A downbeat Anthony Foley could scarcely conceal his acute disappointment over Munster's emphatic exit from the Champions Cup, thanks to a 33-10 defeat to Saracens. The loss reduces next week's home game against Sale to antic-climactic dead rubber.
“It is not something we obviously planned for,” said Foley at Allianz Park. “We came here to win the game and came here to put in a good performance. That was a team that could have reached the knockout stages and we didn’t produce that. It is very frustrating and very annoying to be out of the tournament so early.”
Munster were on the back foot from Jim Hamilton's early charge down of a box kick by Duncan Williams and Foley admitted ruefully: "We couldn't get out of that corner from early on in the game. Every time we shifted up the pitch we gave them an easy access to get back in there. We got momentum into the game when we got good forward ball but we gave away the ball cheaply and they turned us."
“I am sure if you look at it you will see a lot of big errors before they score and that was frustrating for us because that it is a leg-up that they don’t need when they are playing and have their dander up, to help them out like that is something that we shouldn’t be doing.”
Munster’s main problem, he also conceded, was their own execution.
“It came from fellas dropping ball - execution. We weren’t putting them under pressure and getting into space. Unfortunately it worked during the week and it didn’t out on the pitch there.”
Explaining his decision not to introduce JJ Hanrahan until the 75th minute, by which stage the game was long since up, Foley added: “There was obviously consequences there. We thought that in the second-half - we had a conversation 10 or 15 minutes in. We felt that we were defending and we were defending well and we hadn’t a lot of ball at that stage. So all you are doing is putting a player out to tackle and defend, which didn’t make sense, but once we started getting the ball we had a look to expose them and get more space but that didn’t happen either.”
Saracens boss Mark McCall hailed a "phenomenal" performance by England number eight Billy Vunipola after their most complete performance of the season.
French giants Clermont Auvergne remain favourites to win Pool One — they host Saracens on Sunday week — but it is probable that one of three best runners-up spots in terms of last-eight qualification will be filled by either club.
And Vunipola, who looks set to replace broken leg victim Ben Morgan in England's starting line-up for the Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff in February 6th, produced an inspired display.
“Billy was phenomenal today,” Saracens rugby director McCall said. “He was a force of nature in attack and defence, but I thought we had outstanding performances right through the group.
"(Scrumhalf) Richard Wigglesworth was magnificent — he set the pace and tone of the match — and Chris Ashton was outstanding — not his two tries, which were good — but some of his kicking game early on allowed us to control things. There is a small sense of frustration that we didn't get the fourth try (and bonus point), but I thought it was a really good performance.
“We are in a position where we go to Clermont, and if we win the match, we win the pool. That is what our intention is going to be.”