Mallinder tips Munster for the title


Rugby:Shell-shocked Northampton coach Jim Mallinder admitted his side were “second best” against Munster yesterday evening and predicted Tony McGahan’s men could go all the way again in the Heineken Cup this season. A Simon Zebo hat-trick helped Munster run out 51-36 winners and ensured the visitors earned the top seeding position for the quarter-finals.

“They raised their game from their previous five in the Heineken Cup. They looked after the ball and we gave it away,” said Mallinder, whose side finished third in Pool One the season after reaching the final. “You talk about getting your set-piece right but, while our scrum was good, we didn’t get our re-starts right. Our re-starts meant we couldn’t get out of our own half.

“You can’t just have dominance in the scrum and expect to win the game. Munster dominated every other area and came out on top. We played badly. We got back to within five points in the second half, but then gave away an interception and that was game over.

“We were competing against one of Europe’s best sides and, while we did well in Munster and could easily have won, we came second best. What they did very well was slow us down in the contact area. We couldn’t get on the front foot and get the ball wide.

“They have a good chance now. They raised their game and I thought they were very good.”

Munster skipper Paul O’Connell believes his side still have a way to go to get up to the level of Toulouse and Leinster in the Heineken Cup. The victory saw Munster complete their group campaign with a perfect six out of six wins for the first time in their history and move to 25 points — one ahead of champions Leinster in the race for top quarter-final seedings.

“It was a very good performance, especially when you consider how much pressure we were under at the scrum,” O’Connell said. “That has been coming for a while. We’ve been very close and it was very satisfying to see the back line finishing off a few moves. It’s right up there because it came against a good side away from home at the business end of the Heineken Cup.

“At times we have showed some good form. The work ethic has been there and I was very happy to see the backs finishing off some moves. That 10-minute period just after half-time gave us a real lift. To be under such pressure in the scrum and still come out on top is testament to the strength and heart of the team.

“Last year didn’t go our way, but we’ve had a bit of luck along the way this season and worked very hard to go six from six. We’ve still got a bit of a way to go to get up to the standard of Toulouse and Leinster.

“We’ve proved nothing yet — we’ve just come out of our pool and won nothing. We’ve got a long way to go to emulate the teams of 2006 and 2008 who won the tournament.”