Munster all at sea as Sharks run riot

Munster's Jack Crowley, left, and John Hodnett after their Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 loss to Cell C Sharks at Hollywoodbets Kings Park Stadium in Durban. Photo: Darren Stewart/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey

Sharks 50 Munster 35

Munster will make the long journey home from Durban, tails firmly between their legs, knowing they must return to South Africa in a fortnight for two crucial URC games that will have a major bearing on this season and next.

Whatever about being unceremoniously dumped out of the Heineken Champions Cup, the idea of Munster not competing in next year’s tournament is unthinkable for the proud province.

Yet, that’s the stark reality facing Graham Rowntree’s men, as a mess of their own making was compounded by a poor performance against a powerful Sharks side, who took them to the cleaners.

In the immediate aftermath of the defeat, Rowntree reminded his players that they would be back in Durban at the end of the month after they take on the league champions, Stormers in Cape Town.

As back-to-back games go, they don’t come much tougher, as Munster somehow look to rectify their age old problems, which were once again laid bare.

The pack was demolished, as, not for the first time, Munster’s front-row deficiencies proved costly. Until that problem area is addressed, it’s difficult to see how they can realistically expect to compete with the big boys.

Ultimately, it was a case of men against boys at King’s Park, as the Sharks dominated the breakdown, demolished Munster at the maul and crushed them at scrum time.

For Rowntree, this was the most sobering day of his short tenure in charge, as his side failed to bounce back from last week’s costly home loss to Glasgow.

Malakai Fekitoa

That Munster were only three points down at the break made matters worse, as the Sharks sensed blood in the searing heat and humidity, before running riot in a dominant third quarter.

“Hugely disappointed, as you’d imagine,” a downbeat Rowntree said afterwards. “It was a three-point game at half-time and it quickly got away from us. Two maul tries and then the game got even looser and we’re chasing it.

“We can score tries, as a team we have proven that, but I just said to the lads there now, we are back down here in three weeks.

“We’ve had a taste of what this is, coming to this club and this town. We’ll go back and analyse the game and see where we have to be better.”

What made Munster’s slack showing all the more disappointing was that many of the things Rowntree warned against earlier in the week came to pass, as time and time again, his side offered the Sharks a foothold into the game through indiscipline and inaccuracies around the breakdown.

That it came a week after being beaten at Thomond Park by Glasgow rubbed salt into the wounds.

​“I look at this game in its own context,” Rowntree reasoned. “Three-point game at half-time and we turn around, and we look at the penalties or turnovers that we conceded at breakdown.

“They were extremely hot on the breakdown, they would come back with a second wave at the back of the ruck, and we didn’t deal with that in key moments.

“They won a penalty or turned us over, next thing you know we are defending two mauls, so those are the elements, technically and tactically, that we will have a look at.

“We’ve got to be better than that. We weren’t slow to get there, but we didn’t stay in there. And then we got loose trying to chase the game.”

The Sharks have blown hot and cold this season, yet with their Springbok stars Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Makazola Mapimpi and Bongi Mbonambi, who scored two of the hosts’ seven tries to Munster’s five, bringing the heat, the visitors wilted.

“We’re a tight group,” Rowntree insisted. “We will get back to Limerick, lick our wounds, pull the game apart and look at the things we can be better at because we’ve got to move forward. We are back down here in the URC, we’ve got to learn from it and move forward.”

They’ll need to learn quickly because if they don’t, Munster could find themselves missing out on a place in next season’s Champions Cup.

Scorers – Sharks: Mbonambi 2 tries; Hendrikse, Etzebeth, Kok, Bosch, Mapimpi 1 try each; Bosch 1 pen, 6 cons. Munster: Daly, Kilcoyne, Barron, Haley, F Wycherley 1 try each; Crowley 5 cons.

Sharks: B Chamberlin (T Abrahams 69); W Kok, L Am, R Janse van Rensburg (T Tapuai 62), M Mapimpi; C Bosch, J Hendrikse (G Williams 18); O Nché (M Mchunu 60), B Mbonambi (E van Vuuren 59), T du Toit (C Sadie 61); E Etzebeth (E van Heerden h-t) (P Buthelezi 48), G Grobler; S Kolisi (capt), V Tshituka, S Notshe.

Munster: M Haley; C Nash, A Frisch, M Fekitoa (J Carbery 66), S Daly; J Carbery, C Casey (C Murray 48); D Kilcoyne (J Wycherley 60), N Scannell (D Barron 50), R Salanoa (S Archer 19); J Kleyn, RG Snyman (F Wycherley 48); P O’Mahony (capt) (J O’Donoghue (54), J Hodnett, G Coombes (A Kendellen 54).

Referee: W Barnes (England).