Munster got win they wanted, as well as needed

Victory at the Aviva vindicates Anthony Foley et al’s handling of the reins

It could be argued that Irish rugby needed a Munster win more. Another defeat to add to seven losses in a row to Leinster in the capital, along with home defeats at their one-time fortress in Thomond, would have been gravely damaging. Certainly, it could be argued that Munster needed it more and, trite though it may seem to say, they wanted it more.

Such is the magnitude of this fixture, so it is that Munster's season has lift-off after Saturday's richly entertaining 34-23 win on an idyllic evening at the Aviva Stadium in front of 43,817, though it looked someway shy of that. It's the bragging rights and all that, coupled with some belated vindication that the methods of the newly promoted Anthony Foley and his newly assembled indigenous coaching ticket are bearing fruit.

Their problems haven’t gone away. Even at their best, and the hard-earned three tries they engineered in Saturday merely reminded us of this: tries come harder for them. So much has to be in working order, and here the depth and aggression of the carries, and most of all the razor sharp clearing out, were top notch as were their set pieces.

The Thomond test

Yet it will be interesting to see how they, and fans react, to a return to Thomond Park next Thursday for the visit of the Scarlets. Then Sale away and Saracens at home – tough precursors to December’s back-to-back meetings with Clermont. At least the French side’s early season momentum and leadership of the Top 14 was punctured by Saturday’s 51-21 loss at Bordeaux Begles.


While seeking not to look beyond the Scarlets game, or bask too much in the glow of this win over Leinster with a performance very much carved in his own playing image, Foley admitted the victory was beneficial for the entire organisation.

“It is, just for the confidence of everybody and the backing of it going forward. It doesn’t guarantee we’ll win next week, it doesn’t guarantee we’ll beat Sale. We’ll have to put our work in during the week, there’s things that were good out there, things we’ll have to work on. We’ve a few issues. Not being flippant about it, next week I could be standing in front of you and you’re asking ‘where did it all go wrong?’, you know? I’m fully aware of that, fully aware we’re not the finished article, but I’m happy where we’re going.”

Foley also gave an inkling as to the more intense pressure a home-grown head coach and coaching ticket comes under when he added, “I’m happy because the boys are getting credit for the work they’re putting in. That’s the players and the coaches, at times we’re easy targets because we’re local and people know what we’re about, they know our wrinkles, our good sides as well. I’m delighted for everyone involved in the team.”

Foley vaguely recalled playing in a Shannon team that suffered four yellow cards. “Against St Mary’s we were down to 12 players at one stage in an AIL games. I think we coped with it quite well. It was a bit like Sudoko out there at one stage trying to figure out where fellahs were going. It was disappointing to concede them. To be down to 13 players on two occasions is not ideal; trust me.”

Victory’s toll

The win didn't come without a cost. Duncan Casey's game was cut short before half-time with a rib injury. The toll was aggravated by Damien Varley suffering a foot injury on his seasonal return, while Andrew Conway was forced off with a neck injury.

If this win constitutes a shot in the arm for the victors, there has to be a loser too, for whom this is a significant setback. Compounding their worsening injury list, Fergus McFadden will have a scan today on the nasty looking ankle injury which forced his 15th minute departure.

Matt O’Connor wasn’t inclined to make excuses about injuries, though his lament on the way the officials permitted Munster to illegally spoil Leinster’s ruck ball had a hollow ring given Ian Davies issued four yellow cards to visiting players – albeit only BJ Botha’s was for a breakdown offence per se.

Accepting defeat

A taciturn O'Connor accepted that this third defeat leaves them little elbow room in the league to maintain their high standards and will demand significant improvement in time for their European Champions Cup opener at home to Wasps next Sunday week.

“Our close quarter defence wasn’t good enough. I think our execution on the big moments hasn’t been good enough. We did a couple of good things but we let ourselves down across the course of it, and that’s probably without the ball and that’s with our execution, in the broader sense. So, tighten up those and it’s not the end of the world.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times