Munster in rude health for Heineken Cup after derby win over Leinster
Coach Rob Penney hails Ian Keatley’s performance in 19-15 victory
Simon Zebo of Munster and Dave Kearney of Leinster contest a high ball during Saturday’s Pro12 match at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, nor even Saturday’s last blast of an Indian summer, but with one bound Munster move on to the Heineken Cup in better spirits mentally and physically than Leinster. Beaten and bowed, and denuded of their familiar leadership core, the latter are left fretting about Brian O’Driscoll, whom Matt O’Connor rates a 50-50 chance of overcoming his calf strain, all the more so as Lote Tuqiri will almost certainly be hamstrung.
Saturday’s utterly deserved and notably pragmatic 19-15 win over Leinster was a victory for their greater hunger, intensity and tactics. Coming after the optimism generated by last season’s Heineken Cup run, this first win in three attempts against Leinster under his watch was also a significant win for Munster coach Rob Penney.
“Personally, it’s bloody great to have a victory against a great side,” he said. “ . . . I’m just really pleased for the lads, they’re the ones who do all the work.”
Boosted by the return of BJ Botha and Conor Murray, along with Ian Keatley’s man of the match performance, Keith Earls’ strong performance and the continuing progress of young loosehead James Cronin, Munster’s one injury concern ahead of Saturday’s lunchtime Euro opener in Murrayfield against Edinburgh is that of concussed captain Peter O’Mahony.
Surprisingly, O’Mahony was not temporarily removed from the fray to avail of the “concussion bin” only to be then replaced soon after during the interval. “We have quite good depth so we didn’t compromise him and we took him off,” explained Penney. “There’s no need to put him through anything more given that he shipped an obvious knock. The medical team were happy with where he was at. He’s chirpy and completely normal in the changing rooms. The next 48 hours will tell us.”
Penney was particularly taken by the strikingly commanding, post-Lions cameo from Murray on his seasonal return. “Jeez, he looks fantastic doesn’t he? How good is that kid? He can be the best in the world. If he’s not already he’s not that far away. He’s a bit of a genius. Coming off the back of having no football really, and having a 20-minute cameo like he did. Superb!”
Penney also hailed the performance of Keatley. “I thought he had a terrific game. He’s done a sterling job in the jersey for all the time since I’ve been here . . . He’s an intelligent, very keen and committed young man.”
He also particularly enjoyed “the way we closed out when at times last year we weren’t able to close matches out. At times we took control with our set-piece and just ripped the game away from them really, took the opportunity away from them to have a sniff.” He hoped they would take signs of this increased “maturity” into their Euro exertions.
Penney generously admitted that Leinster missed the talismanic O’Driscoll while injuries have sidelined two of their other standard-bearers, Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings.
Away to bogey side the Ospreys next Saturday, South African fullback Zane Kirchener arrives today, but the more pressing concerns are their depleted midfield resources, with Fergus McFadden now likely to partner Gordon D’Arcy in midfield. Helpfully, Luke Fitzgerald came through 25 minutes off the bench unscathed.
“I don’t think we controlled field position or territory in the back 20 minutes of the game,” admitted Matt O’Connor. “We kicked poorly, we didn’t control possession and you can’t do that into the wind against Munster here.”
Asked about the interpretations of Romain Poite at the breakdown, O’Connor pulled his training top over his head and shrieked: “I can’t talk about that or I’ll get sacked! No comment.” Emerging, he smiled knowingly and added: “As soon as the appointment was made there was going to be an issue.”
That said, O’Connor admitted Leinster didn’t always take the right options and they need to be more accurate at the breakdown. The scrum interpretations he found “very bizarre”.
All in all though, the Leinster coach maintained: “I’m not overly disappointed with where we are in the league to be honest. We’ve had a pretty tough start, we’ve integrated blokes back into set-up with new systems and new personnel in there from a coaching and a playing perspective. It’s not a bad place to be at . . .”
“If you’re looking at bigger picture stuff it’s not the end of the world, we’ll dust ourselves off and make sure that we’re better next Saturday.”
He assuredly knows that they’ll need to be.