Graham Rowntree expressed the hop that Munster’s vital 24-10 bonus point over Connacht will add to the feel-good factor generated by the victory over a South African side in Cork, and while this performance was not without its flaws he believed it marked another step forward in this team’s progress.
“We were smart with the ball,” said Rowntree in identifying what he believed was key to their first derby win in four attempts this season.
“Our kicking game was smart, our maul and maul defence was good. Our discipline is still a work-on. We are still giving teams access to our 22. I was pleased with the win. It wasn’t perfect by any means, I said that to the lads afterwards. They’re a good team but compared to our performance down in Galway last month, we were a lot better.”
Reflecting further on the difference this round eight game and that round four defeat in Galway, Rowntree added: “There has been a lot of development. We’re still learning. We’ve had more training time with the coaches, a bit more of a settled squad. We had a lot of moving parts last month with unavailability. We just kept hammering at what we have been doing well in training.”
“There’s been no panic. Things have not gone our way but you control what you can every day. I’ve seen the body of work we’ve been doing. Hard work tends to pay off and we’ve worked hard. More training time, more work with the coaches, more of a settled squad. Hopefully things are going to turn the corner. It looks like they are.
Peter O’Mahony went off in the first-half with what Rowntree said was an injured nose, if in more colourful language than that, and that Mike Haley did not return after failing an HIA. But the Munster head coach expressed the hope that Keith Earls might come into the mix for next Friday’s game away to Edinburgh.
“The group has been good, positive. We’ve seen the work, we know what we’re trying to do. The results have not gone our way, we can’t deny that. We just fix what we can every day. All the injured players have been in every meeting, it has still been a positive environment.”
Rowntree also sensed that the win over South Africa in Cork was significant, even if there were no points at stake.
“It was such a special occasion. It definitely gave us momentum. I spoke to the lads on Monday that it was important to keep that momentum going into this game. That gives us momentum into Edinburgh and that’ll give us momentum into Europe.
His counterpart, Andy Friend, was clearly aggrieved by some of the refereeing, although mostly tried to bite his tongue. Asked about the yellow card which was brandished to John Porch when blocking Joey Carbery after the Munster outhalf ran into him, Friend said: “Ah, I thought there were a lot of things out there. We’ll review that. I just thought that were a lot of things that happened in the game there tonight that need a review.”
Another pivotal moment occurred pas the half-hour mark, with Connacht leading 10-5, when the referee reversed a second full scrum penalty in Connacht’s favour and led to Munster drawing level through the first of their three tries off lineout mauls.
“About five minutes before there’d been a bit of push-me-shove-you, and he said to both captains ‘after the whistle we can’t have people coming in.’ And he’d blown the whistle and then it appeared that Denis [Buckley] had pushed Roman Salanoa, so he reversed the penalty there.
“But if you continue on with the game after the yellow card when John Porch goes off there’s another push-me-shove-you but nothing gets done with that. So all we want as coaches is consistency and I didn’t feel like that there in that instance.”
However, Friend did concede that his team didn’t help themselves at times.
“I think we were our own worst enemies in some of those too. So we definitely didn’t help our cause and that’s the stuff that we’ve got to control. We’ve got to be better at not giving those pictures and not giving referees reasons to make those decisions. So we’ll cop that on the chin.”
As for Connacht’s performance, he also admitted: “I think in some of our decision-making. Some of our execution and decision-making at key moments just let us down, and their maul attack was very good there tonight. They scored a couple of tries through that, and that hurt us.
“That’s been an area where I think we’ve been good this year but yeah, we got punched in the face there tonight.”
Asked if he was happy with a losing bonus point, Friend said: “At 24-10 I’d take a losing bonus point. I’m pleased to be walking away with something, but at 10-all at half-time I was expecting a lot more than that.”