The battle for a spot in the league’s top six has being the standout story this season in the league. With a Munster team on the wane in recent weeks, it has allowed the likes of Edinburgh, Cardiff and even the Ospreys to harbor ambitions of securing European Cup rugby next season.
Last night in Cork saw a pivotal fixture in the recent history of Munster Rugby, Hawkeye Sidekick provides his verdict on the action in a week where the Munster Rugby PR machine have had a week to forget.
It has being a week which started in an unmediated media public relations disaster. The appointment announcement of Rasi Erasmus as the province’s head coach from July 1st was poorly coordinated and delivered to both the media masses and fan base alike.
Lingering questions on what Erasmus’ role will be coupled with the indecisive answers surrounding the futures of existing Munster backroom staff and current head coach Anthony Foley spoke of a lack of planning and foresight to resolve these questions before announcing the Erasmus appointment.
Garrett Fitzgerald and head honchos at the RFU branch should look themselves in the mirror for the bungling of this appointment. It does little to inspire confidence in the province and there is serious doubts that the serious radical overhaul required in all structures of the rugby province will be implemented.
The Erasmus media appointment showed little regard to the current backroom staff and management who were preparing the first team squad for a key crunch fixture against Edinburgh to remain in contention for a top six Pro 12 league spot and ultimately European Cup Rugby action next season.
Distractions aplenty for Foley and backroom staff having to fend media questions on their reaction to Erasmus which would have being better served talking about the squad and optimism in the camp ahead of the Edinbutgh fixture.
The decision to move this fixture to Musgrave Park (will not mention the corporate branding name) was a masterstroke. A sold out game for once and the local Cork public lifted the side with massive noise and support throughout.
The support inspired Munster to start this contest with a swagger and confidence seldom seen at the start of games this season. Scannell crossing over after only six minutes after several impressive game line breaks from Munster. The conversion was duly converted by the now established Johnny Holland and it should have led to a dominant Munster performance.
However, Munster ill-discipline surfaced in spades for the next fifteen minutes with Edinburgh hitting back with a quick ten point salvo. The visitors were awarded a routine penalty with hooker Scannell deliberately obstructing scrum-half Kennedy in an offside position, incredibly stupid penalty award and one that has not being remedied this season. Easy points for Edinburgh to gain a foothold in the contest and it set the platform for Edinburgh to score their try.
More indecisive Munster play led to this concession. Holland kicking the resultant restart out in the full. The subsequent scrum was well controlled by Edinburgh and after a couple of phrases, Tovey found the classic mismatch between Scannell and Archer to break the game line. Zebo at full back was isolated and could not adjust quick enough to prevent the score. From a position of ascendency, Munster were now back on their heels due to unforced errors. Their season and European Cup Rugby were vanishing by the minute.
However, the hosts were not to be denied this time and Munster responded with gusto creating a penalty opportunity after impressive pack play. Holland again unerring in his penalty kick to level the scores. Munster with confidence renewed then sprung for the try of the game.
There appeared little danger when Munster had the ball deep in their own territory but a quick pass from Holland to Conway led to the winger to evaded Edinburgh’s defense to break the game line. Conway’s awareness to options was evident with an astute kick ahead for supporting runner Zebo to pick up and stride for the try line. It was a superb try in a fixture shrouded with nerves and tension given the magnitude of the contest.
Edinburgh were now the team under the cosh and they conceded a third try just before the interval after Stander gained yards in the red zone to allow Conway to touch down in the corner. It was a spirited performance from Munster and while the conversion was missed by Holland, they were now in buoyant mood and the home support hoped that the team could see it out until the interval.
However, this has being a weak point in Munster’s play all season. The team’s sheer inability to keep composure and concentration after scoring has being to the fore. More indiscretions from Edinburgh phrase play led to Tovey to slot a penalty to keep the visitors in the contest.
The second half was in a nutshell full of nerves from the hosts. The importance of the fixture led to several Munster errors in open play, some of which giving Edinburgh more of a foothold in the contest. Hidalgo Clyne was now introduced and his game management and long range penalty area were putting Munster under the cosh. The score heading into the final quarter was 20-19 and Edinburgh looked like the team who were going to win the contest with some unexpected errors from Murray (unable to find touch from a Munster penalty) and Zebo (kicking out in the full when indecisive with ball received from Murray’s error).
Munster buoyed by a fervent home support then summoned the strength from somewhere to produce a decisive period of play in the last fifteen minutes; the pack’s maul was imperious throughout and it should have yielded a try when they advanced with the ball over forty meters. This set the platform for more Munster pressure in the final ten minutes. Stander quick to turn down three points and instead applying further pressure to Edinburgh’s try line from Sailli which yielded the fourth try with three minutes to go, a close range effort but such a significant score.
Holland’s conversion was also noteworthy as it opened up a eight point gap which Edinburgh had little time to respond. No points earned by Edinburgh who now must look for favors from the Scarlets and beat Cardiff Blues in two weeks time with a bonus point to move ahead of Munster who entertain a Scarlets side who have collapsed in recent weeks.
Munster showed guts and determination last night; the result was all that mattered and a repeat performance from players, management and supporters are required to get the team over the line and secure top flight European Cup Rugby next season. Weak points were exposed as well but the defiance of everyone associated with the province won the day.
It is a minimum requirement and qualification should not deflect from a season of more lows than highs. New coach, new era for Munster starting in July; a good end to a week which could be best described as chaotic.