Meek Munster caught cold by Edinburgh at Murrayfield
Rob Penney cites ‘poor mental preparation’ for dramatic downturn in form after win over Leinster
Munster’s Paul O’Connell and Donnacha Ryan are collared by their Edinburgh counterparts at Murrayfield. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster’s Simon Zebo is tackled by Edinburgh’s Cornell du Preez at Murrayfield. Photograph: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire
Edinburgh 29 Munster 23: On the collective performance over the 80 minutes, Munster got what they deserved here. A horrible lineout and multiple handling errors in open play, they lacked any cohesion and made Edinburgh look like European Cup contenders. Which they most certainly are not.
Greig Laidlaw kicked Munster into a potential crisis. Tim Visser, the big Dutch-born winger, landed the knockout blow with 10 minutes remaining after an aimless kick by JJ Hanrahan was ruthlessly punished. Moments later Simon Zebo hobbled off with what looked a serious ankle injury.
Munster coach Rob Penney cited a mental fatigue on the part of his players for their inability to reproduce the performance that led to a 19-15 victory over Leinster seven days ago.
“We are ruing some poor mental preparation, I would suspect, because you don’t change from one week to the next physically in any way,” said Penney. “Our mental application I don’t think was where Edinburgh were today. That was self evident.
“We weren’t good at all but that’s not taking anything away from Edinburgh. We weren’t allowed to be good.”
Munster made very hard work of this but still looked like they would survive with an away victory. They were 10 points behind - after an early try from Matt Scott was converted and Laidlaw added a penalty - before the motor warmed up the rest of the travelling caravan on what felt like the first day of winter - real, bitter cold which the backdrop of Edinburgh never fails to deliver.
And then, to their credit, they bulldozed over for two tries, one by Casey Laulala, the other from Mike Sherry, after some menacing carrying and physciality by Paul O’Connell.
The others piled in behind him, especially James Coughlan and Donnacha Ryan, who really should have touched down himself but for a stumble with the line in sight. Ian Keatley also recovered from some over cooked early kicking to land all his kicks at goal. But he had a poor game besides.
They seemed to have dealt with the early panicking and meek defending but a no-arm tackle by Jimmy Downey and the umpteenth offside saw Laidlaw kick the hosts into a 19-17 interval lead.
Thoughts drifted to Peter O’Mahony during the break and whether Munster could afford to leave their captain out of today’s matchday 23.
They were adamant he was not suffering from the effect of last weekend’s head bang and, as this match had descended into an all out brawl, it felt like O’Mahony territory for sure.
Munster did look capable of scoring every time they got in spitting distance of the Edinburgh 22. Problem was, they were struggling badly in the territory stakes. They really needed the Sherry-O’Connell combination in the lineout to be a weapon, but there were problems. They started to force it in all areas.
Cleaner possession from a more reliable setpiece is essential to release Keith Earls and particularly Simon Zebo, but, be it timing or whatever, Sherry’s throwing was inaccurate today. The spark was going to have to come from elsewhere.
Right on cue, Zebo started popping up as first receiver, drawing defenders to him to create space out wide. Conor Murray also started to probe Edinburgh’s defensive line. The immediate pay-off was a Keatley penalty near the 22 from wide on the left.
He nailed it to edge Munster 20-19 in front after 53 minutes. This seemed important for the outhalf’s confidence as in general play he was making too many mistakes.
Rob Penney felt the need for change early in the second half, unleashing BJ Botha and young James Cronin, while CJ Stander relieved Paddy Butler and was immediately visible carrying over the gainline.
Sherry was also gone before the hour mark as Damien Varley arrived.
At least the scrum was rock solid all afternoon. Their best eight man shove of the day allowed Keatley make it 23-19 with 15 minutes remaining. Cronin got the majority of back-slapping, but calamity followed.
Not long after a unforced knock-on in midfield, Felix Jones was pulled off with Penney changing up his entire starting XV as Hanrahan went to outhalf and Keatley to fullback. The switches backfired. Hanrahan tried to chip and chase out of his own half but was legally tackled by Matt Scott.
With the defensive line in tatters, as Grant Gilchrist flung a pass out to Visser, Earls couldn’t catch him, nor could Murray. Laidlaw’s fine conversion put Edinburgh three points clear. And It got worse.
Off a Munster scrum with five minutes remaining, the ball spilled out the back and Coughlan knocked on. That was fixable but when Stander scooped it up from an offside position, Laidlaw made it a six-point deficit. Considering the malaise, that felt more like 15.
They only escaped with the losing bonus point because Laidlaw’s last long-range penalty, when O’Connell was penalised, bounced off the crossbar.
Scoring sequence – 5 mins: M Scott try, 5-0; G Laidlaw conv, 7-0; 11 mins: G Laidlaw pen, 10-0; 14 mins: I Keatley pen, 10-3; 19 mins: C Laulala try, 10-8; I Keatley conv, 10-10; 21 mins: G Laidlaw pen, 13-10; 25 mins: M Sherry try, 13-15; I Keatley conv, 13-17; 28 mins: G Laidlaw pen, 16-17; 33 mins: G Laidlaw pen, 19-17. Half-time. 52 mins: I Keatley pen, 19-20; 65 mins: I Keatley pen, 19-23; 69 mins: T Visser try, 24-23; G Laidlaw conv, 26-23; 75 mins: G Laidlaw pen, 29-23.
EDINBURGH: J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; H Leonard, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel; G Gilchrist, S Cox; D Basilaia, C Du Preez, D Denton. Replacements: R Grant for D Basilaia (61 mins), W Blaauw for A Dickinson, G Cross for W Nel (both 71 mins)
MUNSTER: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D Ryan, P O’Connell (capt); P Butler, N Ronan, J Coughlan. Replacements: D Hurley for J Downey 12-2 0 mins, blood), BJ Botha for S Archer, J Cronin for D Kilcoyne (both 53 mins), CJ Stander for P Butler (55 mins), D Varley for M Sherry (58 mins), D Hurley for J Downey (61 mins), D O’Callaghan for N Ronan (65 mins), JJ Hanrahan for F Jones (66 mins), D Williams for S Zebo (72 mins, inj).
Referee: JP Doyle (Eng).