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Fatigue a factor, says Schmidt

THE truest champions always know when they are beaten, when they have given everything and still come up short and there is nothing left but to honour those who have vanquished them. "All you can do is honour Tony [McGahan] and his backroom team," said Joe Schmidt after the game. "Munster showed immense character, they showed how mentally tough they are."

Schmidt had tried to freshen things up by making changes, but it was a finger-in-the-dyke exercise. More holes than available options. "Fatigue was a factor," he said. "No question. Some of our players were out on their feet. It's something we planned for, we felt it would happen. But they needed it more than we wanted it. They showed a heap of character, made it difficult for us to keep our tempo and play the game we wanted. They didn't allow us to post a line-break or get anything clean off it. They made it difficult for us all afternoon."

And McGahan? Boy did he need it alright. "From a Magners League perspective," McGahan began, "we've played 24 games and had 21 results. To get through such a difficult season, with such a small population to pick from and dealing with the national side, it's very satisfying."

His captain agreed. "To score three tries was great," said Paul O'Connell. "It's a very important win. It would have been a tough summer if we hadn't won it."

They pointed to the scrum as a pivotal factor. McGahan had banked on a fast start and an early try -- something in short supply when it came to games against Leinster -- but special mention was given to referee Peter Fitzgibbon, who had taken scrum sessions with them, and the last two scrums where they pushed Leinster back leading to the penalty try left a warm, fuzzy memory.

"Ironic," smiled McGahan. "The scrum has been under pressure for the last two years. It justified the hard work we've been putting in. It's a good reflection of Paul McCarthy and Laurie [Fisher] and Anthony [Foley] and the work they've been doing. On the day we nailed it. It was a great way to finish the season."

Sunday Indo Sport