Head coach Rob Penney is intent on ensuring the 20 infringements for which Munster were pinged in the first of their back-to-back Heineken Cup games against Saracens will not be repeated when the sides meet again in Watford on Sunday next.
Given the controversial part referee Pascal Gauzere played in last week’s game, that he runs the line on Sunday and that Jerome Garces, a touch judge in the first meeting of the sides, will now be in charge, Munster were understandably fearful the officials would go into the game with preconceived notions about the province’s style of play.
“I’m told that doesn’t happen and that’s good news because we asked that question,” said Penney.
“The only thing that concerns me is if they weren’t open-minded enough to accept a discussion around the things that concerned us last week and that could set up a little poisonous spiral within that group of officials that would be dangerous.
“So hopefully, through the right channels, we’re able to get a good message across and they’re open-minded enough to consider the message. I’m sure they will be as they are professional men in a professional environment. They want to do the right thing by the game.
“We said after last week that we’d be corresponding with the referees and we’ve already had some really good feedback around that game. For me, it’s about approaching this one in a really positive manner with the officials ensuring that they are fully aware of the areas where we might have some concerns and that they are able to converse with us in areas where they have concerns with us.
“We need to go into the match really clear that there will be no fear of being hijacked by interpretations and rulings. It’s important that we get our backyard right first before we start looking over the fence. We go through the referees’ liaison people who deal directly with the referees and while I’m not 100% sure of the protocol just yet, if there is an opportunity to speak directly with the referee and he is comfortable to do that, then it’s something we may do.”
Backs coach Simon Mannix is just as conscious as Penney about Munster’s need to reduce the penalty count by at least half and he made a telling point when stressing: “We’ve seen Munster play Glasgow and concede four penalties the week before the Saracens game so we are capable of being a very disciplined outfit. A penalty count of 20 is often down to interpretation. We’ve had a good look at them and there are certainly some we can address. There’s no point in singling out refereeing mistakes or anything like that because many of the penalties were justifiable.”
Penney and Mannix are wary of asking too much of their players after their exertions of the first game, not least because several key men are carrying bumps and bruises. Some concern was expressed yesterday concerning backs Keith Earls, Felix Jones and Simon Zebo and forwards BJ Botha and David O’Callaghan.
“We’re waiting until the end of the week and the run today was pretty low key,” said Penney.
“We’re awaiting word from the medical staff as to players’ availability. We’re having to work hard on trying to establish what the back three mix will be. Then there’s moderate concern about BJ as there always would be with someone of his ability. Archie (Stephen Archer) is in pretty good shape and ready to go and, of course, Dave O’Callaghan was forced off the other day. We’ll just have to wait and see what unfolds over the next 48 hours.
“Tommy O’Donnell is definitely out but Niall Ronan and Shaun Dougall trained together and hopefully will be able to get some footy over the weekend. It’s very pleasing for two lads who have taken significant knocks and Niall especially — with the potential severity of the injury against Scarlets — that he has bounced back so strongly and so quickly.”
Penney stressed that no decision will be taken as to whether Ronan and Dougall will be involved against Saracens or bide their time with action against Rotherham in the return B&I Cup fixture at Musgrave Park tomorrow evening.
In contrast to last week, when Ronan O’Gara’s fitness remained in doubt up to little more than an hour before kick-off, the out-half is 100% fit again and took a full part yesterday.
“The win last week made us masters of our own destiny, which is where you want to be,” said Penney.
“That was very heartening and I think Saracens will be very tough at home because they have a lot of pride. But we’re improving and building a bit of confidence.
“The team has the ability to win away and I certainly try to drive this, that it’s irrelevant who you are playing, it’s the same size field, the same grass… supporters and the environment might be different but when you go out on the field, you should treat it exactly the same, no matter who you are playing.
“It’s a massive hurdle but not insurmountable.”
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