 16

The men in red were sanguine, rather than seething.

Conor Murray of Munster kicks the ball upfield. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Conor Murray of Munster kicks the ball upfield. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

"I enjoyed the whole thing," offered Rassie Erasmus of an old-school day at the office where the conviviality of the rugby folk far exceeded the quality of the rugby.

"It was bad to lose to lose but nice to experience this."

Owen Williams' dramatic late penalty may have been ultimately decisive but it hardly represented any great thievery on the home side's part; Leicester fully deserved their win. They brought much of the fire to match their manager's ire; Munster's passion play, in contrast, was muted and shapeless.

After winning seven games in a row, Erasmus and the rest of his squad were seemingly desperate at every opportunity to tell us that those numbers didn't make them out to be as good as all that.

Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster is held by Brendon O'Connor. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster is held by Brendon O'Connor. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Formidable

We believe them now.

"We were calm when he got here," adds Erasmus. "We are realistic about where we are and where we are going, where we are playing as a team. There is still a long season to go. We will lose some games, there is no doubt about it.

"At the end of the season if you can get to play-offs in both competitions that would be great. I have said it a few times now, it is a team from last year that we are trying to build into a team that becomes formidable but we are still off it.

"We must compare it with where we went last year in Europe and the pool we are in. We're realistic about it. If you look at the pool it's decent competition we are playing against."

A general view of play during the match. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
A general view of play during the match. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Their redoubtable defence, the best in European business until now, faltered significantly even if the winners remained tryless; six crucial breakdown defeats and 13 missed tackles reflected a lack of urgency at the physical battle stations.

They coughed up two scrums and, despite having more possession and territory, their ball-carries seemed to be only half as effective as those of their counterparts; those numbers stacked up and were equally believable.

Leicester, quite simply because they had to after forgetting to bring anything at all to Limerick, just brought more.

"They did," admitted Billy Holland. "Maybe at times we were a little bit one-dimensional, didn't get front-foot ball. They were getting two-man hits on our ball-carrier, we were a bit sloppy with our ball placement and our carry wasn't always where it needed to be."

A simple summation; even the definitive final play captured it. Munster just needed to quietly suffocate those final moments but they couldn't; CJ Stander's 14th carry probably his most ill-judged of the season and suddenly Jaco Taute is getting pinged on the floor.

They had regained the lead through Niall Scannell's 75th-minute try but couldn't hold on; they had led 6-0 in the first half and were handed the first of two 14-man advantages but lost that ten minutes - when the vapid Manu Tuilagi was binned again - 6-0.

Tyler Bleyendaal had his first real shaky day from the tee and two missed kicks were obviously crucial compared to Williams' perfect set of six, while Conor Murray was unassertive and inaccurate from the boot inside him. The narrow conservative attack stifled their chances too and the excessive reliance of kicking that bore fruit last week never looked like being enough to profit here.

Leicester may have tore up the script but the picture remains largely unchanged, one suspects. Munster's trip to Glasgow still seems like the pool decider but the assumption that Ronan O'Gara's Racing will have their bellies tickled in Paris - they certainly will in Limerick - could be a dangerous speculation.

Saturday's spectacular reversal of fortunes will be heeded and, if anything, perhaps stops a few people losing the run of themselves. Munster have done enough until now to justify a status as potential quarter-finalists; the fact remains they are only halfway there.

"If you start looking at the table you just confuse yourself," adds Erasmus.

"I don't think two teams will qualify from this pool because there are teams in other pools where people will get 10 points from now on but it looks like an exciting end to the pool.

"Listen. You get six points out of two games against Leicester home and away? Did we get zero points against them last year or something like that? It's an improvement."

Leicester Tigers - G Worth (H Thacker 78); A Thompstone, J Roberts, M Tuilagi, P Betham (T Brady 72); O Williams, B Youngs; E Genge (L Mulipola 62), T Youngs (c), P Cilliers (G Bateman 52), E Slater, G Kitchener (M Fitzgerald 52), L Hamilton, B O'Connor, L McCaffrey (M Williams 62).

Munster - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, K Earls (A Conway 70); T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 72); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 51), N Scannell (R Marshall 75), J Ryan (S Archer 75), D Ryan, B Holland (J Kleyn 51), P O'Mahony (c), T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 64), R Copeland.

Ref - P Gauzere (FFR)

 

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