Victory secured but Munster left to rue bonus chance that got away
Pool One: Edinburgh 17 Munster 26Munster came away from a predictably hollow Murrayfield, which was one-tenth full, with a decidedly hollow feeling. Although their destiny is still largely in their own hands, they’ll know the bonus point they left behind would have left them feeling considerably better about life.
The Munster contingent in a 6,220 crowd appeared more numerous but for all their encouragement, and for all their team’s huffing and puffing, they couldn’t blow Edinburgh’s house down. The morning snow and sleet made for a cloying, energy-sapping pitch and Munster couldn’t be faulted for effort and desire.
More direct in response to last week’s dismal defeat at home to Cardiff in the league, they carried hard and recycled ad nauseam, but having elected to kick five of six kickable first-half penalties at goal, they failed to close out that period with a try.
Having failed to add a third soon after Conor Murray pounced just past the hour when Felix Jones couldn’t put Doug Howlett away, Munster left themselves too much to do, although two late Edinburgh tries could be taken as vindication for their decision to put points on the board in the first half.
A number of unplanned alterations changed the landscape significantly, but although Stephen Archer and then, in the warm-up, Mike Sherry were forced off the Munster bench, Edinburgh’s loss of loosehead Alan Jacobsen from their starting line-up had a bigger impact.
Another change had seen their sometime bugbear Romain Poite replaced by English referee Greg Gardner, who had understandably incurred their wrath in the opening defeat to Racing, not least in one key scrum decision against David Kilcoyne. Yesterday, Michael Bradley was incensed by the manner in which Kilcoyne scrummaged across and under Willem Nel as the Munster scrum wreaked untold carnage and ultimately was a source of 16 points.
That apart, along with some sleeves-rolled-up driving play by the pack, for all their collective effort, and some willing carrying by Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell – who also defended well – in particular, they lacked a little potency in their carries on a heavy pitch against obdurate opponents. The backs, though they threatened on occasion, couldn’t deliver and they may rue not having opted for Simon Zebo at full-back, with Casey Laulala in midfield and Keith Earls on the wing.
In all of this, while a bonus point win was eminently desirable, a win was the priority. Besides which, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. So, an eager kick-chase game having been undone by a mistiming between thrower, lifters and jumper to cough up a five-metre line, despite polite entreaties to kick to the corner, Doug Howlett repeatedly told Ronan O’Gara to point to the sticks and he augmented an early penalty to land three successive scrum penalties to sandwich one by Laidlaw for a 12-3 lead.