Heineken Cup Pool 1: Munster V Edinburgh
A half-empty Murrayfield and opposition already beaten home and away this season and desperately out of form. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, everything if you’re Rob Penney and the memories of the worst performance under your command are still painfully fresh as you prepare Munster for a must-win Heineken Cup Pool 1 appointment against Edinburgh tomorrow (12.45pm).
There is nothing in the form book of late or at any time this season that points to a home victory tomorrow. Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh have been a mystery this season, a pale imitation of the side that reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals last term and one that has failed to even score a try in four rounds of pool action, let alone win a game.
Five defeats in a row coming into this contest, culminating in a woeful performance at home to Leinster eight days ago, underscores the malaise, and yet Penney is keen to ensure not a hint of complacency creeps into his side’s attitude.
With good reason. Munster may have beaten Edinburgh in the first game of the season at Murrayfield in September with a vim and vigour of which the new coach could only have dreamed to get his tenure up and running. Yet they were fully exposed to the damage Dutch-born Scotland wing Tim Visser can create as he tore the Irish province’s defence to shreds with a hat-trick of tries. Back at Thomond Park in October, in the second round of the Heineken Cup pool campaign, Munster won 33-0 and gained the four tries required for a bonus point that will be equally as important tomorrow. Yet it was only 6-0 at half-time and it needed three tries in the last nine minutes to get that bonus point.
Now Munster go back to Edinburgh on the back of a performance in losing 17-6 at home to Cardiff Blues last Saturday that was so dire, Penney admitted to a sleepless night afterwards. A misfiring lineout, a painfully lateral attack and 29 unforced errors gave the New Zealander just cause to bury his head in his hands at Musgrave Park.
No wonder talk of bonus points has been off the list of topics for debate this week. Munster need to get their basics right first and prepare for an opponent tired of being the group whipping boys.
“Somebody’s going to be disappointed on Sunday after the game and it’s our intention that it will be Munster,” Bradley said this week.
Still, driven by the failing of last weekend, boosted by the return of Test players Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo to the starting line-up and seeing Conor Murray passed fit to start, there should be a fresh impetus, intensity and penetration to Munster’s play that was desperately lacking last week.
Penney said this week he was not entertaining thoughts of bonus points. As always, the performance will take care of that and at least Munster will know exactly what’s required given that Racing and Saracens play each other in Nantes today.
“The beauty about this week is that if we win, we have an opportunity at Thomond next week to be masters of our own destiny,” he said. “So we just deal with trying to get the result.”
That aim should be helped by playing a team whose home support could well be outnumbered by the visitors, but Penney remains cautious. “It would be really dangerous for us for us to be thinking anything but they will be totally committed and full throttle and wanting to make our season a misery by doing the damage to us up there.
“So if we’re anything but totally focused and totally well prepared in terms of the homework and execution of what we’re trying to achieve, we’ll come unstuck.”
A third win of the season over Edinburgh will be no formality but it should be achieved by a side chastened by recent events. Parlaying that win into four tries and a bonus point is another matter and we may well see another grinding 60 or 70 minutes before Scottish resistance subsides.
Picture: Munster’s Donncha O’Callaghan issues instructions during lineout practice. Picture: Sportsfile
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