Munster 26 Stade Francais 13: The smiles have returned to the faces of the Thomond Park faithful after a miserable winter of discontent but Anthony Foley knows there is still a way to go before the sun will shine once more on this Munster side.
A week on from an embarrassing 27-7 defeat to 14-man Stade Francais in Paris, a good old Munster rolling maul and three wonderful pieces of heads-up rugby in a bonus-point victory over the French champions restored a little pride on Saturday, as did the return of the passion, intensity, and fight so desperately missing seven days earlier at Stade Jean Bouin.
It also gave more than 14,000 diehards some hope that not all is doom and gloom with their team, despite an early pool-stage exit from the Champions Cup.
Yet even in victory, head coach Foley will have seen plenty of the familiar problems that produced error-riddled performances for seven long weeks and have threatened to reduce his second season in charge of his beloved province to rubble. He has one European game remaining, against Pool 4 whipping boys Treviso in Italy next Sunday, to continue the recovery on the field before the difficult business of securing qualification and a decent seeding for next season’s Champions Cup resumes in earnest in the Guinness Pro12.
There are 11 regular season league games to go for Munster to rescue their 2015-16 campaign, and if they are to have any hope of climbing back up the table from the current fifth-place standing into the four play-off places, they will need to start replicating the intensity and hard work witnessed on Saturday.
“That has to be a given,” Foley agreed. “People will drop passes, people will miss kicks at goal but you can cover it up with hard work and effort, and covering up for one another. I think that’s always been the case. You go back to the Leicester game. They were out on their feet and execution was letting us down, and sometimes trying harder, harder and harder doesn’t fix it, so we’ve been working hard on the small bits to try and make sure that when the effort is where it’s at, the execution can be close to it as well.” There was certainly good execution when Munster did manage to click against a stronger (on paper) Stade than faced in Paris the previous week. Hooker Mike Sherry’s touchdown of a driving lineout maul got the ball rolling after a poor start saw Munster concede a penalty from Morné Steyn inside a minute.
The try went unconverted but Ian Keatley would not err again and though Steyn nudged Stade into the lead with a 36th-minute penalty Munster spirits soared on the stroke of half-time when Keith Earls spotted a chance from just over the halfway line, threw a dummy to give pause to Pascal Papé and then burned past him, Jonathan Danty, and Julien Dupuy to score under the posts, his blistering speed and momentum enough to carry the tackling Sekou Macalou over with him. Keatley could not miss the conversion but he showed some confidence just after the break, backing himself and his vision to eye the space behind the Stade line and send Simon Zebo into it with an excellent chip over the top, from which the full-back scored Munster’s third try, again converted in front of the posts.
There was the inevitable wobble. Ronan O’Mahony was harshly sin-binned by JP Doyle for his collision with an airborne Hugo Bonneval in the 50th minute but Munster’s work-rate more than compensated for the loss, keeping Stade scoreless for 10 minutes.
They were back to their full complement when the lineout went wonky in sympathy with a struggling scrum and Stade flanker Jono Ross carved a path through the forest of black Munster jerseys.
Yet just as the scrum gradually restored parity as the game progressed, so did the lineout and it was from that platform the bonus-point try was born. A dart down the blindside from Sherry and a rapid switch from left to right saw Earls feed Zebo who was tackled just short of the five-metre line. The ensuing ruck earned a penalty and this time Conor Murray took a quick tap and diving into contact from which the immaculate CJ Stander scored from a pick and go. Munster players with confidence restored and backing themselves with, at long last, the right decisions. Foley would have taken a 3-0 win at the weekend, instead he has a five-pointer against the champions of France in the locker to fire his squad to greater improvements.
S Zebo; K Earls, F Saili, R Scannell (L Amorosino, 61), R O’Mahony; I Keatley, C Murray (T O’Leary, 73); D Kilcoyne (L O’Connor, 77), M Sherry (N Scannell, 69), M Sagario (J Ryan, 49); D Foley, M Chisholm (D Ryan, 49); B Holland (R Copeland, 69), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander – captain (J O’Donoghue, 73).
R O’Mahony 50-60.
H Bonneval; W Vuidarvuwalu, J Danty, P Williams, J Arias; M Steyn (J Plisson, 73), J Dupuy (J Tomas, 73); Z Taulafo, L Panis, R Slimani (P A Emile, 55), P Gabrillagues, P Papé (H Pyle, 65), S Macalou (S Nicolas, 58), J Ross, S Parisse – captain.
Replacements not used:
Z Zhvania, H Van der Merwe, J Sinzelle.
JP Doyle (RFU)
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