Munster’s bravery not enough as Toulon march on
Coach Rob Penney left to rue his side’s mistakes and a costly penalty count
Munster’s Conor Murray cuts a dejected figure following the semi-final defeat to Toulon at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It was the occasion and the contest that this fantastic competition merited after Saracens’ bloodless coup at a hollow Twickenham the day before, if not quite the setting nor indeed the outcome Munster cherished. Instead, another one got away which left Rob Penney with a hollow feeling after Toulon eventually outmuscled Munster 24-16 in the Stade Velodrome. He assuredly wasn’t alone.
Once again you were left to wonder what this competition would ever have amounted to without Munster. In a stadium on which one stand was a building site, their budget and their support was dwarfed by Toulon, yet the Red Army seemed well in excess of the anticipated 7,000 amongst the raucous sun-drenched 37,043 crowd.
And in time-honoured fashion Munster left nothing of themselves in attempting to upset the odds in a ninth away semi-final out of 11, and seventh away to a French side in seven different venues. So the last Heineken Cup final in Cardiff on May 24th will be an Anglo-French Big Bash, heavily infused with South Africans and other imports.
Munster’s heroism and effort could, naturally, not be faulted. As against Clermont last season, they doggedly clung to the ankles – literally on some occasions – to overcome an error-strewn, penalty-dominated first half and come within a kick of the lead after Conor Murray conjured the sole try of the game for Simon Zebo against French opponents who expected to win and appeared rattled when not all went to script.
They will rue one long-range missed penalty by Ian Keatley which followed and, given it was his only miss of the day, their decision to go to the corner rather than make it a five-point game in the 72nd minute. In the final analysis though, they also made too many mistakes and conceded too many penalties (12 to eight) for their own good.
“Small margins at this level, small margins,” lamented Penney. “Goodness, we just made so many mistakes both sides of the ball. We showed a lot of courage at times to really get back and support each other when they made some breaches on the back of our errors. Just our skill level wasn’t where it needed to be.”
When asked to describe his emotions, Penney said: “Very hollow would be the emotion. I’m hurting for the boys.”
As for the fateful 72nd minute decision to go to the corner, Penney was, understandably, not of a mind to criticise his captain Damien Varley or the other leaders in the team.
“We’re all fantastic and have 20-20 vision after the event; like if we had scored from a maul, and our maul has been going great for us. We knew Toulon would be very difficult there. We’d scored one early through a maul and in this instance unfortunately even though the maul didn’t work, Toulon did a great job to disrupt but we still have possession, went through two phases and turned it over again. . .