Munster looking to bounce back against Harlequins
Penney admits 51-24 defeat to Glasgow an embarrassment
Munster head coach Rob Penney. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Munster have made a virtue of throwing in off-colour performances the week before returning to the Heineken Cup but conceding their heaviest defeat since leaking 60 points to Cardiff with an under-strength side nine years ago was stretching a point.
Last Friday’s defeat to Glasgow by 51-24 was, Rob Penney conceded yesterday, an embarrassment in which the players let down the jersey and, a week out from drinking at the last chance saloon away to the English champions Harlequins in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, it has prompted self-doubt and soul searching.
Admittedly this backs-against-the-wall mode is not new territory for Munster, although it is for Penney. Looking and sounding a little weary over what he also conceded was becoming a repetitive theme, Penney maintained he was very pleased with the endeavour against Glasgow. “Often, I’m told pre Heineken that teams can be distracted. I thought that for 59 minutes we were competitive. In the first 40, through a couple of individual errors should have been further in front not behind. Then for some reason we had some defensive whoopsies and that was a bit embarrassing, really that last 20 minutes.”
The scale of the defeat had, he also conceded, compromised preparations for Sunday’s quarter-final against Harlequins, but when asked if he felt under pressure Penney deflected it on to the players.
“No. I am only under the pressure to get the team in as good a space as you can get them and give them all the information they need to be able to play well. But in terms of the results, we’re not out there making tackles or making the decisions at those crucial times. All we are doing is providing them the information.
“It is disappointing really,” the coach added. “The boys are a lot better than that. I think they would be first to say they are better than that. It was, as I say, it was just embarrassing. They just let themselves down first and foremost, but they let the jersey down in that last quarter of an hour or 20 minutes. It just shouldn’t happen.”
In refuting the notion the concession of three intercept tries and 21 points in Glasgow was the product of going wide at all costs, Penney illustrated the point by stating: “There were two intercept passes that were thrown from nine or from 10 throwing it back, so that’s in a very narrow channel in the middle of the field, both of those. And Casey (Laulala) basically just threw a bit of a wobbly one inexplicably. There’s no drive from the staff to tell people to be throwing those sorts of passes. We’re nowhere near where we would like to be, and every post-match has become a bit repetitive. We’re working hard. We’re just not getting the rewards.”
Asked if there would be repercussions in terms of selection. “Good players made some unusual decisions and repercussions? There’s been some discussions behind the scenes, and there were some good players making decisions they wouldn’t normally make.”
Helpfully in the circumstances therefore, Penney can call on international reinforcements this week, with a refreshed and recharged Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony all expected to come back into the mix and, quite possibly, Simon Zebo.
“We are pretty thin in the back field,” admitted Penney. “Zeebs’ call will be made later in the week. He is well in advance of where he was expected to be. We can’t compromise him. We’ll have to wait.”
Against that though, Penney revealed “we have got a lot of doubt about Doug Howlett” due to a shoulder injury sustained in the act of scoring in Glasgow last Friday, and rated the All Blacks’ record try scorer as no better than 50-50.
“They came back in bouncy, which is exactly what we’re after,” said Penney of the returning quartet of Irish internationals, and after conceding 50 points reinforcements were never more necessary.
“It’s good to have those guys floating around again. (They) always make a really positive impact on the group. You have probably highlighted something that’s equally as important as getting them back in.”
While Glasgow are top of the Pro 12 on the back of eight wins from their last nine games, Harlequins have been hit by an untimely run of three defeats. However, while they were horrid against a fired-up Saracens two weeks ago, there was less shame in losing a cracking game 17-15 away to Gloucester.
Conor O’Shea’s outfit are also English champions, who racked up 41 points per game and 28 tries in their pool.
So completed an undoubtedly candid briefing from the Munster coach. He and they have clearly been shook. Now it remains to be seen whether they’ve been stirred.