Seán Dougall believes Munster will bounce back after Toulon defeat
Joint-leading tackler says stats mean nothing when your team is beaten
Seán Dougall (left) and his Munster team-mates after their defeat to Toulon on Sunday.
With some degree of difficulty, one would imagine, Munster have to quickly turn their attention toward the Rabo Pro12 and their concluding games away to Edinburgh and at home to Ulster over the next two Saturdays in the congested, five-way battle for the play-offs and home advantage.
In the immediate fall-out of a second successive semi-final defeat in the Heineken Cup, a tournament which has always meant inestimably more to them and their supporters, they were left to rue yet another away draw and another one that got away. It has now been six long years since their second triumph and the question is whether they can rise again as they have historically always done.
“I think so,” ventured Seán Dougall. “The vast majority of the squad will still be here, we’ll see a few new faces for sure. Munster have been proud in this European competition and that’s two years in succession that we reached this stage but lost out in semis so we’ll be raring to go again next season. Now we’ll get the season done with the Rabo and try and win that, and build again come June.”
Dougall generally helped dilute the influence of Steffon Armitage, Mathieu Bastareaud and co at the breakdown. “Ah look, I have to do what I’ve always done. Obviously there was Steffon Armitage and thing around the breakdown. I had a job to eliminate those (their) threats. That was a big area for us with Armitage and Lobbe and obviously Basteraud, so I think in a lot of ways we did keep them quiet although in certain areas they did turn us over.”
The openside was credited as Munster’s joint-leading tackler with nine (alongside Simon Zebo and, in another stoic effort, BJ Botha), but admitted: “Stats don’t mean much anymore. The team, we let the opportunities go. Had we still been here and talking about winning the game, it might have been different but we didn’t win the game.”
David Kilcoyne shared a similarly hollow feeling to his head coach and team-mates. “Too many unforced errors, knock-ons and some penalties really killed our momentum and that was bitterly disappointing,” said the prop, who also had issues with referee Wayne Barnes when penalised three times in the first half.
“I thought our scrum, just from chatting to Wayne, was that he wanted a different picture. Referees have different interpretations and it’s about painting good pictures; in fairness I think we’ve been good all year but it’s just that today we started off on the first half poorly and weren’t painting the picture the ref wanted. In the second half we adapted well and started to do that.”
Cut little ice
Likewise, praise from Toulon’s high profile benefactor Mourad Boudjellal cut little ice with Kilcoyne. “No, not at all, this was my second Heineken Cup semi-final and we wanted, we believed we could, get to the final. It’s irrelevant for somebody to say we were good because we just (ultimately) didn’t perform on the day.”
Nevertheless, praise also came from Drew Mitchell, who admitted Munster were “difficult to play against” and added: “They compete at everything. They have got some hard ball-carrying guys up through the middle of the field but the backs, they also have some guys with the X factor, Zebo, Laulala and Earls out on the other wing. They certainly threaten the defence. They are always a big test because they will fight for everything, they do it in the Heineken and they do it in their own domestic competition as well. What they do they do they do well.”
Mitchell had played against Zebo in the Waratahs-Lions game, and said: “I was impressed with him then. I think at that point he was coming back from some injuries. He has had a little bit more since then but he is sharp on his feet and he is always a threat.”
Zebo’s was the only try of the game but, unsurprisingly, that didn’t bother Mitchell or anyone else in Toulon colours. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way but fortunately whenever we got down to that end of the field and the points became available, Jonny did the work, we got the points – and also Delon Armitage with long range penalty.”