Munster reclaim that old magic
RUGBY:AFTER AN oddly dull and uneventful first period on a glorious autumnal Sunday in Limerick, the thought occurred that maybe the Heineken Cup was losing a little of its magic. Ha! This was Munster in Thomond Park after all, and as the home pack mauled their way toward the line to complete a flurry of three tries in the final 10 minutes and secure a bonus point in a 33-0 win over Edinburgh, it was like the old days. Feeding time in the zoo and all that, and the old Thomond roar was back.
The feelgood factor arising from Damien Varley’s try with the last play of the game was palpable. With that, Munster jumped to second in Pool One on six points, within three of Saracens, whom they host in the first of back to back games on Saturday December 8th. Tickets might be a touch harder to come by than for yesterday, when the official attendance was 22,146.
“The bonus point could be really important,” said Rob Penney afterwards. “We’ve a couple of massive games before Christmas so we’re masters of our own destiny in that regard. If we do well, we’re in the hunt whether we get bonus points or not. We still have to beat Saracens to keep ourselves in it. I’d rather have the bonus point than not!”
There was a palpable sense of relief too, although it’s striking to note how the groups are already being dominated by a heavyweight Anglo-French axis, featuring the cash-rich Gallic trio of Clermont, Toulouse and Toulon, along with the English duo of Harlequins and Saracens, as well as in-form Ulster after their ultra-efficient win away to Glasgow on Friday maintained their unbeaten start to life under Mark Anscombe.
As expected, the fate of the Irish quartet will largely hinge on the pivotal back to back meetings in December, for in addition to the Munster-Saracens clashes, the champions Leinster run into a rampant Clermont, while Ulster and Connacht go head-to-head with Northampton and Biarritz. But missing those games will be Ulster’s captain Johann Muller who will be out for eight weeks after rupturing thumb ligament on Friday.
Watching Clermont follow up last week’s 49-16 win over Scarlets with 36 unanswered points in the second half away to Exeter on Saturday, the feeling persisted that Leinster assuredly dodged a bullet in avoiding them until then.
Against the same two opponents, Vern Cotter’s international-laden squad have scored a dozen tries to one by Leinster. Asked if there was more to come after their 20-13 win away to the Scarlets, Joe Schmidt admitted: “I hope so because there has to be. You can’t keep surviving on skinny margins like that.” Trailing Clermont by two points in their current form was “not our favourite position to be in. Last time we went there in the pool, it was ten-all coming to our home game.”