Munster return to action this Saturday determined to reignite their push for a Guinness PRO14 home semi-final and leave behind a defeat last time out that threatens to cast a shadow over their campaign.
It could be easy to dismiss the 10-6 loss at Scarlets on a rainy Saturday in West Wales on March 2 as a game in isolation, particularly given that round 17 of the PRO14 regular season was played in the middle of two lay-offs during the Six Nations Test window and both sides were missing many of their internationals during a down weekend between rounds three and four of the championship.
Yet though Munster left Llanelli with a losing bonus point that day, they did so with a sense of frustration on many levels after Ioan Nicholas had profited from Leigh Halfpenny’s break to score the only try of the game.
The defeat was a first in eight games and led to the province losing top spot in Conference A to Glasgow Warriors, who now go into the final four games before the play-offs with a three-point cushion thanks to their bonus-point win over Zebre on the same weekend.
Munster have a chance to do the same to the Italian side this Saturday at Thomond Park but must learn some valuable lessons from a performance at Scarlets that left Johann van Graan and his players kicking themselves they had not made more of the point-scoring opportunities they created.
“We did such a lot of good stuff to put us into those positions to get scoring opportunities only to lose the ball,” the Munster boss said this week. “That’s frustrating but you get what you deserve. Scarlets did really well and that break from Leigh Halfpenny was the difference in the game.
“We have to take the positives out of it and build into this next block. You work so hard to put yourself into a position to be in both competitions come the last block of the season and we are in with a shout in both competitions. A lot of hard work ahead and we are working now for almost nine months on all of our skills and improving from last season. These are the games now to make it count.”
Rhys Marshall started at hooker against Scarlets and this week took his share of the blame with an admission that he had been guilty of poor decision-making borne of impatience at the failure to make things happen for his side.
“We sat down and we chatted about it,” Marshall said. “A lot of guys, we got our roles wrong and we made wrong decisions and things like that. Personally, you can almost try too hard and make it very hard for yourself and that’s kind of what we did.
“We kept trying and we kept trying and we kept trying and the more effort we were putting into it the worse the results were coming out. And that just goes to show that a few of us, not lost our heads, but the leadership group on the field took over at one stage and we had to calm everything down a bit because we were panicking a bit.
“I was guilty of that and I just wanted the ball in the hand and get it over the line and you get ahead of yourself as opposed to just doing a job and the next job instead of worrying about two or three phases later.
“All you can do is go back to the process, tick it off, But there were a few of us got carried away on the pitch, probably a little tunnel-focused on one thing and that was getting across the line.
Marshall believes the Scarlets game can provide a valuable lesson for the run-in and the chase for silverware.
“Personally there’s a lot of learnings in it. I wasn’t very effective in how I was using my energy. I was wasting a lot of it worrying about how we were going to beat them as opposed to worrying about my job and doing my role.
“There are going to be tight games in this next block, so it’s the right time to be on the losing end of one of those because there is going to be plenty more of them coming up where it might not be in the 80th minute, it might be in the 60th minute. We saw it against Racing (in October 2017), 0-0 until the 60th minute and in those top games it takes one turn, one bounce and that’s the game.”