Saturday 19 October 2019

All focus must turn to PRO14 ambitions

Poor start and errors cost Reds a shot at the big prize in Bilbao

Robin Copeland catches a high ball in training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Robin Copeland catches a high ball in training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

David Wallace

It was a really tough lesson for Munster last weekend and it can't have been easy leaving the field in Bordeaux, but they can bounce back and win silverware in the Guinness PRO14.

Some people have pointed out the fact that Munster have come up short in semi-finals in recent years, most recently against Saracens last year and Racing 92 last weekend, but there are no mental frailties.

They just had to weather the storm against the French but unfortunately the damage caused in the opening stanza was too great. Racing were always going to come out flying and Munster just had to stay in it; the game could have been there for them in the end.

But the three quick tries were a massive blow. I know Racing took their foot off the pedal, but that intensity was always going to wane and there was only five points between the teams at the end.

Munster needed to maintain their composure. The lineout was a bit shaky and that didn't help. But there was a number of balls that just went to deck uncharacteristically in open play too that killed them.

Even though they didn't execute effectively, Munster still had their chances. Simon Zebo made a massive impression when he came on, scored his try and instigated another one for Andrew Conway.

Munster were always going to go to the death but just needed to have been in touching distance. Not getting a few more points in the first half hurt them. They went in at half-time having battered away and only had an Ian Keatley penalty to show for it. That left them with a mountain to climb.

But to be fair, Racing played excellent rugby. Their back-row were phenomenal. They were let get away with a lot at ruck time but they played the referee well. They were really aggressive and physical in the tackle and didn't let Munster get any momentum there. They were really up for this game and dominated from early on.

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Munster still had their chances and Robin Copeland could have scored on a couple of occasions. There were other opportunities too, where a combination of some stunning Racing defence and Munster's lack of killer instinct on the day, meant the French line remained intact.

POSITIVES Munster have to take the positives. Racing are a very good team, and the game was played in such ferocious heat in Bordeaux. You wonder did the South African tour work against Munster.

The team didn't seem tired, it was just the execution that was a bit off and that can happen. When a few handling errors creep in, it can throw a team no matter how good the individuals are.

This defeat sharpens the mind and enhances the importance of the PRO14. That's now Munster's main focus. It's very hard to concentrate on two competitions and peak every weekend.

They can take stock and learn from this. The silver lining is that you learn more from your losses. It's an ideal situation for Munster to be in in that they are still in the hunt for the PRO14 and focus can be redirected immediately.

They are professional players. They strive to be the best and they want to win as much silverware as possible. The PRO14 is a fantastic competition, providing three of the semi-finalists of the Champions Cup.

But it would be a massive shot in the arm for Ulster if they could get a win in Thomond Park this weekend. They have done it a good few times over the years and it would the tonic they need after a poor season, with play-off places in the PRO14 and Europe at stake.

Ulster will really target this game against a Munster side that will be licking their wounds. There might be a few changes to the Munster side as well, after such a bruising encounter.

But when you are in a game like that and things don't go your way, you just want to get out there the following week. It's not about making amends, you want to get back on the horse and prove to yourself it was just a blip in terms of how the game went.

I'm sure there will be a lot of frustration that if more balls had gone to hand Munster could have been in a Champions Cup final against Leinster in Bilbao, but that's just not to be now.

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