Edinburgh 18 Munster 23
The sight of Edinburgh’s Tim Visser flying down the wing towards another five points, a trail of red jerseys flailing in his slipstream, had perfectly encapsulated the pre-game warnings that Munster’s rugby re-education would be a lengthy process.
A new coaching regime had cautioned that their fledgling project to get Munster playing exciting, expansive rugby would take some time to establish and an error-strewn pre-season had confirmed that this was at least something incoming head coach Rob Penney was right about.
So when Edinburgh turned over Munster ball from a ruck under their posts half an hour into Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro12 opener, worked it to halfway through a missed tackle or two and then released their Dutch-born try machine for his second of three tries, supporters could have been forgiven for contemplating a season sitting on their hands.
In a campaign requiring patience from the stands as Penney gets to grips with a squad in transition, the opening match of 2012-13 was not supposed to produce this much promise of better times.
This was a game Munster were not supposed to win. Prevented from playing many of their frontline Test players for another fortnight, the men in red were handed a tough trip to last season’s Heineken Cup semi-finalists, buoyed by the return of their string of Scottish internationals flush with summer success Down Under.
Two unconverted tries from last season’s league top scorer inside the first 30 minutes reinforced the view as Visser’s double gave Edinburgh a 10-3 lead but already there were glimpses that things were beginning to fall into place for Munster.
Trying to play Penney’s kind of rugby in pre-season had led to mistakes which made gathering any kind of momemtum impossible. Something, though, has fallen into place this last week and the New Zealander saw his charges carry some of it onto the Murrayfield pitch, not least in the minutes just before Visser’s breakaway try.
Munster were moving the ball with fluency and purpose, new signing Casey Laulala breaking in midfield to the Edinburgh 10-metre line, wing Luke O’Dea carrying to their 22.
The ball was worked across the park from left to right and James Coughlan went into contact before a great offload to Denis Hurley who was held up inches from the try-line. The pick-and-go Munster came to the fore then as the visitors besieged the home line, only for Edinburgh to stage their great escape. It was the best of Munster new and worst of the old in one movement.
“It was a 12-pointer, we probably would have scored seven at the other end if we’d been able to free that up,” Penney said. “They’re not easy to get over. We’d worked hard and I thought we played some really good rugby leading into that moment and then the ball gets popped out of a ruck for some inexplicable reason and you end up under your own posts.
“What I was pleased about was our response. It is really easy for sides when they are under that pressure or having those things occur to them, to go into their shell or drop their lip. This side didn’t.
“I thought the boys played a lot of rugby which was pleasing. We reduced the amount of unforced errors which we had been guilty of in pre-season and I though we defended with a massive amount of determination and ticker.”
The pleasing rugby was showcased with a try from fly-half Ian Keatley just before half-time that with the conversion levelled the game at half-time, 10-10, and another just before the hour from Luke O’Dea, finishing a splendid move from a lineout having received another silky offload, this time from James Downey.
The “ticker” came at the end, as Edinburgh, trailing 23-13, snapped out of their lethargy and did some besieging themselves. Visser snagged his hat-trick six minutes from time but Munster dug in for victory thanks to some spirited defending highlighted by two crucial turnovers, from substitutes Dave Foley and Mike Sherry.
An opening win for Penney and a little more progress made than he had expected.
“I actually thought we were a little bit ahead of ourselves from where I thought we might get to today, so that’s really good.
“I suppose the most pleasing aspect is that we leave here with a degree of confidence in what we are trying to do. The boys are pretty chuffed with themselves which is a great spur for them.”
“I am really pleased for Dougie (Howlett) in his first competitive game as captain to lead the team through the final 10 minutes or so, when we were under the pump a little bit and the boys reacted really well to that.
“We had a few heroes there without naming the whole team, but it was heart-warming and a good start.”
EDINBURGH: G Tonks; L Jones, N De Luca, B Atiga (J Houston, 66), T Visser; G Laidlaw – captain, R Rees (C Leck, 62); J Yapp (A Jacobsen, 51), R Ford (A Titterrell, 62), W Nel (G Cross, 51); G Gilchrist (P Parker, 70), S Cox; D Denton, R Rennie, S McInally (D Basilaia, 62)
MUNSTER: D Hurley (S Deasy, 75); D Howlett — captain, C Laulala (I Dineen, 66), J Downey, L O’Dea; I Keatley (P Stringer, 73), D Williams; W du Preez (D Kilcoyne, 56), D Varley (M Sherry, 51), BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, B Holland; P Butler (D Foley, 66), S Dougall (B O’Mahony, 72), J Coughlan.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
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