“We didn’t get our set- piece going in first half and we were chasing our tail”
Decision to go for corner rather than posts with eight minutes to go was “collective”
Munster’s Damien Varley dejected after the province’s defeat. Photograph: Inpho
The debate will forever rage as to whether Munster should have gone for the posts rather than the corner with eight minutes left and make it a two- point game, with just one more penalty or drop goal to win the match. By going for the corner, they backed themselves into a corner, for they then had to score a try to all intents and purposes, and left themselves chasing a try in the endgame.
Furthermore, it meant Jonny Wilkinson’s ensuing 80th minute penalty after a monumental charge down by James Coughlan had denied the outhalf an insurance drop goal, would not have left Munster two scores adrift.
Yet there were no regrets about this huge call from the Munster team themselves, with captain for the day on his first Heineken Cup semi-final start, Damien Varley, maintaining it was the right call at the time.
“It was a collective one,” said Varley of the pivotal decision. “We felt that we were really on top, our set-piece didn’t get going as much as we wanted in the first half and we felt that we’d get a maul together and walk them over. Any time we got a maul before they were giving away penalties and we felt we could walk them over. We back the decision 100 per cent but again [it was a case of] unforced errors.”
Another bone of contention was Wayne Barnes’s interpretation of the scrum, which went a considerable way toward Toulon making the early running rather than Munster on the scoreboard.
“I think he had a different interpretation,” said Varley, in contrast to how he and the Munster front-row read the early scrums. “[Carl] Hayman was certainly going down on his knee and flat on his face.
“The picture from Wayne’s point of view was it looked as if Killer (David Kilcoyne) was hinging a little bit. It took a while to understand Wayne’s interpretation and I think after that we painted a pretty good picture.
Too little, too late
“I think we came out on top from a scrum point of view but it was too little, too late. We didn’t get our set-piece going in the first half and we were chasing our tail too much then throughout the game.”
Asked specifically what they did differently to turn the penalty count around at scrum time, Varley said: “We probably gave ourselves a bigger gap. I think Hayman likes to be on top of us and hit down so we probably gave him more space so we could get a bigger hit on him.
“ It was probably more evident to Wayne then that he was going down flat on his face and dropping his bind. So once we established that after we gave away three or four penalties, it was just too late.”
While it was a brutally physical encounter, not only did Varley feel Munster were fitter but added: “I think we probably expected a little more physicality from them, we stopped a lot of their poaching abilities, we stopped Armitage and Bastareud; 90 per cent of the time we were very clinical at the breakdown.”
Physically on top
“I certainly felt we were physically on top but it wasn’t our physicality that lost it, it was our handling and our unforced errors and certainly our discipline in the first half.”
An unusually forlorn Simon Zebo commented “We had said we’d try to lay down a marker in the opening 20 minutes, make a statement. But our error and penalty count was too high in the first half. It cost us in the end.”
“Paul said at half-time it was just a half of our mistakes and them kicking their points. It was a very strange half and the second half, when we held on to the ball, put pressure on them, we got chances and got penalties. But it was just too much of a mountain to try.”
The sense of an opportunity lost was even more pronounced for Zebo than a year ago.
“We gave ourselves every opportunity. We were very confident this week. We knew what was ahead of us. We believed we could win. There was a chance there. And we didn’t take it. The silly errors forced us to come away with a loss.”